Learning the Feel of New Things

Last night, we had our first Dressage lesson in a while. In all honesty, the purpose of this lesson was two-fold, I felt like May had kind of been blowing through me a lot lately, and I wanted to see if the magnawave/massage session had any effect on the flat, where it would be easier to assess than over fences.

When it comes to the blowing off thing, it’s not (usually) a blatant throwing of the head and running off with me. Although, it can be. It’s more that she sort of gives me something, I ask for a little more, and she… doesn’t give me any more. Or I make a correction, and she goes “Nah, I got this.” The correct response is typically to ask more firmly (Ask, Tell, Demand sequence).

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However, I have a tendency to back off and blame myself. Oh she must not be moving off my leg because I am sitting wrong, or blocking her, or whatever. So by myself, I might back down. This hasn’t been an issue for the last 4 years because we were securely in the position of “things I know.”

I am fairly comfortable in my ability to get a horse to bend, move through its body, connect into the bridle, etc etc etc. At least through a training level frame. When it comes to First Level stuff, I have gotten enough training to generally know how to put those most of those moves on a horse.

Now though, I am asking for more. I am asking for better leg yields, true shoulder in, and the beginnings of real counter canter work. And truly, I don’t really know what I am doing.

Case and point: Last night, my trainer asked me to do a 20M circle at the trot. Cool. Simple. Got it. We played around with my lack of geometry a bit (oops), and then she asked me to do a shoulder in along the circle. Our shoulder ins down the long side are solid enough that we should be able to do this exercise, and it is a great way to add flexibility through the rib cage (one of our issues) and encourage the hind end to come under the horse (another issue).

May Walk

I tried for about half a circle before doing a walk transition and walking over to Mandy, “yeah, what am I supposed to be doing?”

I realized that I was trying to pull her around the circle with my inside rein (not helpful), while trying to shove her haunches out with my inside leg (also… not helpful). A shoulder-in can originally be guided with the inside aids, but it really is an outside aid exercise. So… I knew I was doing it wrong, but I Could Not wrap my head around what I SHOULD be doing. If I was riding by myself, I would drop the exercise and go back to something I definitely know how to do.

Mandy, bless her, did not miss a beat. She started drawing diagrams in the sand about the 20 cm circle, the angle I was looking for and what May’s body should be doing. I nodded along, that all made sense. Then, she broke down the aids for me. Showing me the “extreme” versions of what my aids should be doing and then connecting that back to how that will influence May’s body to engage in the shoulder-in move.

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A few more nods, and I headed back out to my 20M circle.  This time? It only took me about 1/4 of the circle to get it. At that point, Mandy starts yelling at me about what I should be feeling, “Feel her coming off that inside rein? Feel the inside hind coming under her body more?” These little tidbits of feel become my way of checking in when I do this on my own. My aids are doing X, so am I getting Y?

(off topic, but I found this after my lessons, and I thought it was pretty helpful: Random French Dude’s Advice on Shoulder-In)

Going in the other direction (tracking right), the exercise was substantially more difficult for us, so when we got a couple of good steps, I let May move forward into a straighter contact. However, this time, I was able to more effectively tackle the more difficult side because I had gotten the “Feel” cues from my trainer already.

To me, these are the building blocks of good instruction. My trainer has given me the tools to continue my horse’s training beyond my lessons. As for the magnawave, I am not sure I really felt any change in May’s way of going after it. It clearly felt good, but I don’t think the right shoulder issue is a pain thing, as much as it is a training thing. As a result, a pain management tool didn’t fix our training. Oh well. 😉

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When It Clicks – Jump Lesson Recap

Once again, I walked into a jump lesson feeling totally dumpy. Stress and hormones were taking their toll, and as I warmed up, I felt like my body was loose and unwieldy. Why couldn’t I sit in the saddle or put my leg on right or do anything right? The world may never know.

As usual, I debated about telling my trainer (can we just call her Mandy now?) that I wanted to keep it easy and simple and whatever. Also as usual, I didn’t. I took the hour of time to lay myself at her feet and let her do what she thought was best. Sometimes, that is oddly therapeutic.

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I finally managed to jump the middle 😉

Our first exercise was a classic… but something that I realized I had never done with May. We trotted into a 4 stride line. Halted, and then cantered out over a low, wide oxer. It got… better… but we never really nailed it. May think that whole idea is dumb. We should just jump the thing and then the other thing, no stopping needed. She did, however, jump the stuff out of the oxer EVERY TIME. Seriously, this is probably the best thing we have ever done to help strengthen her back end.

Since it was so hot (mid 80s with humidity and no breeze, yuck), we didn’t want to push things too much, so after doing the line exercise a few times, we moved onto a course.

