Remember when we were all talking last week about how great it is to get media?
I do! So on Tuesday, I strapped my helmet cam to my helmet and set off for my jumping lesson. With a freshly dragged ring, a new course set up, and temps in the mid 50s, it should’ve been a perfect lesson.
In a lot of ways, it was. We jumped higher. I felt more confident, and I did a lot more jumping than I had been able to handle in my last lesson. Then we had a quick conversation where my trainer said, I just want you to do the grid one last time, so you can really nail that turn.
Sure! I thought. I also thought I had already turned off my helmet cam. Turned out, I had JUST turned it on… so the below is the only helmet cam footage I have of the whole lesson (other than a lot of talking):
Sooo what happened? I never got straight coming around the turn. May has a bad habit of falling through her outside shoulder and in my desperation to get a better distance to the first jump, I sacrificed my line. By the time we were over the first fence, we were already practically outside the grid.
May, bless her heart, tried to correct it, but she realized (as did I) that there was no saving it. She scrambled right and stopped, and I just went over her shoulder.
I ended up asking my trainer to get on. She had never jumped May and has only ridden her once, so I think it was beneficial for both of us. Her thoughts? The right shoulder issue is a lot more prominent in the saddle than it looks from the ground, and I clearly have been compensating for May just blowing off my outside leg when turning left. (PREACH!)
She sorted it out, and I got back on so that she could teach me how to manage it. Three more times through the grid with good results, and we were done.
Today, I am bruised and sore. My elbow is skinned. But honestly? I kind of feel BETTER now that the “worst” has happened. I fell off because we made a mistake. I am fine. She is fine. And overall, we had a great jumping lesson. More on that soon!
Is this a thing? I think it’s a thing. Hold on, let me explain.
During my lesson this week, I was convinced the jumps were HUGE. Ok, not huge, but “a good size”. That they required effort from my little horse, an accurate ride, and that they needed a healthy dose of respect.
Then, I saw these photos:
Do you know what I see? some pretty small jumps… Not that I shouldn’t aim to ride them properly but… less than ideal distances, lines, and pace wouldn’t cause us to crash or have any significant impact on May’s confidence. It would just make them ugly.
Somehow, my brain had convinced me that I had something to fear from these jumps, from this course. As I made my way to start each round, I felt my chest tighten and my legs go weak. Even know, I can feel that drowning feeling that I get before any show jumping round.
Right now, I am coping by doing the following:
Leg on. Always. Having pace bails me out of a lot of issues, so I ride forward… almost to a fault at this point, since a couple of distances on Tuesday would’ve been fine if I had just sat pretty. Luckily, my internal metronome hasn’t gotten slow on me.
Riding with a neck strap. This lesson, I made the decision to ride with my neck strap. I promised myself that, if I started to feel the UNDYING need to pull, I would just hold onto it. I will say that I am a bit proud of not grabbing it.
Getting media. I think this helps. It puts everything in perspective. And, honestly, it helps me remember. When I get this nervous, I go blank. My memory goes BLACK. I remember showing as a junior and not remembering ANYTHING about a course as soon as I finished it. I was never the brave kid hahaha. That being said, I should break the habit of going back and watching the whole thing in slow-mo, so that I can judge every millisecond of myself.
Getting Regular Lessons. I will say that this was like my third jump lesson since the beginning of the year so… I am not doing great on this front, but I am doing better. Tuesday nights are officially my lesson night now, and I don’t see any reason for us to miss our next couple of weeks of lessons before our show. Both of them will be jump lessons. The Dressage stuff I can polish up a bit myself. (which is hilarious to me as my entire foundation is H/J)
But I really want to move past the management of these feelings and hopefully banish them away for good. Any recommendations of good sports psychology books or things that have helped you?
So yesterday our weekly lesson was a jumping one. One I was REALLY excited about. May has been feeling great since she got her hocks injected, and I was looking forward to trying the upgrade over some fences. I even threw on May’s breastplate and neck strap because I started a new rule for myself: I cannot ask my trainer to lower fences. She sets them – I ride them.
