A Whole Lot of… Not Horse Stuff

First off, I want to apologize to everyone for the sparseness of this blog. Life has been crazy and riding has been mostly boring (which I have learned can be a totally good thing!)

Let’s start with life. I got married!! (Special thanks to Tav Images Photography for taking such WONDERFUL photos!)

My wedding was everything I could have asked for. I cannot remember the last time I had so much fun! And I got to celebrate with all my family and friends, including those I hadn’t been able to see since we moved to KY. Overall, just amazing.

Then, we were supposed to take a break in life. Instead, we found a house and fell in love and are under contract. Keep your fingers crossed as it is UNDER 15 MINUTES FROM THE BARN! My current drive is between 35 – 45 minutes, so being that close would really be life changing for us.

As for May, she is doing great. Her mohawk is slowly growing back out, so I will have to pull it soon to make it look like a mane again. For the winter, I am sure she will appreciate having some mane back. She also got front shoes put back on. the feet looked great, but with the ground as hard and it has been, she was sore even in boots in a freshly dragged arena. It just wasn’t fair to ask her to continue to be uncomfortable.

The craziness of what is going on right now has forced most of our rides to be short, and occasionally tackless:

STILL don’t have a jumping saddle. Fat Buckskin in a Little Suit can commiserate with me on this one. If I needed a 17.5″ saddle or a medium tree, we would be in business, but apparently, there are very few 18″ wide tree saddles around? So odd to me. I have also found that what a lot of brands consider “wide” wouldn’t even fit an average warmblood. And anyone that has been under contract on a house before knows that throwing thousands of dollars around on something like a saddle isn’t something banks love to see.

As a result, I am sitting tight and waiting. I had a WONDERFUL experience with a Stubben rep, and I would LOVE to buy the saddle she suggested. However, I just do not think that will be in the cards. At a purchase price of nearly $5K, it just seems so irresponsible. Especially when you consider that used Stubbens (other than the monoflaps), only really go for $1,500 – $2,000 MAX. Oh well, I will find a solution. It just might take a while.


In my Dressage boredom, however, I did end up jumping some 1′ jumps the other day. They were set TINY for a VERY GREEN horse, and I figured I could do that much in my Dressage saddle. May could care less and just kind of hefted her body of them. I think she is bored too.


We have been having some lessons but, between my crazy schedule and my trainer’s show schedule, they have been few and far between. Maybe a total of a dozen this whole summer? Kind of a bummer, but we manage to make good strides in between lessons. Canter leg yields? We have them now in both directions, which is a huge accomplishment. Her canter feels so much better that I really cannot wait to see what she feels like over fences. Real fences. That require jumping. Not 1′ fences that she just steps over while I enthusiastically throw myself into a half seat.

We are having some serious difficulty with installing the haunches in. We get the shape all great through a small circle, but as soon as I ask May to hold the shape on the straight line, she snaps straight. We didn’t get to work on it much in our last lesson, other than just introducing the idea, and we haven’t had a lesson since (it’s been about 3 weeks). Hopefully, I will have more of an update after the next lesson.

May also went through an interesting period of being tense. Every ride was an argument. I was told she was being “difficult” and just needed to “get over it.” Now, this horse can need a dose of “I am more stubborn than you are, and I won’t give up until you at least try to give me what I am asking for,” but that is typically when we are doing something new or she has had an extended period of time off. This wasn’t either of those things. It was ENTIRE RIDES of her flipping me the hoof, dropping on her forehand, and barreling away. Not only that, but I wasn’t able to get a lesson during the entire period of this happening.

So I had to find my own solution. I decided to spend a few rides doing nothing but hacking on a loose rein. There will be no picking up or putting her together. There will be no insistence on perfect transitions, even if it means doing them 20 times. There will be no leg yield, haunches in, shoulders in, spiral in, spiral out, leg yields at an angle, etc etc etc. There will just be calm relaxed hacking on a loose rein, where calmness, rhythm, and obedience are all rewarded and bad behavior is simply ignored.

