I was pretty impressed when I came out on Sunday and May was ready to play. I started my Dressage ride with some pretty strict rules for my. INCLUDING, sticking my crop under both thumbs to keep my hands from doing funky things or wandering. I know everyone is shocked to hear that doing this meant May came pretty reliably into the contact, including bending in both directions without my hands having to enter much of the conversation.
After a quick warm up, we played with some turns on the haunches, which were actually pretty good. So I moved into the shoulder-in exercise on a 20M circle. The left, as expected, was great. And the right was pretty good too. She was able to give me a few steps of true shoulder in. Instead of drilling this willingness, I let her drop down into the contact and switch directions after each good attempt.
Alright, so then I figured we should play with the shallow counter canter loops. We picked up the right lead first… and when I got to M, I directed her to the quarter line, then bent back to F, wash and repeat on the other side. It was OK. I still didn’t feel like she was really wrapping around my inside leg. Again though, I didn’t want to discourage the try or drill it. So we moved onto the other side and repeated…
Or at least, I went to repeat… and she immediately spooked at the corner of the arena. It was one of those moments where she was spooking, and I was looking around trying to figure out what she was spooking at… mid spook. No clue, so I circled around, and it was now a non issue. Maybe she saw something through the door. Maybe she felt I was getting too comfortable up there. Who knows.
Either way, we repeated the same counter canter loops with pretty much the same results. Ugh.
So I stopped for a minute. What was I trying to achieve? As always, I am trying to quicken the hind end and shift more weight backwards while improving jump. Sooo I decided to pick up the right lead again and try some baby shoulder fore. I mean… not even totally three tracks, just offsetting the shoulder to the inside.
May’s reaction? Well, I am apparently the MOST UNFAIR MOM EVER. Seriously. I half halted, asked for the bend, put my inside leg on, moved my hands over, shifted my weight, and she started flinging her head around.
I swear, I ended up with mouth foam on my helmet. I was just sitting there, no contact in my hand, just maintaining the bend with my leg and seat, staring at her like…. As soon as she softened, I let her go back to straight. I asked one more time, less dramatics, and I let her be done with a lap of stretchy trot around the arena and a nice walk hack.
Fingers crossed that it translates to our next Dressage ride with less drama.
After hacking around on Saturday morning, my plan on Sunday was to give May the day off while I got my closet organized. Seriously, my life is that exciting guys. Then, I got a text from my trainer:
“Hey, I’m contemplating running down to KHP to school after the show. Any interest in going with?”
Ermmmm Yes! I knew my trainer wanted to go to school her own horse, but I figured it would be a fun opportunity to hack around the XC course and pop over a few questions. My main goal was to get May’s feet into a couple of different water complexes.
I arrived at the barn just as one storm cloud decided to open up over us. No big deal. The weather at the horse park is usually way different than whatever we get in Louisville. It delayed us about 20 minutes getting out of the barn, but again, not a big deal.
As we drove through the rain, I double, triple, and quadruple checked the radar. Everything indicated that storms would kick up in Lexington around 5:30PM. We were planning to be on the XC course by 4PM, so that was PLENTY of time. We laughed about summer storms and were more concerned about how busy it all would be.
When we got to the horse park, we basically threw cash at the secretary and ran to tack up. I don’t think I have ever thrown equipment on my horse that quickly. While I had grabbed my ogilvy pad and my cambox… I left both of them in the trailer as clouds looked a little closer than they should be.
As I hopped on, I told NT that it’s always good to practice in less than ideal conditions. She agreed, and we were off! We saw several people trotting towards the XC fields, and a dozen more already out on course, jumping stuff. I even commented, “We can’t be that crazy if we’re not alone!”
We warmed up near the start gate for the event. I popped over a Starter/BN log a few times. As usual, May felt great and game. Fun!
NT turned to me and asked me what I wanted to do. I waved her off and reminded her that we were there for her to school, so I would just jump whatever around her. We trotted out to one water complex with the Rolex Arena hanging around in the background (iconic). As we headed that way, I jumped basically every Starter jump I could find (most of the BN stuff was occupied by trainers and groups of horses). I even strung together some Starter jumps in more technical ways than they would be done for an actual starter trial.