Buuuuuuut I took a new fitness class on Monday night. My spin class instructor had recommended that my friend and I try the new piloxing class. “It’s a mix of pilates and kick boxing. You’ll love it!” In my head, this meant that it would be cycles of kickboxing to get your heart rate up, followed by sets of Pilates exercises. Right? NOPE. It was 45 minutes of NON STOP, HIGH IMPACT CARDIO… my least favorite thing in the world. We got 10 second breaks every few minutes, but the goal was to never let our heart rate come down? No clue, but half the class left mid-way through.
The result? I was damn near crippled before my lesson even started. This feeling of overall stiffness and lack of strength definitely didn’t help my confidence, but I promised myself that if I got nervous and felt myself riding backwards, I would just grab my neck strap.
The lesson started out simple enough. We just did a figure 8 over a vertical with maybe 15M circles crossing over the jump. At first, the jump was set at maybe 2’3″, but after a few reps, my trainer raised it to around BN height. It was actually significantly harder to ride at the smaller height. May just didn’t respect it and wanted to add the extra stride whenever possible. Then, the first time the height was raised, I overcompensated and pushed her really ACROSS the jump… and blew past our turn. Once we had it figured out, it ended up being the perfect exercise to get us in the right rhythm and balance for our course!
This lesson was really about building a course, so our first course ended up being the first half of our second course.
The course was over the single natural, left turn before 4A to get to the oxer (2), right turn to 3, seven strides to 4A and 4B. 4 was a one stride combination. Before my round, NT noted that since the jumps were small, I would likely get 8 strides from 3 to four. However, I was not allowed to get 2 strides in the combination. Cool.
Well – I never got straight to one, so we added an extra step there. Two rode great. My turn to 3 was a little funky, but I kept her with me and she jumped across it nicely. I kept that forward rhythm, and we got down to 4A in seven easy strides. As a result, the combination rode really well. Yay!
We caught our breath as NT raised some jumps. Our second course started with the first course. After 4B, It was a squared off left turn to 5, bending to 6, a fairly tight turn to the oxer at 7, and then a SLIGHTLY bending line to finish over 8.
How’d it go? Well check out the video below!
Jump 1 rode better this time, despite me almost running over the dog. 2 was easy, but she felt a bit behind my leg. I moved her forward around the corner to 3 and she jumped that great. Then I kind of definitely overrode the line to 4A. After 4 strides… I realized I was in danger of doing 6 and taking a flyer into the combination. A quickly half halt and we got in on a short stride, but not a total ship or flyer. Obviously, the one stride rode great after that.
NT warned me that everyone had been messing up the corner to 5, so I made sure to square it off and ride her shoulder through the turn… Then instead of bending to 6, I rode STRAIGHT to it, resulting in an awkward chip. Oops. My turn to 7 was great, and the five strides to 8 was easy peasy.
After, we were both out of breath. May had a busy weekend going to the combined test with her half leaser (they finished on their Dressage score!), and whatever was left in my muscles had left around jump 6. So, I decided to call it a day on that.
While my body is even MORE sore today (anyone ever been woken up at 3AM by their own soreness?), I can’t help but bask in a successful jump lesson. This post is long enough, so more fun updates coming later this week!
Typically, my lessons are on Tuesday nights, which tend to be unusually quiet at the barn, and honestly, I love that. By the time my lesson is over, the barn has mostly cleared out, and I get some quiet time to reflect on my lesson, pet my pony, and just relax. However, this week my lesson was on a Wednesday, sneaking it in right before NT spends a couple of weeks in Aiken (so jealous!).
This week, I pulled into the driveway to see a few horses tied to trailer by the indoor. Not thinking much of it. I got May all ready for a Dressage lesson. Since May has done a lot of jumping lately, I wanted to reestablish our connection and get some homework while NT was out of town. So the white boots and pad went on, I threw on my new spurs, and I headed out to the indoor. I got halfway there when I saw a white ball fly past the entrance, followed by a HERD of polo ponies.