And it worked (video below, before shoes got put back on). I got a horse back that is far more rideable and happier in her work. It is so easy to drill a horse like May. She is so smart and picks up on concepts so quickly. However, she can get so concerned about what she thinks she should be doing, that she gets frustrated. It’s a delicate balance, but one I feel we are developing a system to deal with. Of course, adding jumping back in would probably help too. 🙂

#ponyspamsunday courtesy of lazy, low key hacks #horsesofinstagram #draftcross #palomino #may

A post shared by Emily (@may_as_well_event) on

So TL/DR? All is crazy. All is inconsistent. All is well. Keep your fingers crossed that everything goes well with our house, and maybe I will find a jump saddle by Christmas.

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05.11.17 – Dressage Lesson: Sideways is the New Straight

During my first dressage lesson with my new trainer (NT), she was entirely focused on creating a steadier contact in the bridle. We worked on making the aids super clear and getting the back end properly engaged. That lesson was about 6 months ago. I am happy to report that May has become much steadier and more reliable in the contact.

As a result, it is time to move onto new things! More specifically, NT wanted us to work on gaining mobility through May’s body. In her words, “It’s a lot of horse, and you need to be able to move it with not a lot of work.” Fair enough.

The first exercise was to pick up a trot and trot down the rail in a straight line. However, I would want her head facing towards the wall and her hindquarters off the wall at about a 40 degree angle, like the below. (May is the yellow line)

Dressage Exercixe 1

It seems simple enough. The issue? As soon as I put my leg on, May threw her whole body weight into my leg. Making us look more like this:

Dressage Fail

My reaction? I immediately start messing with my hands, get tense in my seat, and take my leg off. This is also known as doing everything wrong at once, and as a result, causing additional problems like our inability to even travel in the proper direction… along the wall. This is where my trainer gets tough. To paraphrase her instructions, “if she resists your leg, you need to keep your leg, and possibly even get tougher WITH. YOUR. LEG. until she yields. Then release the pressure. DO. NOT. release that pressure until she gives and don’t block the rest of her body with her hands and seat.”

Well Yes. Ok. Let’s do that. Except at the walk. We started at the walk to give us enough time to get the desired response as well as to help give me the opportunity to property time the aids so they would be clearest to May. (I was trying to signal the outside hing leg to step over as it came off the ground.) After having a discussion with May about how she needs to yield to my leg. No it doesn’t mean throw your body into my leg. No its doesn’t mean faster. No it doesn’t mean backwards. She finally stepped over with her hind leg away from my leg.

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Shenanigans from another time 🙂

May got big pats and all pressure released. Then, we tried again at the trot. She had a much more appropriate reaction to my leg, and we were able to tale a few steps along the wall at an angle, straighten out, then move back to the angle again without any fuss. We tried it the other direction and has similarly good results. Smart Mare!

Once finishing the exercise, I noticed an immediate, positive shift in May’s response to my leg. Instead of nagging with my inside leg to get some resemblance of bend, I was able to just close my leg and she moved around it. Brilliant!

The next exercise took things a bit further… and into the canter. Canter leg yields have been notoriously hard for May and I. I find she just runs through my hand and half halts instead of actually moving over. This drill required us to start against the rail and leg yield off the rail to the center of the arena. NT asked me to keep her in a slight counter bend and allow her to lead with the shoulder. It looked like this:

Canter Leg Yield

Our first attempt was off of the left lead and was abysmal. May threw her head up, ran through my hand, and on the half halt, broke into the trot. UGLY. My trainer asked me to try again, but this time to really open the left (inside) rein to help her understand where her shoulder should go. It couldn’t be that simple right? It couldn’t be that my countless failures at leg yield at the canter could be solved by opening my rein.

It was… it was that simple though. We came around the corner, got straight, got the slight counter bend, and leg yielded over. We then came across and did it again. No issues. Well then, okay.

