When I watched the video from my lesson on Tuesday, my first thought was “I wish we had nailed that first jump.” And that was true… but my second thought was “Maybe I should edit out that first jump before posting it.”
Honestly, I hear a lot about other riders doing just that. I will reach out to someone, to comment on how much progress they have made, and I will get a response along the lines of “Thank you! That part of our course was really good! Just be glad you didn’t see the rest of it. 😉 ”
You know what? I am not glad. I am not glad because I see all this manicured social media everyday. (I am addicted to instagram… sorry not sorry.) You see stadium rounds of all perfect distances. Video stills that show the smile at the end of a ride. And you miss out on the chips, rails, run outs, scrappy distances etc etc etc.
One of the greatest breakthroughs in my riding career was stadium scribing at a horse trial. I saw WAY MORE scrappy rounds than flawless ones. I saw pros, ammies, and juniors alike all make mistakes. It became pretty apparent that our social media lives do not fully reflect our actual barn lives.
So, I left the chip in the video. I left the head flinging in the video. I post XC posts of me getting left behind and supermanning through the air. It’s all out there like dirty laundry, and I am proud of it. Because it means that I love this horse and this sport enough to keep trying, even when it’s hard.
So let’s air out those fails to the world. AND laugh while doing it!
Last Friday marked 4 YEARS with Ms. May. This mare has redefined my relationship with horses. She helped me become an eventer. And, honestly, she owes me nothing. And Yet, she comes out almost every day and does better, just because I ask. It hasn’t always been fun and easy, but it has been so incredibly rewarding to be this mare’s partner.
If you’ve never considered yourself a mare person, May might just change your mind.
The last four years might not be filled with ribbons and trophies (although… this mare has never left an event WITHOUT a ribbon), but it is filled with a lot of laughter:
About a week after I first got May, she SAT DOWN on the crossties, snapping both of them. Not because she was scared. Not because she didn’t know how to tie. She sat down because she heard that dinner was being served, and she was NOT to be forgotten.
My barn in NJ used to offer two types of hay: a super rich, nutritional hay and a decent hay that was fed in bulk since there was no grass. At the last night check, my trainer was throwing the good hay, but not the great hay. May was nickering at her and making the “feed me” puppy dog eyes. Trainer threw her the good hay. May sniffed it and started nickering again. It was her way of saying, “Excuse me, but this is not what I ordered.”
When my sister came to visit last year, we arrived to the barn to find no people there, but May hanging out in another stall that she had deemed to be “better” than her actual stall. I think both of us ended up near tears with laughter
I guess I could go on and on, but I am just so thankful for all the joy this little mare has brought me. For a horse I bought on a drunken whim, with full intentions of likely flipping her in a few months for something “better” to the pony of a lifetime.
The last couple of weeks have been a bit of a roller coaster. For personal reasons, my part leaser has decided to end her lease after her show this weekend. I am sad about it, but I think we can all say that we have been where she is. She and May made a ton of progress together, and I am super thankful to have had her as part of the team for the last several months.
Then last week, my dog started acting a bit funny. In case any of you didn’t know, Hannah is truly the child in our family. She comes on family vacations, she gets special treatment… I mean, we basically bought a house with a great yard because I had promised her that when we lived in the apartment.
Over the weekend, she had started acting just… not herself. She had energy. She had her appetite. But something was just off. Then on Tuesday, she had an accident in the house, her second time in a week. The first one we had chalked up to stress after the groomers, but prior to that week, the dog had two accidents in the entire time I had known her.
By Wednesday morning, her belly was distinctly distended. Her energy and appetite were still fine, but we took her to the vet. As usual, every disaster scenario possible was flowing through my head. I am somewhat shocked that I had the wherewithal to get a urine sample and actually drive the dog to the vet.
They did a urine test, x-rays, bloodwork… and it was all pretty inconclusive. They referred us to a larger clinic for an abdominal ultrasound… which we couldn’t get until Thursday morning. My husband took that day off of work. The ultrasound came up clean, so we tested for cushings.
We had our diagnosis. Cushings. Did you know that cushings is more prevalent in dogs than horses? It’s just that most people attribute cushing symptoms in dogs to just getting older, so don’t get them tested as often. Go figure. It will probably take multiple, repeat tests and some playing around the dosage levels of the medication, but the vets were fairly confident that we could manage her symptoms.