By this point, the wind was picking up… and so was the rain… I think at one point I felt a piece of hail nail me in the back of the neck. But again, we weren’t alone. We even passed a kid on a very upset cute pony. May kind of flicked an ear at me, but honestly, she loves hanging out in the rain in her field at home, even though she has a covered shed.
We gamely trotted into the first water complex… and saw some lightning. Cool. A group of horses and people were hiding behind a couple of trees, so we traveled to the next copse of trees and figured we would wait out the wind and rain there. We were at least 10 minutes from our trailer anyway.
Part of me wishes we had taken pictures at this point… part of me is happy we didn’t. Despite being out of the worst of it, water streamed down our helmets and tack. However, both the horses just rested their back feet and chilled while the storm moved through. It took maybe 15 minutes for it all to blow through.
When we emerged from behind our tree… everyone else had left. I am not sure how many people can say they got a private XC school at the Kentucky Horse Park, but I can officially say that I am one of them!
We played around a bit more in the water complex we started at. I told NT that she just HAD to jump the ditch with a stream running through it. The jump was literally part of a creek that had been structured up to be a little jump. And… NT’s horse just could not figure out what the answer to the question was. We spend so much time teaching horses to step calmly into water… that when a question asks them to jump OVER water, sometimes it just doesn’t click.
May, however, really dislikes stepping in water. Even on trail rides, she greatly prefers to LEAP over small creeks and such, so I knew she would jump over it. So… after watching NT’s horse struggle to figure out the answer, I asked her if she wanted a lead. We figured it couldn’t hurt, so I headed to the side of the ditch she was one, picked up the trot, and faced May at this thing.
I grabbed my neck strap with my right hand and took the back seat… because no one wants to end up in the water… no matter how wet I already was. May trotted up to the ditch, stuck her face down at it, and then LAUNCHED herself over it. Jumped me out of my wet and slippery tack, and then politely loped away. Luckily, I stayed on (thanks neck strap), but I definitely jammed my thumb in its joint.
NT’s horse followed merrily behind us, and that seemed to completely help him figure out the answer. You could see him grow in confidence after that one question. Honestly, at this point, I can’t even remember if it was still raining… we were so damn soaked. I DO remember the way my breeches squelched against my saddle. Yum.
We moved on to another water complex. It had a nice up bank to a semi-narrow option and a Prelim-level coffin pretty close together for NT, and it had some BN and Starter jumps for me. I cantered off and jumped the Starter stuff. Of note, probably best not to jump TOWARDS the trailers when your horse has been standing in the rain for the last hour… They might try to run towards it. 😉
After reining May back in, I watched NT jump the bank combination. I popped through the water and over the BN coup without an issue. Then NT gave me a little course. Through the water, over the N coup, left turn, BN coup back to the water. Coming out of the water, I lost May’s right shoulder, and she LAUNCHED over the N coup. Thanks Mare. It gave my knee a good torque in my… again… really wet tack. We still looped back to the BN coup and popped over that and through the water without an issue.
Not surprisingly, NT had us do it again. This time, I nailed it, and it felt easy and fun, even in the muck. I was proud of May for cantering through the water, a skill she has just recently required.
NT jumped through the Prelim coffin a couple of times, and then asked if there was anything else I wanted to do. Nope! We tackled some water stuff, a lot of single jumps, and a few more technical questions. I was happy to get back to the trailer.
As we rode back… still in the rain… we saw no one else mounted. When we got back to the trailer, we snapped this picture, while trying to hold in our hysterical laughter. It was an… unconventional schooling… but it was a good one.
On the way home, I checked the radar one more time… I guess it was a little more serious than we had thought. 😉
Once home, the ponies got dinner and got to go out… in what was then a beautiful 75 degree evening with little humidity and even fewer bugs. Obviously, there was no way to get media in that weather, but I am 100% certain that it is a day that I will never forget.
Now, I will readily admit that I am not a boot aficionado. My show boots? $600 Ariat Crowne Pro boots that I am just starting to fit back into. Let me start with this, to me, $600 is A LOT of money to spend on riding boots. I know, clutch your pearls.
My schooling boots for the past few years have been the Ariat Heritage Contour boots. In fact, these are actually the first boots in a long time that I held onto until they fell apart. Why did I hold onto these?