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We then switched to the right, which is May’s more difficult direction. so difficult in fact, that we didn’t even get a proper canter transition. NT wasn’t going to allow us to get away with that, so we came back onto a 20 meter circle and did a few more T/C transitions until they were clean and reliable. Then we tried the leg yielding. May leg yielded… she also threw her head around in the air as much as possible in protest. NT just had me keep my hands quiet and to continue to ask her to move over. Right now, we were just focusing on getting the correct response to my leg.

All in all, it was a great lesson that left both May and I tired and sweating. It also gave us a lot to work towards. Unfortunately, she came out a bit footsore in the left front on Sunday, so we ended up doing hill work on some softer footing than our current arena. (Due to copious amounts of heavy rain early in the month, our outdoor is quite hard now that it has dried out). However, the fields are quite nice right now, and in her hoof boots, May was comfortable.

Saddle Search Update:

The saddle fitter came back and recommended a Black Country, since I told her in no uncertain terms that $5K was out of my budget. She told me specifically that I need to make sure any saddle I try has upswept panels in order for an 18″ to fit on May’s back. This is actually a great article (for arabians but on the issues I am having).

I have a used Black Country I may be interested in, but I am taking a Duett Bravo jumping saddle on trial to check it out. Thus far, the team at Duett has been helpful and responsive, so here is hoping it works out!

Why I Need Lessons

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

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

 


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

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

 

 

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

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

 


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


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

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

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

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


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

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

03.26.17 – Dressage Lesson

Our first lesson since December, and as usual, it came with a few stupid epiphanies. I would even say it was riddled with stupid epiphanies. They started AS SOON as May and I started walking. That’s right. I couldn’t walk right.

Over the winter, we have worked a lot of May’s connection in the bridle being more steady. (aka – less head wagging, looking up to see what’s going on outside the arena, and truly engaging the hind end) All of this was actually very much improved and my trainer was impressed (yay!). What she was not impressed with was my new found love of pushing May past her point of balance.

May is not a big, fancy, expressive mover. She moves correctly, especially when fully engaged, but she’s not a horse that is ever going to have a massive walk stride. My solution? Just keep pushing… all the way past her balance. As a result, she get a forward but oddly stumbly and uneven walk. Literally my trainers words were, the bottom of the pyramid is rhythm, and you don’t have it. Well damn. So I sat in the saddle, quieted my hands and legs, and we immediately found a better walk. Alright, I got that.

Then we were asked to halt, and May’s head came up, she braced against me, and she stopped. So we proceeded to work on the walk/halt transitions. I would ask May to halt, and if she came off the contact, I would send her forward again… for about 10 minutes. Below is some of it. I was reminded that it might take 700 tries, but that on the 700th try, it would be great.

We finally got a halfway decent walk, so we moved into the trot. In an effort to keep May on the contact, I was keeping her too keep in the contact, and she was falling behind the vertical. Luckily, May is, surprisingly, not a horse that loves being behind the vertical, so this was as easy as engaging my seat and lifting my hands. We did a few W/T/W transitions, but those were significantly better than the W/H/W transitions, so we didn’t dwell on them. We made some tweaks to how much bend I was asking for, but most of the trot work was just fine tuning, which was nice. We kept the tempo and energy slow to make our adjustments, so it’s definitely not the nicest looking trot May can muster, but it’s a great one for building strength and fine tuning our connection, rhythm, and balance.


Then we went to canter. Before we cantered, I was told to sit the trot… We ended up cantering one circle, and sitting the trot for 15 minutes. I will fully admit that I do not sit the trot often. I am not great at it, and I am not light enough to be bouncing all over my horses back. However, my trainer had a good point. My horse does have a strong back, I need to have a sit-trot in my arsenal for training, and it won’t get better by ignoring it.


I do what I believe most people do at the sit trot: I sit fine until I get unbalanced, then I try to correct with strength. The result is, I get stiffer and the sit trot get worse. The solution? For me, it’s to just keep moving my hips. Sometimes I am with the motion, and it works. Other times, I am not with the motion, but it is still better than being stiff. My trainer talked about how our bodies have the ability to rotate our hips in basically any direction except straight up and straight down, which is when we bounce. I am sure you see her in the video moving her hips around, attempting to inspire me. She is definitely the kind of trainer that rides “with” you!