So What Now?
Well… obviously, both of these events mean a pretty significant hit to the bank account. I debated half leasing May out again, but to be honest, I don’t think it’s fair to ask the mare to switch to another new rider in the middle of show season, especially with me planning on some pretty significant achievements. As a result, I am just excited to spend more time in the saddle again, but I think I have to rethink my show schedule. It would still be great to go Novice, but I am going to leave some rated shows on the sidelines for the next couple of months.
I am trying to sell my Dressage saddle. If I can sell it for a decent price, maybe I can swing getting a new jump saddle that fits both of us better. Then, I’ll sell off my Stubben jump saddle. However, this has fallen down near the bottom of the priority list for now.
It has been about a year and a half before I declared my Unicorn Saddle Search over… You can ready about the recap in that post here. After that level of struggle, I am seriously hating myself for writing this again but… I am casually saddle shopping again.
I guess I should probably start with the why.
As I pointed out when I bought the saddle, my stubben is very minimal. It is not like the monoflaps you see on 5* horses with decent blocks and a deepish seat. My Stubben has a balance point that’s a bit farther back with very small blocks and slick-ish leather. It is a great saddle for a lot of people, and it even fits May relatively well.
The problem? It doesn’t fit me. Now, this is not Stubben’s fault at all. The saddle they had originally proposed building for me was a Roxanne with a genesis tree in it and half panels. Did the demo of this make my butt sing? Nope. Since I already owned a genesis Dressage saddle, though, I was somewhat comforted that the genesis jump saddle would fit.
Except… the saddle Stubben recommended building for me was quoted at $5,600… before taxes. With no biomex seat, since that made the seat too shallow for my comfort level.
Girl… we all know that Stubbens go used for under $2K… fairly regularly. And again… no butt singing. Obviously, I didn’t order it.
I scoured the internet and managed to find a used genesis in the darker brown color for a very reasonable price. I think I actually ended up making money off of selling the Albion and buying the Stubben (although, after you add up all the shipping costs from trying saddles, I probably wasn’t that lucky.)
And the Stubben has been fine. Totally fine. No crow hopping from May, very limited rocking.
But… it’s really not the right fit for me. My leg swings when I try to sit because of the way it affects my balance. As a result, sitting is HARD. That heavy breathing in all my helmet cam vids? Yeah, that’s literally from the effort it takes to sit.
While I have been relatively happy with my position over fences, it feels very artificial. Not sure that makes sense… when we do complicated grids, I come back too fast, but if I try to stay forward a touch longer, I end up in front of the balance point of my saddle. Does that make more sense?
This video doesn’t really do the feeling justice… but I think you will be able to see what I mean regarding both the sitting issues and the coming back too early stuff.
So at the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event… I made it my mission to TOUCH THE BUTTS. Not really, but touch the saddles that butts go in. On Saturday, me and the husband made our rounds to all the booths to touch stuff. Most of the “typical suspects” were already a no from me. Basically anything French will never fit my horse (nor can I afford it). Some of the new saddle types were cool, but very limited in terms of sizing.
Honestly, the hardest part of looking that whole weekend was getting a rep to actually speak to me. Do I not look like a rider? Am I asking the wrong questions? Were people just burnt out by the time I got to them? Help me out people! haha
On Sunday, I was back to the Kentucky Horse Park for the day to cover my friend’s booth at the trade fair. Honestly, it was a lot of fun and something I would totally consider doing again in the future. I spent several hours talking to people about their horses, so what’s not to like!
It also gave me some time in the afternoon to chat with some reps of saddles I had identified the day before.
Schleese was first because they were… closest to the booth I was working at (other than Antares, which is a non starter for me). Their jump saddles looked well balanced, and the quality was really good. (as it should be, since I later learned that the price of their jump saddles start just above $5K. OOF.
Did I learn that fact from the rep? Nope. Both reps were sitting down on their phones, no one else in the booth. The conversation went something like this:
Me “Hi, I am looking for a new jump saddle for my hard to fit horse. I really like the look of your jump saddle.”