Almost asked Mandy to make this one smaller/narrower…

The course was a short approach to the pink vertical, bending right to the oxer, loop left over the corner fence, long approach to another wide oxer, right turn over the plank vertical, then a long approach to the triple bar. I do not doubt that the reason both approached to the long oxer were off the left lead is because I tend to let May fade right on that lead.

This time though, I didn’t! For years, we have worked on getting the right balance and rhythm. Now? We are adding the straightness, and it is clearly making ALL THE DIFFERENCE.

I honestly got a bit lost going to the first jump, so I just put my leg on and got her straight. She jumped it great but a bit big… and I panicked and cut my turn to the oxer. It kind of surprised her, but she jumped the snot out of it.

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The left turn to the corner was great. We got a bit close, but I would rather do that then take a flyer to a corner. I kind of just let her coast around until we made the turn to the red black and white oxer. I really pushed her off my inside leg. While she was surprised by the slightly bigger height of it and tapped the rail, she landed on the right lead. Yay!

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Almost asked Mandy to make this one smaller/narrower…

I should’ve kept her moving through the corner but didn’t, so we had a bit of a long spot to the plank. The nice thing about the plank is it looks a bit more solid, so she jumped it night. Then the triple bar. Mandy specifically told me to just keep my leg on to it and DON’T PULL. So I didn’t I got her straight off my leg, kept my leg on, and she jumped it great!

So was it hoof perfect? Nope, but it was the best I have ridden a course on the first try in a LONG TIME… like maybe ever. And, it’s a long way from this Way Back Wednesday Post!

Since it was so good, we decided to just end on that. No point in making a pony tired when she just laid down a trip like that!

A Lesson in Adjust-ability and Balance

Have you ever felt like you have been eating really well/clean, and then you track your food and it turns out you are basically eating like a 18 yr old their first week of college? No? Just me? Well, I feel like we have been super consistent with our lessons, but as always, the blog is here with the truth.

 The truth? Our last jump lesson as 5/15… which was our first jump lesson since 4/23. Oops. Part of this was my wonderful and much needed Florida vacation… and part of this was us being derailed by our super fun XC schooling at KHP. Worth it.

Knowing this gap, I had actually jumped May on Friday afternoon. I don’t jump when we are totally alone, but the woman doing evening barn chores showed up just as I was considering ending my ride, so we popped through the cross rail line and then some vertical gymnastics. The problem? I had my Dressage bit in instead of my jumping bit, so May kind of dragged me around. Oh well. We would fix it on Tuesday.

AND FIX IT WE DID.

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I don’t think my trainer specifically set this course to fix all my issues… but damn if it didn’t go a great job of it. We started with three crossrails set in the middle of the ring at angles. The distance between each crossrail if you rode straight through them (center to center to center) was two strides.

We started by just looping through the crossrails, taking the long approaches. And you know what? It was pretty bad. May wanted to just rock along on her forehand and drag me to distances that weren’t there. This issue always becomes a bit prevalent whenever we do accuracy exercises over small jumps.

Ahhhh the right shoulder drift. My favorite.

Over larger jumps, she rocks herself back a bit. But when they are little, she treats them like the suggestion of a speed bump. Sooo I wrangled back control, and we did a lot of halting, leg yielding, backing exercises after fences. NT wanted me to focus on getting a lot of control over her shoulders and balance.

We then added to the three crossrail exercise. I looped through with the long approaches, and then jumped the first jump, did a circle to the right, jumped the second one, did a circle to the left, and then jumped the last one. I struggled to get May to land on the left lead over the second one.

Eventually though, she was listening and landing in a better balance for me. Sooooo we then moved to what was, honestly, the hardest part for me. Jump in, bending three strides to right to the second cross rail, then bending three strides to the left over the third crossrail. The first time through… I got a big distance to the first… made the second happen… and then missed the third.

Ugh. Second time? Got the first one, took down one of the rails in the second jump… and got two strides to the first jump. UGH! Finally, we nailed it, and I really felt May rocking back on her hind end and wrapping herself around my inside leg. Sweet!

So then we moved to jumping straight through the exercise. Two strides between crossrails. EASY PEASY! May lined up and went. I worked on staying tall with my body and keeping her shoulders lined up nice and straight.

 

Much happier to just go straight through

At this point, we had a pretty long lesson, but hadn’t jumped anything of height. Sooo we put together a course. Bending 3 crossrails, long approach to middle crossrail, straight through crossrails in 2 strides, loop around to the left and grab the oxer, then loop around to the right for the barrel jump, bending 6 strides to the other oxer. (sorry the first jump got cut out below… damn 60 seconds on instagram)

Super happy with it! At this point, she decided she didn’t want to land on the right lead anymore. Oh well. We fixed it pretty easily. The 6 strides were easy peasy, even when she sucked back and jumped a little round over the barrel. For the first time in a long time, I felt like I had my horse back. Forward to the fences and easily getting the distances without her flinging her head around or me having to chase her around.