They were still $200+… way more than I want to spend more than once every several years.
The black, traditional field boot design allowed them to transition from schooling boot to show boot with only a bit of polish.
The XW calf width, right off the shelf, meant they were always comfortable, even when I threw on leggings, winter breeches, and thick socks in the winter.
The foot-bed is super comfortable. I mean, I could literally wear these all day without my back bothering me, which is more than I can say for almost any shoe except my sneakers.
They’ve actually lasted me a decent amount of time.
I am abusive to boots. I really don’t want to be. I really do want to be the kind of person that puts my boots on right before I ride and then take them off as soon as I get off. The kind of person that keeps my boots in my temperature controlled garage, in boot trees, and wiped down after ever ride.
What kind of person am I? The kind of person that accidentally wears my tall boots out into the field, in the mud, to turn out my horse. (her needs first…. right?) The kind of person who tried wiping down her boots, about a month ago. And the kind of person that throws her boots in her tack trunk until next time. So when I buy a new pair of boots, they probably shouldn’t be my DREAM boots.
Instead, I will probably follow one of two avenues.
Another pair of Ariat Heritage Contour Field Boots. They’ve been slightly updated, but still the classic design and fit options. Not many reviews on the newer version, but my old version got a lot of great reviews for comfort and durability.
Tuff Rider Sure Grip Boots. These are by far the least expensive option, but I have never tried or seen them in person. Obviously, buying through RW would make things easy to try and send back, if necessary, but durability is hard to know without firsthand experience.
What boots do you ride in? What boots would you 100% stay away from?
When I made the decision to partially lease May out, I also made the decision to soften some of May’s buttons. I didn’t want someone else to get on her and have to deal with accidentally pushing buttons they didn’t mean to push. All that could do is end up frustrating both the new rider and May.
So I trained May to go forward and straight, on the contact. That’s pretty much it. Did it mean that the issue of her not connecting properly to the outside rein going right came back? Yup. Did it also mean that her shoulders mostly stayed in line and she was easy to steer? Yup.
With the half leaser taking her first Dressage lesson tonight with my trainer, I decided to throw those buttons back on and tune them back up. It took about two rides haha.
Last night, I rode May under the lights of the outdoor for the first time. (Thanks Daylight Savings… more like daylight wasting) She was really good, and I was able to move her body parts all independently. We had a very brief and not at all dramatic discussion about her moving off of my right rein and leg and into my left rein and leg, and that was it.
I sat the trot and got some decent shoulder in and leg yield work. We stepped into the canter. The first canter transition in both directions was fairly lackluster with her definitely leading with her inside shoulder instead of stepping under with the outside hind to push into the canter. I did a quick downward transition, reestablished connection, pushed her shoulder out, asked again, and had a much better transition.
We played with the circle of death set up at one end of the ring, but after about 20 minutes of work, I realized that I had accomplished what I had set out to do. So I hopped off and gave her some cookies. In May’s world, it was a pretty good day!
What about you? Have you ever “untuned” your horse for one reason or another?
Let me start by saying: This was not a voluntary experiment. After our great Dressage lesson last week, I got on her the next time, and she was just spicy. There was lots of head throwing and dramatics and our ride just got worse and worse. I finally let the reins out, and we just went for a walk. When I hopped off, I realized that she had somehow got pinched by her bit that she was worn for nearly every ride for the last 2 years. (back to the baucher? Thoughts?)
I will say, that I had adjusted the Micklem bridle a couple of weeks ago because it was rubbing against a bug bite on her cheek. I guess it is time to readjust it back. I hemmed and hawed about what to do… I had ridden May a couple of times when I first got her in a hackamore, but the idea of shelling out cash for something I will probably use 3 or 4 times seemed super unappealing. I originally thought about attaching my reins to a crank noseband I have somewhere. I figured it would work kind of like a side pull. However, I COULD NOT find the thing, since I only use the figure 8 on that bridle.
I was convinced that I couldn’t fit my reins on the right attachment on the Micklem to use it, so I brought along some options to rig SOMETHING together and hope I didn’t die. It turns out, I could just attached my reins to the Micklem. I checked to make sure the nose pieces was high enough on her face not to cause any discomfort, and I figured I would give it a try.