Them “Great. Our saddles will fit your horse.” I should have walked out then.
Me “Can you give me a bit more information? I really know nothing about your brand.”
Them “Our saddles are made for women. Like men can ride in them too, but they’re really developed for a woman’s hip bone structure.”
Me “um. ok. Anything else I should know?”
Them “Here’s our brochure, and you can write down your contact info so a rep in your area can reach out to you.”
Me “Um ok… Thanks… bye”
So odd… I still know basically nothing haha. I moved on.
One of the women at the booth next to mine really loves her Amerigo saddles, and they have a variety of tree options. She recommended I speak to her rep there. Lovely, lovely woman. She pulled out a few saddles for me to sit in, and we discussed the shape of my horse’s back (from my explanation), and what saddles she think might work.
She walked me through what they feel make the Amerigo saddles different. The saddles were GORGEOUS and expensive… running between about $5,500 to $6,500. Alright then. I liked their variety of trees and the wool flocking, but let’s face it, I don’t have $6K standing around. The Vega line is slightly less expensive, but there are less tree options, which made the rep skeptical that we could find something to fit my horse in that line.
Finally, I headed over to the County booth. I know what you all are thinking, County’s are JUST AS expensive as the above two brands. Totally, but there are often demo and used saddle floating around of this brand, so I figured it was worth a look.
Their saddles are gorgeous. Their staff was friendly, and I really loved the saddle I sat in. Honestly, sitting in saddle on a tree in the middle of a trade show is not the way to make one’s butt sing, but I can definitely see the appeal to them. She’s in my area a lot, so we discussed her coming out to take a look at May and give me her thoughts. If it ended up being something I HAD TO DO, it would have to wait until next year.
There is still a lot more to this story but… I think this post is long enough. I shall update everyone soon~
Warning in advance – most of these videos are VERY OLD and of VERY POOR quality with annoying music. Mute and watch at your own discretion haha.
I have been showing basically since the beginning of my riding career. My first horse show couldn’t have been that long after I first started riding. The plan was simple: a walk/trot class at a schooling show at my barn.
I have it in my head that the show was only an “in barn” one, but who knows if that was true at this point. I don’t think I had a riding coat or any of the special “stuff”, so it must have been pretty casual. I really don’t remember much from that show, other than the horses.
Shortly before that show, the barn lost the horse I had been riding. The only horse I had ever really ridden. A quick plan was made to have me ride another school horse (who I did poorly on), but it was then that my complicated relationship started. Somehow, my first experience with death and loss coincided with my first horse show.
I moved barns and the next few years were filled with “horse shows” at the end of each week of horsey summer camp. I even remember a quick 4H show when I was maybe 12? I don’t remember much other than SPEED… in a hunter class. Needless to say, the barely schooled pony I rode in his first ever show was not competitive.
I did not really learn how to horse show, but I did learn how to ride green and rank horses of all shapes and sizes. I changed barns again, wanting to get more experience and more opportunities to ride. A small barn 15 minutes from my house seemed perfect!
I still rode green horses, but I started to show more.
And you know what I remembered most from those days? Blackness. The kind of blackness where no sound, light, or feelings get in. Why do I remember blackness? Because I remember being SO TERRIFIED that I held my breath around my course of 8 cross-rails. Because my ability to ride the pants off anything at home did not translate to even an IOTA of success in the show ring.
The barn I was at changed a bit and had more of a focus on showing Welsh ponies. Again, I rode the green beans. But now, it was in whatever rail classes I qualified for. I went years without showing over fences. I did fairly well, all things considered. I learned how to get a horse to “show off” on the flat, how to hide the spook, and how to alleviate tension.
I wanted to get back into jumping… so I moved to a hunter jumper barn. I rode slightly more broke horses, and through pure repetition. The tension started to go away. I rode a really lovely little bay thoroughbred, and he taught me so much.
Bud, however, decided that jumping wasn’t really his thing anymore, and I switched to a gorgeous Chestnut mare… with one of the biggest bucks I have ever ridden. I showed more.
When she got hurt, I took the ride on a total pocket rocket of a pony. I learned to do the jumpers, and honestly, I LOVED the jumpers. The tension for perfection went away, and I just rode.