Alright then… outdoor it is! While it was pretty warm (in the 50s and I ambitiously rode in a t-shirt because I only had heavy jackets and fleeces in my car), it was WINDY and CLOUDY. Since May had a fairly easy few days after last week’s jump-heavy rides, she was a bit up. Plus we were in the outdoor, with the jumps! And the polo team was in the indoor right next door to the outdoor. While May couldn’t really SEE them, she could definitely HEAR them.
I had a few minutes before NT headed to the ring, so I started with my usual “my aids mean something and you need to listen” routine. So we walked on the bit, and we halted. I try to be REALLY methodical about my aids when she’s like this, so I shifted my weight back, engaged my core, halted my seat, closed my thighs, and then rocked my hands back.
And she ignored me.
So then I pulled, and she threw her head up and halted.
And there is May in a nutshell. She KNOWS these aids. We do them EVERY TIME I ride, but she will always give that little baby test to see if I REALLY mean them. If not corrected at that point, it all snowballs into a big hot mess of her questioning if I REALLY mean that aid…
So we walked again, and again, I shifted my weight back, engaged my core, halted my seat, closed my thighs, and then rocked my hands back. And she slowwwllllyyy came to a halt. I let her move forward again, and repeated it in the other direction. After 3 – 5 repetitions, she is tuned in. So at that point, we can finally trot.
The trot was still a bit tuned out, so we just did big, loopy figure eights. I asked her to move off my legs and flex through her body. Buuuuut I actually don’t think this is still the best method of getting her to tune in at the trot. The walk/halt stuff is super important. And Trot/walk/halt tends to make her more tense instead of less.
BUT NT to the rescue. I told her that May just felt really tuned out, so she had us trot and just work through our gaits within the gait. So we started with working trot, then stretchy trot, then working trot, then collected, then working etc etc etc. By the time we rotated to her “bad” side (going to the right), she was on my aids and listening. The right bend has gotten SO MUCH better.
Once we had all three variations of trot nailed down, we moved into the same exercise at the canter, but replaced stretchy trot with a medium canter. My left lead transition was really good. She was actually a bit sticky off my leg to go into the medium, and that stickiness created some struggled at the collected canter.
You know how I knew when we got the collected canter? May GRUNTED. She sounded like me mid spin class when I realize I have another 20 min to go and the instructor says we are going to “ramp up the resistance”. UGH.
To the right, I was not surprised to get a little more resistance with some head tossing and breaking down to the trot. Ultimately though, we did get a few steps of true collection, so that was pretty cool.
Finally, we moved onto a serpentine exercise. Trot across the short side of the arena, turn left, do a 10m half circle, trot across the short side, turn right, do a 10m half circle etc etc etc. All the way to the end of the arena and then back.
Given that there are a TON of jumps in the ring, I had to get a bit creative with my half circles. However, by the end of the exercise, May was the most connected and steady in the connection as I have ever felt her. She was tracking up, in front of my leg, and I felt like we could spring forward or halt dead with ease.
So when we finished the exercise, and NT said to do it again at the canter with simple, trot changes in between, I was super excited. The first half circle to the left was GLORIOUS. I really felt her step under herself and bring her shoulders around.
Then we went right… and it was a little messy. I sat back further. I added more leg. I engaged my seat more… but she was clearly over it. We managed to mostly pull it together to finish, but it was clear she was tired, and it was really hard. While it wasn’t perfect, it definitely gives me a great set of things to work on while NT is away, AND it gives me a great baseline before her injections on Saturday.
Obviously though… she wasn’t THAT tired. Because when I turned her out that night, she GALLOPED down the hill, JUMPED over the ditch at the bottom, GALLOPED back up the hill to get to the new hay bale in her field…
Do you have a specific routine you go through that helps your horse settle into work?
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?
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!