Overall, it was a really good lesson. My new trainer (NT) teaches in a vastly different manner than my old one (OT). It’s almost the difference between having a task-based job, and an project-based job. In the former, you are assigned specific, short-term tasks with deadlines and a good deal of oversight. In a latter, however, you are given the overarching goal and are responsible for setting up your own tasks and deadlines to complete the project. Does that make any sense, whatsoever?

Basically The Best Pony Ever

Basically, if May started losing her rhythm with my OT, I would get very specific instruction on the timing of lifting this rein and applying this leg and changing my seat here. With my NT, she points out that we are losing our rhythm. It’s not that she doesn’t help me correct things more specifically, but she forces me to think about how I can solve a problem, rather than me simply following a set of directions to get a specific result. It is mentally exhausting, but I can already see the impact it is having on our rides outside of lesson.

Which do you prefer? Trainers that walk you through every step of your ride, or trainers that force you to come up with your solutions.

 

I’m Alive and Things Have Been Happening!

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

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


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

Green Grass! Just waiting for the trees to catch up

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

Image result for myler pelham
Mylar Pelham – No Port

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

This is kind of Equitating, right?

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

 


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

 

 

Next blog post – Dressage Lesson!

Stupid Epiphanies

I am not sure if riding is anything like other sports in this way, but learning to ride often feels like a string of stupid epiphanies. Like when it finally clicks what inside leg to outside rein really means, or when you first feel a horse actually pushing from behind. It is a series of simple but abstract ideas that seem to suddenly become tangible after they click into our minds. That click moment often makes you want to smack your forehead and think, “well duh. If only I had done that sooner…”

Monday night was a stupid epiphany night for me. I had read Megan’s post on screwing up with confidence, and I had that idea in mind when I threw my foot into the stirrup that night. My mantra for the ride was going to be to be decisive in what I was asking. I have often struggled with this, and I attribute it to riding green horses almost my entire riding career. I ask for something, get 90% of it, and I reward that 90%. The problem is that you cannot build upon skill that are not confirmed, so progress often stalls for us.

sunset-trot

The BIGGER problem is that this is a very easy way to confuse and frustrate your horse. That was my epiphany on Monday night: My horse is difficult sometimes because I am confusing and that frustrates her. Since I got May, I have often been perplex as to how we can have some amazing days and then some days where all we do is argue about something. Now, I am laughing a bit at myself. After all, how dare she react to my inconsistency by being inconsistent?!

Below is a great example of the problem that became really apparent this weekend and bled over into Monday. See what is going on there? I ask for contact at the canter, and she goes to suck back. Instead of thinking “oh you’re trying so sucking back is ok”, I put my leg on and asked her to move into the contact. She did not appreciate that, threw her head up, gaped her mouth, and starting flinging everything she could fling in every direction. ​


This is UGLY. It feels ugly. It looks ugly. And if I didn’t know me and my horse, I would accuse the person riding of hauling on the reins. But I am not. My old reaction would’ve been to give and try again later; however, I am working on being CONSISTENT and CONFIDENT. So instead, I kept my leg on, and I kept the rein contact steady. Nothing changed because she was not giving me the behavior I wanted. It took almost a full canter circle because she dropped her head, gave, and started engaging her hind end.
What you can’t hear in the video is me laughing at her because she also snorted at me. she gave me what I was asking for, so she got rewarding with a lighter rein, following shortly by a downward transition, and a walk on a long rein. (Finished with some pictures in front of the setting sun.) I am excited to see the improvements in both of us due to this newfound commitment to confidence and consistency!

sunset-smile

Imperfect Circumstances

Aka – anything to do with horses.