When the chestnut mare was ready to start again, we figured her sassy attitude would be fine in the jumper ring, so that’s where we went… and frustration and fear started to set in again. I never knew what I was going to get. I couldn’t move up. My riding stagnated. I figured it was just the result of college, so I pledged to get back at it when I graduated.
I graduated, and as a very generous birthday gift from my dad, I got to go horse shopping. I saw a lot of lame… and a lot of crazy. My budget was HUGE for a 22 year old… but tiny for the hunter jumper world. “I’ll just get a jumper type that could maybe cross into the equitation classes.”
I found Winston. On paper? Perfect. 16.2 Quarter Horse type. Sweet as sugar. And tense as anything I had ever sat on. I have time. I thought. I have patience. What I didn’t have was a cool head in the show ring…
We never made it further than the lowest of the low classes. Trust broke down. I tried to move him to an eventing barn (since he was WONDERFUL out of the ring), but the combination of us together was miserable. Rides ended with tears and my habit of not breathing while on course came back. Tense rides turned into complete meltdowns for both of us.
I cried more, and I put him up for sale. I had a plan. I wouldn’t buy anything. I would just enjoy being horseless for a while… ride some school horses… learn to event on something more made. Instead, I was faced with the proposal to trade Winston for May. Obviously, I bought May… but I figured I would just do what I was good at (putting on miles at home) and then sell her.
I owned her for a few weeks… and we took her to her first show. It was even a combined test! I remember riding with my trainer to the show, asking her how to do a Dressage test… because I had never done one.
It was the first show I actually enjoyed since riding Cowgirl more than five years earlier, and I learned that horse shows aren’t about having the most talented horse… or winning ribbons.. or laying down a perfect trip. Horse shows are about competing with a horse you love.
Apologies in advance for a rather rambly, stream of consciousness post.
Riding at the horse park for our competition was a bit surreal. Spring Bay is a bit of a unique horse trial in a lot of ways. Obviously, running XC at a different venue than SJ and Dressage is interesting, but it is more than that.
As we walked from the trailers to Dressage or SJ at the horse park, you could see the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event coming together. Crews worked to build tents and platforms around Rolex Stadium. The grass on the XC field was being mowed and tended to. Even the barns not being used for our event were cleaned and prepped, ready for the 5* horses to show up.
It’s easy enough to go to a schooling show, especially in eventing, and feel like you belong. Most everyone is on either an OTTB or a QH or a mutt of some kind. (sorry May). It’s pretty rare to see the newest or the best tack/equipment etc on the school ponies poking around baby starter. If you go often enough, you get to know most of the riders/trainers/horses on sight.
So I have gotten… pretty comfortable in that atmosphere.
Then a couple of weeks ago, I ventured to the Kentucky Horse Park, as it preps for KY3DE, my over-sized thelwell pony siting in the trailer, ready for Starter. I watched the Prelim riders perform their long and complicated Dressage tests (to me anyway). I walked the SJ course when it included 3 combinations, a triple bar, and was set to full prelim height. Thinking back on it, it was the first time I have ever been in a competition ring with jumps set to that height.
Then I picked up on the chatter, which horses were just out to do the CT to start off their season, and which horses were stepping down for a confidence building start. Confidence building?!
So the feelings started to creep in. This wasn’t really eventing. Who was I to call myself an eventer? Even a recent article on Eventing Nation seemed to acknowledged it:
I think we should respect the person that chooses to compete at Novice because that’s where they are happy and are enjoying the sport just as much as the person who is running around Kentucky.
HAH! NOVICE?! Girl, those BN jumps look big right now. Did this person purposefully skip the very lowest levels of our sport? The levels that run multiple divisions in nearly every event and help pay for the judges, venues, secretaries etc etc etc? I like to think not…
I have told myself for years that getting to Novice would be really eventing, but the truth is, a couple of weeks ago, me and my horse went to compete three times in three different phases. And we were competent and competitive in each phase. To me, that is eventing.
And you know what? I had FUN! By Sunday, I was eyeing the BN XC fences with excitement instead of anxiety. (May still thinks it would have been WAY MORE fun to “gallop” through the mud over the bigger fences.)