The Roaming Rider posted about some things that she has learned from other bloggers, and I thought it would be fun to jump in. (Go check hers out first. It will give you all the feels.)
While I have been blogging for only a couple of years (can I still say only?), I have been reading blogs basically since I became horsey deprived in college. The flavor of blogs is as diverse as the people writing them. Some still make me laugh out loud at my desk at work, while others will instantly bring me to tears, but that is horses too. Many of us will describe our darkest and brightest days by the horses that surrounded them.
I don’t talk about other people on my blog as pretty much a rule, but I hope everyone will grant me a reprieve just this one because you all deserve a tribute for all have taught me! I wish I could include EVERYONE, but I am not sure ANYONE would want to read that, so here are my 5 highlights.
Emma and I have somewhat similar stories. H/J backgrounds with a burning desire to event. While I tip toed my way in with lessons and then eventually moving my horse to an eventing barn, Emma JUMPED IN the deep end. Girl – you took a couple of lessons, bought a truck and trailer, and did the thing. You took a lease on an off breed horse and trained her into an eventer. When that came to an end, you took a pause before finding another horse and restarting an OTTB from the ground up. I hope you know how badass that is.
AHEM – Emma taught me to go for the things I want. To not worry if I didn’t have the fanciest horse or the most expensive tack. The only thing I had to answer to was my horse. As long as I was doing the right thing there, then I was doing the right thing.
(I am linking her personal website because I think something funky is going on with her blog site)
I am not sure when I started following Lauren, but she was the first blogger that I took back to the beginning. The first one that I did the blogger version of netflix binged on. Why? I would say it is because her writing is beautiful, and I am obsessed with that kind of thing (which is true); however, it is because she has been so true to herself and her voice.
I am not sure I would 100% categorize her blog as a horse blog. I would say that, if anything, it is a life blog about a person that owns and rides horses. She taught me that speaking my truth is the only topic that really matters.
Is it hyperbole to say that Megan was my first Dressage instructor? My first ever introduction to Dressage was someone taking a 45 minute lesson at my barn. During that 45 minutes they continuously trotted around a 20 meter circle. I remember having to rake the ring after because there was literally a ditch growing there. “Nope,” I told myself, “Dressage is not a thing I ever want to do.”
Then Megan popped up on my screen one day, and well… just read this:
At the same time as straightening him on the outside rein to get him to step into the inside rein, TC needs to be a bit lighter off of my inside leg. His tendency is to lean into my leg with his ribcage, rather than engaging his inside hind leg and stifle under him. – Knowledge Dump
I can feel what she feels when she writes, and I can feel her corrections. I never knew that people had these kinds of detailed dialogues going on in their heads while they rode, but here comes Megan with 81 posts tagged with “connection”. While Megan has opened up the world of Dressage for me, she has, more than that, taught me the important of really being a thinking rider.
Anyone else notice that the first three people are all from different disciplines?
Does anyone ever know what Carly is going to do next? Carly teaches me and continuously reminds me that I am supposed to enjoy my horse. Not everyday will be sunshine and rainbows, but horses are there to be enjoyed. Does she compete? Yup. Does she win satin? Um, DUH.
Does she also stick her horse in a cart because it seems like a fun idea? Absolutely. Reading her posts reminds me that we don’t HAVE to have a serious Dressage schooling if we don’t want to. We can just go on that trail ride or attempt to jump crossrails while bareback. Dressage and “serious” eventing will be there, and I am not ruining anything by simply enjoying my horse.
I am going to be super cheesy here. I fell off the blogging bandwagon in 2017 a bit. Nothing was really happening, I had no jump saddle, I wasn’t really able to take lessons, and I was about to get married. Michele reached out to me and checked in. I was floored. Here was someone I never met who honestly cared about how May and I were doing.
Michele and I have gone through very similar struggles with our opinionated, rotund creatures, but Michele has taught me, more than anything, about how a love of horses really does bring people together and create friendships. I know you’re reading, so thanks girl. 😉
One day, I will get to meet some of you in person! hahaha Who else is going to join in on this positive blog hop?