Conclusion? I had really no breaks or real steering, so we stuck to the outdoor and just did trot sets. I figured a nice, no pressure ride would help both of us get used to this new way to communicating. Plus, this was only a temporary situation.
Then yesterday, I saw that it looked like the pinched spot had completely cleared up. Since I am going away next week, I figured it wouldn’t hurt to just ride the rest of this week bitless. I threw on the bitless micklem, ignored some odd stares by someone who I am pretty sure was CONVINCED I was missing SOMETHING, and I headed to the indoor. I figured the 2 beginner type riders having a lesson in the outdoor wouldn’t appreciate the addition of a large yellow wrecking ball with both questionable steering and breaks.
Instead, a teenager and her thoroughbred had to deal with me in the indoor. I figured that today, being in the indoor, I would push May a bit more forward and try to drive her into my hands. No luck. 0 luck. Possibly even negative luck. I could steer a bit better, but the Micklem did nothing to help me stop any kind of forward motion. To do a downward transition was an act of full body control and divine intervention.
I even had the crazy notion that maybe if we cantered, it would get her moving better over her back! It didn’t work. I did a 30 meter oval to the left with a terrible upward transition and a nearly nonexistent downward transition. But you can’t just do it one way! So we turned around and tried the right lead! It was equally bad. I ended up seriously wishing I had though to at least put my spurs on or grabbed my whip so I had SOME WAY to INSIST on at least one of my aids being listened to.
At the end of the ride, I just had to laugh. No harm was done. I doubt I undid any of May’s training, and if I did, it would be a quick fix anyway. The horse enjoyed the ride thoroughly, and I got to use some muscles that I didn’t even know I had. How about you? Ever gone bitless?
May is about as non-mareish as I think a mare gets. You know how I know she is in heat? She winnies every now and then when we are on a trail ride by ourselves. There is no carrying on, there is just a “hey everyone, I am over here. ok?” kind of noise. However, May does have attitude. Sometimes, it feels like pony-tude, but we are a few inches too tall for that.
Case and point? On Thursday, I was chatting with a girl at the barn who was riding a horse other than her own. Turns out, she was having some issues with her own horse and was pretty down about it. This is a very accomplished rider (let’s call her PR), who has run a few prelims, so I gleefully offered her a turn on May. We laughed about it, as she hopped off the other horse and tried to get on May. She asked if there was anything to be aware of, and I told her she might test her a bit, but as long as you got control of the body, you wouldn’t have to fight a lot with her legs and hands.
As soon as she tried to swing on, May took off at the trot and joyfully bounced out of the arena. Welp… PR managed to get on. Still laughing, she headed back into the arena. I told her to try moving May’s body back and forth to establish connection and balance. May trotted, and kept trotting, then walked for 2 steps, then trotted again.
She tried falling behind the bit, jigging with her head in the air, popping her shoulders both to the inside and the outside. Generally, she was just a pill. PR, being a good sport, trotted and cantered her for a while. She even told me May actually seems like a fun ride, right before quickly dismounting and handing her back to me. The comment with the most conviction, “I am not sure how you ride this horse, but I think I need to do more yoga.” I couldn’t even convince PR to jump her, since she couldn’t figure out the steering.
Oh well, it still generated a lot of a laughs for another rider that was going through a rough patch. A couple of days later (after buying a new car!), I hopped on, and all the buttons were exactly where I had left them, so I am not sure if the issue is my riding or May’s attitude. Whatever it is, we made it work.
What about your horse? Do they “object” to being ridden by others?
In a lot of ways, riding has stayed relatively low tech. There are really no substitutes for sitting on a real live horse, in a field, doing basically the same thing thousands (millions?) of people did hundreds of years ago. However, we are in an age where nearly everyone rides with a cell phone in their pocket, or at least nearby. (just check out those new USEF rules about headphones in the warmup ring!)
There are a lot of REALLY EXPENSIVE upgrade options that I would love to own, but cannot justify the price. A clinic or a Solo Shot? A show or a Equisense? Fun fact – the training will always win out. BUT I have found some free options that I am finding are really making a difference in my rides. Of course, neither of these things are horse-specific (or I am sure they would come with high price tags!).
Remember that nifty calendar from the beginning of the month?