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

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Expectation…

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

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

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

downhill
Like XC amped

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

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

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

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Another example of why Leg is required….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reintroducing Jumping

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

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

too-cute
Seriously, this face though…

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

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

 

Regular Jumping Bit
Today’s bit

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

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

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

xc-jump
Not the base of the fence…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2016 – A Review

There are few years I can think of that have had a larger impact on my life than 2016. Maybe 1990 🙂

The year started off fairly slow with January consisting of trail rides, bareback rides, and a trip to the fiance’s hometown in Kansas. However, maybe January was just the perfect synopsis of the rest of the year – a big of downtown surrounded by the farthest trip West I have ever gone.

trail.jpg

February got a bit more exciting. I got engaged on the 3rd… in the barn of course! Then, not even two weeks later, I participated in a clinic with Marilyn Payne… by far the biggest name I have ever ridden with. And I proceeded to fall off, and then actually start riding.

March saw us start to get serious about the upcoming season. Jumps got bigger and I started this blog! We also had our first cross country schooling of the year, where May was a touch wild but completely game. My confidence wasn’t as strong as it could have been, but I had recovered quite a bit from falling off in front of Marilyn.

April consisted of my birthday and my (and May’s) first Beginner Novice horse trial! We completed with a rail and a stop at the water on XC, but after having to convince our trainer to let us try it, I couldn’t have been happier with the result.

Early May marked one year with May, and I still can’t believe how far we’ve come! The end of May marked a new goal with our (both of our) first recognized horse trial! We were second after Dressage and clear XC, but added penalties in stadium to land us 7th out of 10. It was a lesson in humility where I worked on my ability to leave my mistakes behind. The very next week, we got another opportunity, as we ran BN at a schooling horse trial. While the jumps were significantly smaller, I was very proud of my ability to just. keep. riding. We got our best Dressage score of the year (which was perhaps a bit generous) and ended up third. Best of all, our team took home first place and some prizes!

June allowed things to slow down a bit, as my trainer was now nearing the birth of her first child. However, we did get to participate in a clinic with Meg Kepferle. May put on her sassy pants for that one, but I am still happy with how we performed. It definitely put a few extra tools in our toolbox!

We spent our Fourth of July on the longest trail ride we have ever taken! We also got amazing engagement photos taken by Tav Images Photography!

August opened up hot and we spent some time on our Dressage work before getting back to jumping! However some uncharacteristic unevenness behind made us decide that it was time to call out the vet and get some hock injections.

September was very slow as May recovered and my fiance and I faced some life changing decisions, but, by the end of the month. I was able to share the news. We were moving to Kentucky! Early in October, we officially moved. By the end of the month, we were able to have our first jumping lesson, where I jumped more than I had since our first clinic with Meg.

In early November, I found a new job and was able to start putting money back into the pony piggy-bank. Then in December, we had our first Dressage lesson with the new trainer.

It was a crazy year full of new experiences and adventures. Looking back at it all is a bit exhausting, so I am so happy with how far we have come… both in and out of the ring. Here’s to an even better 2017!

10.28.16 – Jump Lesson

A couple of weeks ago, I did something incredible. I had an actual, honest to goodness, jumping lesson! I had spoken to my new trainer about lesson for a couple of weeks, and we were finally able to coordinate a time. (a time where I didn’t have a photographer, so there are some old pictures in here)

 

Originally, I was going to opt to do a Dressage lesson. I figured it would give us a chance to get to know one another while still giving her a feel for where May and I are in the process. However, at the end of the day, no matter how much it scares me, I love to jump my horse. The feeling after jumping around a great course is positively euphoric. So without telling anyone about it first, I threw on my jumping saddle and my figure eight noseband, and I walked out to the jumping arena.

To give you some perspective, I had jumped May once before this lesson. And it was over nothing higher than 2’ (ok maybe the oxer was 2’3”). I had jumped May before this to just to see where her head was at, and she was perfectly calm and listened reasonably well. I think that is what got it in my head that I should jump for this lesson. My horse was in a good place, and at some point, you have to just trust a trainer. Even if they’re new to you.