Half Lease Update
Remember how I said I don’t talk about other people on my blog? Welp. That is also true for the girl half leasing May. However, I think you all deserve an update!
May was a perfect princess on Monday night. I mean like, I got on her, warmed up a bit, popped over some fences, and she was just soft and easy and in front of my leg. MMMMMK. (like this but probably SLOWER)
So what did I do? I made a friend get on her. I then made said friend jump some stuff. May continued to just pack around like a little school horse. Welp, I thought, she will probably be terrible for the trial tomorrow.
I was SO NERVOUS. Like our mutual friend has ridden May, but May is May. We chatted a bit as we tacked up. I gave her the barefoot history and gently explained that I have no bias against shoes, and I am happy to put shoes back on the horse if it looks like that is going to be a better solution than barefoot. She didn’t seem concerned. She did ask about my spurs (little nubs at the moment), and I told her that spurs are more for moving May’s body around than they are for speed or anything.
I rode first, obviously. May was almost as good as she had been the night before. I would say she was a bit stiffer through her body, but I wasn’t about to start an argument before putting someone else in the irons. At one point in the canter, I circled through the middle of the ring and just held the reins by the buckle to show that her balance will change, but she won’t run away with you. (or at least not with me.)
I did everything I could think of to show that May was as represented. I popped over some fences, missed more than once, and then handed the reins over. Number one response everyone has had to getting on my horse? She REALLY swings through her back at the walk. I had no idea. I am just SO used to it.
There is definitely a learning curve with May, but the half leaser handled her really well. They seemed to get along, and May didn’t get frustrated or upset by any gaps in communication. She did decide to do the double add down the line of jumps… Oh mares. The strangest thing was being told how she is excited to ride something a bit more made instead of a greenie. I am still not used to the idea of my horse really knowing and doing her job. It’s a cool feeling and definitely true at this point.
Overall, it sounds like it is going to be a 2-day a week lease instead of a 3-day a week lease, but her being able to take lessons with my trainer is more important than May being ridden an extra day a week. In fact, she wants to take her first lesson the first week of November. Can it really just be this easy? I guess so!
There was an interesting discussion on COTH the other day about riding with a young trainer. Some said a younger trainer (in their 20s) doesn’t have enough experience to really teach anyone, even if they are an accomplished rider themselves. Others said that older trainers can be so set in their ways that, when something doesn’t work for you, you are written off as incapable or difficult to teach.
Over the last 15 (or maybe even more) years, I have had 3 trainers (if any of them are reading this, you have all been incredible and have shaped me as a rider, a person, and a horsewoman in more ways than you could ever imagine. I am eternally grateful for everything you all do.) During the first 8 years of my riding career, I bounced around a lot more and wasn’t advanced enough anywhere to really get more out of how to ride a horse than kick and hang on.
The first trainer in this short line was over 60. She is a USEF licensed Steward and Judge. She had taken riders through the big eq, A/O Hunters, and some jumper classes far higher than I ever had an interest in jumping (clearly, she was a H/J trainer). She knew more about horse care than any individual person I ever met. I learned how to show horses from her, how to wrap legs, how to back a green horse, how to put changes on a horse. I got to ride 6 horses a day, 6 days a week, and I was only ever charged for my lessons and training at the shows I went to. I had supportive boarders who lent me horses more than once. She no longer rode, but there was another, very talented rider, at the barn who would ride if I was having issues.
Our lessons, which started out amazing, got more and more passive. They became predictable. We would start over a small crossrail or vertical, and then build a course. We would jump the course once, fix some things, jump it again, and mostly call it a day. When I ended up with a horse that was really complicated, I found myself scrambling for help, and I couldn’t find anyone at that barn to help me. They hadn’t changed, but I no longer fit into the program.
After 10 years, I needed to add tools to my toolbox. Leaving that trainer and that barn was one of the hardest things I ever did in my riding career, but I needed to give the very complicate horse I owned a real chance at our relationship working.