Room for improvement? Always! But definitely something positive to build on next week.

Grid Redemption – Jump Lesson Recap

I’m not sure if you all remember my last grid attempt, but I sure do. In case you forgot, it went something like this:

So when I saw a long grid set up in the middle of the arena (complete with guide poles), I found myself a bit hesitant. You have to turn away from the barn to it off the short side, so again, super important to control the shoulders while keeping the energy coming forward. Soooo similar to the last grid. Fun.

I warmed up quickly with a focus on getting May supple. Supple both going forward and coming back, as well as from side to side. We actually had a bit of an argument about that right shoulder on the flat. Cue some more nerves.

So I had a quick chat with my fear bird, and then turned on the helmet cam.

The grid started pretty small, so it ended up requiring a super quiet ride for me as May thought about just plowing through the whole thing.

We approached from one direction, then the other. Down the long side, I tried to just get out of the tack and let May coast along a bit (like she would through most of XC) and then sat and rebalanced before the turn. I do like taking opportunities to let horses carry their own balance as much as possible, and I like to think it’s a habit that has helped improve May’s balance over the last few years.

We only went through it once at this lower height since… well it just went really well. We popped the rails up a bit, and I went through it again. Same results, so we moved onto courses! Since the gymnastic is obviously a bit tough on the horses, the courses were fairly short with an emphasis on riding accurate lines on a forward step. You know… show jumping haha.

A for Effort from Ms. May!

For our first course, the gymnastic was first.( I made the ground poles light blue and the actual jumps dark blue). Right turn to an oxer set on a turn off the rail. You know, the type I LOVE to cut the corner to. Left turn to a 7 or 8 stride bending line from the swedish oxer to vertical.

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Tuesday was also the day of needing the second try for me. Both times, May landed from the grid on the left lead (probably because that is how we turned while warming up).

First time through this course, I pulled May around the corner to jump two, pulling her off the counter canter in the front. The jump was fiiiiiiiine, but we didn’t get the lead over the jump (because I was pulling right). Sooo the swedish came up super awkward, and I slipped my reins. As a result, I rode with super long reins to the pink vertical in 8 squirrelly strides.

So then we tried again. The second time through, I kept the left lead to the square oxer (yay), but just didn’t see anything coming to the swedish and didn’t insist on the forward and straight, so she chipped and fell right. (Leave it to us to jump the highest part of a swedish oxer) Falling right made the bending 7 strides to the vertical a bit long; however,  I rode forward and straight (hah), so it was fine. You can see that round in the first slide of the below insta:

The next course is in the second slide of that insta. No grid this time, so had to set our own rhythm right off the bat.

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First jump was the pink vertical bending to the swedish, which rode great. Then… she jumped a bit right and faded right after the swedish, so our turn was super awkward to the square oxer. Again though, forward and straight. The LONG (see below for how long) distance towards the rail ended up with May cross cantering after the fence

I had basically…. 12 strides of complete indecision. (future self, just let her get straight). She fixed it (with no help from me) when we got straight to the fence… but again, I saw nothing and kind of did nothing. The awkward distance to fence four meant the four bending strides to fence five came up SUPER quick… and I didn’t do anything to fix the distance. So it was also awkward. (Yay for consistency?)

I am proud of the fact that I didn’t just throw my body at her when things got weird. It helped her keep a bit of confidence and get over the fences without any rails coming down. I circled around (also in the video above) and did that line again. It rode great, so we finished on that!

Honestly, my nerves are starting to feel WAY MORE within my control at this point. I didn’t have that numb, panicky feeling before every course. However, I did make a note to let NT know when I was getting towards the end of my physical limit, since I think the accident a few weeks ago was partially due to my own fatigue.

Either way, we already feel ready for our move up to BN in the beginning of June, so I am excited to fine tune my issues before then.

The Media I Didn’t Want To Get

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.

Hey May – The grid is over there!

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!

Jump Dysmorphia

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.

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Baby Jump – Major heart attack. 

Right now, I am coping by doing the following:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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?

Jump Lesson Recap!

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.

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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.

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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!

How to Have a Dressage Lesson Next to Polo Practice

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…

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An old pic… but still valid

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.

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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. sunset-trot

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.

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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?

Getting With The Program

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?

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I remember this being fun.

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.

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Our First Lesson Together.

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?

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?