12.11.2018 – Jumping Lesson

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:

Four verticals, one oxer with 2 placing poles. 

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. 

An old pic of the ring. 

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.”

Proof that she can stretch for it. 

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. 

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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?

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A Back to Basics Dressage Lesson

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!

Are you setting any specific goals this winter?

Blog Hop: Things I’ve Learned from Other Bloggers

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.

1. Emma from Fraidy Cat Eventing.

Fraidy Cat

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.

2. Lauren from She Moved to Texas.

cropped-agave-logo

(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.

3. Megan from A Enter Spooking.

AESpook

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?

4. Carly from Poor Woman Showing.

PWS

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.

5. Michele from Fat Buckskin in a Little Suit.

FBuckskin.jpg

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.)

img_6351

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!

The “Young” Vs. The “Old” Trainer

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.

Buddy

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.

Ezme

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.

Winston

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.

Nev

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.

May

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.

We Jumped! (and had a jumping lesson… sort of)

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?”

Old footage of May doing pole stuff

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.

So we slowed it down, and we kept it down. Here is a good video of someone else doing something similar, and she talks about horses wanting to rush through this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r0m2q4bKqbU **

**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.

Terrible photo of the jumps we jumped circled in black

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.

 

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.

 

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.

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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!

Ask for 100% and Reward 100%

The title of this post could also just be called “dressage”.

I finally got around to scheduling a Dressage lesson. Unfortunately, it will likely be our last lesson until the Spring since my trainer will be off to warmer weather soon. However, it was a truly eye opening 30 minutes. I am still very new to Dressage, having converted over to the eventing world only a couple of years ago.

 

See? Hunter Princess

 

In my first Dressage lesson ever, my trainer at the time asked me to put the horse on the bit. I did a wonderful job of creating a “hunter-frame”. You know, with the nose poked out and big loops in the reins? Every time the horse took contact and offered even slightest resemblance of pushing from behind, I gave. The very smart appaloosa I was on learned that if he sort of held it together, I would totally leave him alone. Then my trainer said, you want 5lbs of weight in each hand.

 

He knew he was smarter than me

Wait… what? This resulting in (for the first time in many years) me being pulled into the middle of the arena so that my trainer could physically explain to me what she was talking about. She stood in front of the horse, took each rein in each of her hands and pulled against my hands. Then she said, “There. That is what you should feel.” Turns out, it only gets more complicated from there!

 

Overall, however, that habit of taking a small effort and giving it a big reward has continued to plague my Dressage career.

My most-recent lesson started as soon as I began walking in a 20M circle around my trainer. She told me that May, being a fully matured horse, should have no problem staying “in the box” that I assign her. May is not a spooky horse, but she loves to know what is going on around her. She will try to look through the farriers tools, peek into people’s car windows, and watch things off in the distance that you and I can not even make out. Since she isn’t spooky, I have never really addressed her lookiness. However, I quickly realized how allowing her to pick up her head and looks at things has become an evasion tactic that she uses anytime work gets hard.


Once we had her attention fully on the work we were doing, my trainer asked us to do a couple of turns on the forehand. While we have worked on turn on the haunches a few times, we have never tried turn on the forehands. This has more to do with the fact that we are always working on getting May off of her forehand and onto her hind end, so doing a change on the forehand always seemed counter intuitive. Until we tried this exercise… and I realized she didn’t know the aids for moving her hind end over as an independent part of her body… Whoops…

Off of my right leg, we had no issues and she swung around like a champ. Off the left leg… not so much. She would either blow through my rein aids and go forward or she would go backward. My trainer had me “reset” her back to the place we started each time. Finally, we took a break and walked a lap. Then my trainer explained that she just seemed confused. So she asked me to take my right leg completely off of her. I did that and voila, we got a few good steps off my left leg! Definitely putting that on my list of things to work on.

Finally, it was time to trot. And trot we did. Again, I was reminded to keep May “in her box”. Once that was established, we were able to push her forward into the contact and engaging the hind end. I could actually see the muscles in the top of her neck and to her withers working, as opposed to her dropping behind the vertical and falling on her forehand. It was truly the opposite of what we had been doing: avoiding momentum in favor of balance. By giving her somewhere to go and pushing her forward, she found her own balance and suddenly had a lot more power.

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Old Picture… same dressagey goals
However, my hands wanted to revert back to pre-Dressage days: pick until you get 75% of what you are looking for then drop all contact. My trainer told me to be 100% clear with what I wanted, even if it meant getting stronger with my aids, and then giving 100% with my inside hand when I got what I wanted. Slowly, May would revert to an outside bend or lose the impulsion, but when that happened, I asked again, 100% clear. I was fairly good at this to the left but AWFUL to the right. To the point where my trainer had me hold my hand right out like I was handing someone something (I joked that I was envisioning handing her a check. I am glad she laughed).
After doing this a few times, I found May holding the contact with my outside (left) rein a lot better. My trainer said I was a great rider, as I could clearly feel when it was right and could reward immediately. That made me feel great because sometimes i manage to convince myself that I am completely numb… but I probably just need lessons to enforce what I feel… like everyone else other than George Morris who rides horses.

Now, for the canter. The canter is by far our hardest gait. It’s not that May has a bad canter, in fact my trainer commented on how correct all of her gaits are. It’s more that there are so many ways for her to escape holding herself correctly and she takes advantage of them all. Her favorite is to pull me off balance, then she’s off balance, and it is quite hard to correct without going back to the trot, regrouping, and cantering again. Of course, trainer immediately caught onto this. She told me to lengthen my reins and sit back. Then, to pull my elbows back to the point where she could have stuck a stick between the crook of my elbows and my back. And THEN try to get May connected. Oh man. That was hard.

 

At least, we’ve had some improvement…

I eventually, kind of sort of got it, but I don’t feel like I ever truly got May “connected” in the canter. My trainer recommended practicing that seat until I sit better. She also recommended I lengthen my stirrups a hole or two (or even take them off altogether). Definitely something to work on so we can have more success at it next time.

 

Unfortunately, with the cold weather, I haven’t been able to get a ton of new media. Maybe once it warms up a bit, I can convince my better half to come take some new video / pictures for you all.