Somehow, I found myself at the other end of the spectrum. I moved to an eventing trainer who is only a couple of years older than me. I got about 10 minutes into my first lesson with her, and she pulled me into the middle of the arena. She realigned my leg and pulled on my reins, telling me what contact and connection should feel like. A new tool in my toolbox, and an introduction to a whole new sport.
Lessons were dynamic and interesting. We did grids, courses, Dressage, etc. I learned what connection felt like and how to ride a true leg yield. My old horse still wasn’t blossoming, and she was the one to have “the talk” with me. How it wasn’t fair to keep asking him to do a job that made him (and me) so miserable. How I could enjoy this sport again with another horse. Then, she got drunk with me, and we made a plan to go get May.
She trained (and still trains) with some top talent in the industry. Want to know what flat work exercises Marilyn Payne uses to increase ride-ability? Or what gymnastics Sinead Halpin rides to increase how careful her horses are in the SJ arena? I’ve ridden some of them. I met some of my best friends through her, and I met my best horse friend because she had a vision of me kicking around BN on a short, fat horse.
She took me to my first first event, and then my first recognized horse trail. She warmed me up for Dressage and SJ and walked me around XC. When I had a mental breakdown before XC, she talked me off the ledge. During that XC round, she stayed close to the start box, not so she could see any of my course, but so that she could listen to the radios to make sure I made it around ok. And she did all this while heavily pregnant. She was (and is) still excited about her career, about horses, about learning and improving as a rider and a trainer. She is still growing and improving and sometimes things didn’t always work out perfectly, but that’s horses (and horse people) for you. When the news about the husband’s new job in KY came, I gave her a hug and held back tears.
Do I miss having a trainer around almost every single ride? Yes. Do I miss having a trainer that pushed me to clinic, show, and take lessons as often as possible? Yes. But mostly, I miss my friend who was willing to take 6 hours out of her Sunday to drive me to PA to look at a yellow horse.
When I moved to KY, I debated what type of trainer I wanted. Someone at the sunrise or the sunset of their career? The truth of the matter was, I couldn’t find another young, well-educated trainer. I am sure they are out there, working hard and looking for new clients. Maybe a few were even among those who I called and emailed, but I never heard back from. Either way, I ended up with a trainer who has a resume longer than anyone I had ever ridden with before. She has a barn full of riders competing at levels higher than I ever want to see. The barn spans all breeds, but, as being both a barn in KY and an evening barn, it is made up of a majority of Tbreds.
My lessons are mostly sporadic, as our busy schedules can sometimes be difficult to coordinate. She asks me if I am going to compete, but she has never truly encouraged me to attend anything. She still trains me like I am going to be running my first FEI competition next week, but I am fully responsible for making all decisions about my horse, my competitions, and my training.
Her toolbox is vast and varied. I often tell my horse friends that she sets up an exercise that fixes a problem, without telling you to fix a problem. i.e. instead of yelling “Sit up” at me over a course of 10 fences, she sets up the Circle of Love, and it forces me to sit up. It changes my muscle memory. Our Dressage lessons are carefully cultivated to slowly build on themselves. Our first lesson was a W/T lesson where we spend the first 20 minutes simply walking and halting. Our last Dressage lesson, we were working on leg yielding at the canter and the beginning of a walk pirouette.
She expects her riders to listen, adapt, and ride. She expects horses to try. I will say she has very little patience for horses that are stubborn, nasty, or downright dangerous. She has ridden too many horses to weigh athleticism over ride-ability. This may be shocking to some, but she really likes my horse. She likes that she is honest, brave, and willing, but she acknowledges that she is a tough ride. She is careful not to lead me into fights with her, but instead, instructs me around issues to get outcomes without stirring up frustration.
Her techniques are focused around making better trainers and horses, not simply creating a prettier picture. I leave her lessons feeling like the best rider in the world on the best horse ever bred.