 

I was warmed up and ready to go before my lesson officially began. To start the lesson, my trainer had me do a few trot to canter transitions on a 20 M circle. We then stopped and she spoke about the importance of having a solid base when riding and especially jumping. She gave me a couple of exercises to help me work on strengthening my base. She didn’t say it was awful, but she did say she is a stickler for it. And heaven knows, we could all use work on the strength of our base.*

She also asked if I would mind shortening my stirrups a hole. Techically, they were where they should be, but she noted that May’s conformation needed me to ride with a  slightly shorter stirrup. I let her shorten my stirrups and I told her that I am not committed to really anything I can doing right now except for riding this horse. I think she might have thought I was joking. Either way, she told me May was very cute.

 

We then started jumping. The first exercise was one my trainer said she likes to use a lot. It’s a 20M circle with a low vertical at one point on the circle. She calls it the “Circle of Love” (as opposed to the Circle of Death). It’s one of those deceptively easy exercises that gets harder the more you try to do other than just riding. To the right, my crookedness came in bigtime. I kept collapsing my left shoulder in towards my right hip (yeah, it’s that bad) instead of opening my shoulders and my spine. We worked on it for a  few rounds before switching to the left, which was pretty much perfect.

We discussed how my crookedness made it more difficult for us to stay balanced on a circle. I was told to ride while concentrating on keeping my spike in line with May’s. This is kind of hard with May, as I am not sure she has a spine under all that fluff… How about keeping my spine in line with her dorsal stripe? I can do that.

 

The next exercise was another deceptively easy one. Canter on the right lead over a single vertical on the diagonal. The vertical was set to about 2’3” at the time. I had a SLOW canter coming around the corner, so May opened up the last few strides. We were told to adjust to that we start strong around the corner and then balance up to the base of the jump. Fun Fact: We are AWFUL at that. Perhaps it got a big better, but the trainer noticed a bigger issue. May was throwing her whole shoulder through my right leg and hand over the fence. The Result? We ended up incredibly crooked on the landing.

She had me fix it by keeping a connection with my hand and leg all the way over the jump: approach, base, jump, landing, exit. She even drew a circle in the middle of the landing side of the jump and told me to land her there. Our first attempt I ended up all of 6” farther to the left of my first attempt. My trainer noted the improvement and told me to try again. The second time, May figured it out. She landed dead center in the circle and was so balanced I could easily circle to the left after the fence.

 

We then did the same exercise off the left lead, where she was considerably straighter. The vertical got raised to a 2’6” effort and we did it a couple more times. Then we got our first mini course, the vertical off the left lead, to a fan oxer (our first one ever!) then a bending line to a different vertical (the first part of this line just backwards). We were given a specific line to follow and nailed it! I did notice something though. I was being asked to ride WAY more forward than I have previously and was a touch uncomfortable. May, however, was hitting every distance spot on and was listening, so I figured we would try to embrace it. Again, however, we found ourselves moving into the trap of going slow around corners and then opening our stride to fences. Something to work on.

 

Then I was asked if May has done a bunch of gymnastics. And I said yes. So I was told our first course. The course started with three x-rails set 21’ apart each, so one stride in-between each. Then we came down the oxer on the diagonal. From the right lead, we picked up the neon and black box. We had a long loop around to the two stride before finishing up over the white oxer.

course3

1. Crossrail Gymnastic

2. Oxer

3. Neon & Blue Box

4. Two Stride

5. White Oxer

(Not on Course, but Jumped!)

A. Green Vertical

B. Fan Oxer

Every time I took my foot off the gas, I got a loud “CANTER!” So I rode forward. And guess what? Pretty much every fence came up in stride. The only issue I had was getting a bit unbalanced after the two stride and not getting the change before the white oxer. We redid that exercise, forcing May to come back with my half halt, but I still botched the distance to the white oxer because I lost my pace in the corner. Again, it’s something to work on. But overall? I am SO proud of May and I. We came out and performed like a real team, and at the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about.

*  Unless you’re Michael Jung or Beezie Madden. Then you’re perfect.