Well, it came from Google Sheets. Completely free, completely editable, and, best of all, easily accessible to me on my phone. Why is that important? Because I am often in the saddle and completely at a loss for what was supposed to be on the calendar that day. I can pull up the calendar, check my schedule, adjust if needed, and get on with my ride… and all before my 10 minute walk warmup is over.
Now this one took a bit more research. For Christmas, I got a very inexpensive stopwatch. While the big, eventing watches are cool, they are also far too big for my wrist and tend to just roll around throughout a cross country course. A smaller, and cheaper, runners watch should do the same job, and just as easily.
So when I wanted to start timing the intervals of my rides, I pulled it out and set to work. And then I realized how much trouble it is to set up more than 10 intervals on a watch… Back to the drawing board. Then I figured, there should be an app for that!
(Pic of my absolute favorite eventing app, courtesy of my previous trainer’s instagram)
Eventually, I found “IntervalTracker” on the Apple App Store. It allows me to quickly and easily set up training intervals, and I can even set them to different noises so that I know when I am supposed to walk, trot, and canter, without interrupting my ride at all.
To decode this for everyone… a 10 minute warmup. Then it does an interval of low followed by an interval of high and repeats for how many sets you have. In this instance, you have 3 sets of trot with 3 minutes trotting and 1 minute walking. (Low is Trot and High is Walk). Then 2 sets of canter (Low is Canter and High is Walk). Then, I added one more set of trot (3 min trot and 1 minute of walk) before a 10 minute and 25 second cool down. Walk is a “Ding, Ding” noise, Trot is a single “Ding”, and Canter is a “Whistle”. All in all, this is working really well!
What about you? Are there any cheap (or free) technology upgrades that you use to make your rides and horse life better?
On a totally unrelated note, has anyone ever worked with a nutritionist? I have cleaned up my diet (more vegetables, no red meat, no added sugar etc.) and have been really, really struggling with feeling normal (lots of nausea, headaches, etc).
The wisdom of ignorance is a ridiculously important part of doing this thing we call “learning to ride”. I think many of us that rode as kids can think of a time when we really felt like we knew how to ride… like if we had the right horse and enough money of COURSE we could make it to Rolex or the Olympics or wherever. Then, we get a bit older. We get introduced to the “greats”. We read books, we watch clinicians, we LEARN. And somehow, in learning, we learn how little we do know.
Recently, I was reading one of my favorite blogs. I real OG in my book. A Enter Spooking (If you EVER had a clinic in KY, I need to be there.)
I am not a Dressage rider. My only real Dressage training has come from Eventing riders and that only began in late 2015. During my first Dressage lesson, the trainer asked me to ride the horse into the contact, and I couldn’t do it properly. It was the first day in many days in which Dressage makes me feel like a total fool.
However, I had felt like I had started to grasp how this whole Dressage thing works, at least on a basic level. Then Megan makes a comment about how “the rider should kneel into their thigh”. What…. WHAT? I stopped. I blinked. I read it again. Dressage riders should not sit on their butts. They should kneel into their thighs. Oh… Oh well… That actually makes a ton of sense. So now I was staring at my screen, and I realized that I didn’t even know how to properly sit in a saddle, much less ride in one.
But riders do not let our inability to do something stop us from trying. The first time you sat in a saddle, I bet that you couldn’t even make the old schoolie trot… or even turn. The first time you jumped, you probably had no idea where your horse would takeoff. And the first time you went a trail ride, I bet you had no idea how to get your horse through that one damn puddle. However, you worked at it. You read books, you tried different things, you sought instruction, and you got better.
Each time we peel back another layer of the “riding” onion, we realized another skill (or set of skills) we do not know. But now, we have something that we know we can learn to make us better. So we try, and we get better, and we master more skills… and learn how much more we don’t know and can’t do. 🙂
Riding at my barn is typically a very standard affair. I can pretty much rely on the fact that there will be no more than 2 other people riding at any one time, and in winter, there are never any lessons going on. Things tend to be quiet and calm and all that. (Seriously old media this post, sorry everyone)
Then, I showed up to ride on Saturday. Due to the weather, May didn’t get the ride I was planning on Friday, so she had a few days off. Either way, I was expecting to find my horse wide eyed and looking frantically around the outside of her stall… cool. Some deer came flying out of the woods, and I figured that was the end of it.