So if someone asked me, would you choose a younger trainer or an older trainer? I would answer, I would choose the best trainer for me right now.
Let me start this whole post by saying, I still do not have a jumping saddle. We are still ambling towards closing on our house, so patience is a virtue right now. However, eventers are not patient people by nature. We are go-ers, and do-ers, and show-them-how-ers. So, I jumped in my Dressage saddle.
The first ride was totally my test ride. ITTY-BITTY jumps with no one else around other than my husband (hence video evidence). Can we take a minute to appreciate how cute and happy May looks to be skipping over 18″ jumps? She was soft and willing but taking me to the fences, all good things.
That’s the great thing about May. Very small jumps, think 2’3″ and under, result in a VERY easy to ride May. She will happily lope around and find all her distances and be soft through the simple changes. I’ve lent her out for a couple of lessons at this height back in NJ when someone needs to get the feel for something that isn’t a school horse but that isn’t going to do anything dangerous.*
*Most of the time. May did once politely force a friend of mine off her back after a small crossrail… said friend had been competing her 6yo thoroughbred at Novice at the time… but I contribute most of that to May being a COMPLETELY different ride from her horse and the fact that the saddle didn’t fit and caused May to do that lovely crow hopping thing.
So after this test, I ended up having TWO lessons the next week. (yes TWO!). The first lesson was a W/T dressage lesson. Yes, we still have these. It was a REALLY hot night, and we spent a lot of time working on a new concept to help May flex laterally through her lower back and the area just behind her withers, which I don’t think is something May has ever really done in her entire life. I mean, we bend, but we don’t BEND like that.
I will try to get better at the exercise and then post it up on here. It’s a bit like a counter-bend halfpass on steroids. But again, more on that later.
The next lesson, I was warming up in the outdoor arena, and my trainer came over to see if we wanted to “play over some poles.” Apparently, she had seen my video and figured I was game. And I was!
We started with 4 poles, half raised on each side, to trot through. True to form, when the trainer asked me if May had ever done raised trot poles, I told her yet. Then May made me look like a liar the first time through by trying to canter them. Fine. Then trainer said, “you know, you’re supposed to do these types of poles really slow.” Wait… what? “Ummmm,” I replied back, ” how slow?”
She gave me an odd look and then said, “start trotting normally and just start slowing it down. Once you get to the right speed, I will let you know.” Fun fact, my default, super forward trot was the exact opposite of what we were looking for. We wanted to encourage her to lift up through her back and sit on her hind end. Which is exactly something she CAN’T do if she is plowing forward.
**I add this with the note that I wouldn’t recommend 18 of these poles for horses that aren’t used to this type of work, and I wouldn’t use PVC poles. Horses hit them quite hard when they are learning this, and a splintering PVC pole could be a huge problem. However, there is practically no media in this post, so I had to give you all something.
Once we got that down, we lifted three of the poles up to about 1′ on the block and set them for canter bounces. The fourth pole was removed. Then, we cantered through it. Again, the goal was to get May to hold herself to the base, so that she could rock back through the exercise. The first couple of times through, she wanted to dive on her forehand and throw herself through the grid. Eventually though, we figured out the rhythm and got a nice feel.
My trainer then added a 2’3″ vertical to the mix. Making it into the below “mini course”. We came down over the bounces on our left lead. Carried the lead through the corner and then up the single diagonal vertical. May was good through the bounce but then wanted to take me over the vertical, and we got a bit of a flyer to that one. Turns out, it’s hard to stay with a flyer in the Dressage saddle, but it was fine. We did it a couple more times.
Then we went off the right lead and added a single vertical the other direction (the brick wall). May tried to take over going to the new jump again, but I corrected. We got a chip to it the first time, but smoothed it out the second. Finally, we pulled together a little course. Bounces off the left lead, left turn to the first vertical, then a left turn around to the other vertical. May was great and soft and wonderful.
All I have to say is, I CANNOT WAIT to have a real jumping saddle back again.