(Side note – how did I ever think the chair seat my old saddle put me in was at all acceptable?)
My plan was to just get the first day of our fitness plan started. I hopped on, and the ground was frozen enough to allow us to go on a walk through the adjacent field. It has a small hill in it, and it seemed like a good place to start our ride. And it was. And then we started heading back toward the main ring. Then, she saw it.
Recently, a horse owner with some disabilities moved into our barn. She uses a wheelchair and enjoys her VERY CUTE Morgan gelding by driving him. The cart has been hanging out in the indoor, which May hasn’t objected to, but seeing the cart chasing a horse around the outdoor arena was too much. We pranced, neck arched, and nostrils snorting. She threatened to spin and take off on me, and of course, I was using the mildest bit I had in my arsenal. Great.
There are two ways riders react to these situations, and I have been on both sides of both options.
Freak out. This is always fun. I once rode at a barn where there were several older riders. One had a horse who had a nasty habit of bucking and breaking parts of her body. So when something spooked her horse, her reaction was to get off, start slamming things, and screaming at whoever DARED to spook her precious Pookie. I understand where this behavior comes from. She was scared. She had been hurt. She did NOT want to be hurt again. However, for the several years I knew her, her horse’s behavior only ever got worse because he never actually had to deal with anything.
Just Ride On. I own a horse that I know I can handle. I specifically own her because I know that I can comfortable and capably handle her even at her worst. So I sat deep, kept reminder her that walking was what she wanted to do, and I continued our ride in the dressage arena. I didn’t push the issue by forcing May to work in the same space as the cart. (Partially because the lack of prep was unfair and partially because I have never actually seen this person drive and I wasn’t going to try and play dodge ball with something my horse is afraid of) Instead, I modified our trot sets. They were no longer about anything other than relaxing over her back and coming forward into the bit, and you know what, it took her all of 2 full 3 minute trot sets to relax into real work.
For our finishing walk work, I walked back to the main outdoor arena where the horse and carriage were now cantering around, and we walked outside the arena. May pranced a bit, especially when it came rolling up from behind her, but she was significantly more obedient than the start of the ride.
You can bet the next time I see that cart, I am going to ask if I can ride in the arena with them. (also, how cute would May look PULLING a cart?) How do you handle unexpected changes to your rides?
And for the record, May thinks all’s well that ends well, as long as it ends with cookies.
Sunday the sun rose and it was… a livable 27 degrees… as a high. Oh well. It was good enough to get to the barn. I had plan for a w/t and maybe even c hack. I was going to focus on quiet aids and a relaxed horse. I even put on my Dressage saddle and tall boots. I was ready. May greeted me with bright eyes and looked as ready for me to get some work done.
Then I walked into the indoor. It was a bit colder in there. No worries. As I always try to do in winter, I hand walked May around the indoor a bit. I always feel like it is a nice opportunity for her back to warm up before I hop on up there. Then I felt it, under my feet. Frozen footing. Then super soft and deep footing, then frozen footing, and back and forth. Well, there goes my plan.
So what to do? With 3 inches of snow on the ground over at least an inch of ice, going for a trail ride around the property (my other go to) was also out of the question. I started off just walking around the indoor on a loose rein, but after 20 or so minutes of that, I needed to do something else for my sanity.
So we started working on some lateral work. I pushed May’s shoulder away for a few steps, then straight a few steps, then the other direction for a few steps. At first, she totally resisted, as this isn’t something we have worked on since November. Then she started to get loose, and I could tell the pony yoga was working. So I transitioned into moving the haunches away. The same pattern persisted: resistance to enjoyment.
Next, I reiterated the idea of moving away from my leg laterally in both directions in a super controlled way. We turned down the centerline and went 4 steps to the left, then straight, then 4 steps right, all the way down the centerline. It keeps her paying attention and holding herself, so she doesn’t just throw her shoulder over and fall out through my outside aides. Once I felt that we had warmed up properly, I asked for some more difficult stuff.
First, we worked on haunches in. All I looked for was 2 steps of proper haunches in before I moved the shoulder back into line with the haunches and gave huge pats. We ended with no sweat, but definitely a warmed and more stretched out horse. How are you dealing with this RIDICULOUS COLD?