So I look my own doubts head on, and I remind them that being an eventer and a horseperson means showing off your horse to the best of your abilities in that moment. My choice to run Starter doesn’t need any explanation beyond the choice to set myself and my horse up for success. In fact, it needs FAR LESS explanation then anyone who pushes their horses up the level without proper fitness or training.
Moral of this story? Do right by your horse, and the eventing community will always support you.
First of all, thank you for all the comments regarding yesterday’s post. Hope you all enjoyed some April Fool’s Day Fun. 🙂
In the nearly 25 years I have spent around horses and in barns, I have witnessed many people fall off. From green horses having green moments to finished horses having serious opinion issues to the stuff that falls under the category of “stuff happens.”
This weekend, I witnesses one of the scariest accidents I have seen in a long time, and it definitely fell under the “stuff happens” category. On a rainy Saturday afternoon, I was riding in the indoor with 2 other riders. One was on her upper level Dressage horse and the other was riding her green, but lovely hony (not sure if he actually measures under 15h, but he’s adorable).
Down the center of the arena was a line of trot poles. The sides of each trot poles were raised in those ikea potty training things:
So the poles were barely off the ground. They weren’t painted poles, but they were a light brown against the super dark brown/almost black footing of our indoor.
As May and I came down the long side of the arena, preparing to run through our Dressage test for this weekend, I heard the poles clatter, and May pretty much exploded. Now, my first thought was “you’ve heard poles scatter before, May. You actually occasionally do that yourself.”
However, when she spun around, I heard the screaming and saw both horse and rider on the ground. The horse seemed stunned and was laying on the rider’s left leg and the rider yelled and shoved at the massive horse on her.
I kicked my feet out of my stirrups and scrambled out of the saddle. I could see from the white in May’s eyes that she was completely freaked by this. I pulled the reins over May’s head just as the horse regained her feet and got up. The other rider in the ring with us was also off and closer to the rider.
I pulled May over to the stunned horse and grabbed her reins before she could think about taking off. Our indoor is open at both ends, and I know how dangerous it can be for a scared and stunned horse to just take off. The rider was trying to get up, on her hands and knees, and I couldn’t tell if she was genuinely hurt or just really shocked.
I walked both her horse and May around the arena for a while, noting the initial stiffness in the mare’s left stifle. Luckily, it seemed to abate a bit as she moved. Once she had calmed down a bit, her rider was back on her feet. I rolled up the stirrups of the saddle (May’s ground manners really have come a long way), and offered to untack the mare for her.
Overall, she seemed sore, but not seriously injured. The other woman in the arena is a magnawave tech, so she offered to come over and treat both horse and rider and to check in on her. While the accident could have been so much worse, it is always a bit unnerving to see such a big accident from a well schooled pair doing a fairly simple exercise.
At this point, I have to ask, was it a full moon last week?! Pat your ponies people and always wear your helmets!
I kind of hesitated yesterday when I posted the “fail” part of the lesson first. To be honest, it was one of the best lessons May and I have had in a LONG time, and it would be pretty short sighted to define the whole lesson by 18 seconds. Either way though, I knew that the rest of the lesson needed its own post!
I showed up to the barn on Tuesday to find a freshly dragged ring and a new course. (No joke, I have never known a trainer who moves her courses around so often!)
The inspiration for the lesson was a grid that Lainey Ashker had shared on her instagram. In fact, my trainer said that she really thought of May with this one’s focus on a horse jumping over their back and really sitting before fences.
Obviously… we didn’t jump it that big. We started with the two oxers practically on the ground, and we first worked from the longer approach into the grid. We nailed it a few times in each direction before trying it the other direction. The short approach off the left consistently caused issues, so we decided to keep working on that turn before each course.
The nice thing about the grid was it forced you to set your rhythm early and then maintain it throughout the course.
The course came through the grid off the short approach, a sweeping left turn to a narrowish oxer, 6 or 7 strides bending line to another oxer, long approach to a vertical, finishing with a right turn around to a wide oxer.
Our first time around the course was just a bit choppy. Obviously, I missed coming into that grid (story of my life). She didn’t really respect the small, narrow oxer at 2, so just kind of rolled past my half halt. I was thinking seven through the bending line and it was fine, but maybe a touch tight. The vertical was fine. Then I made some weird line decision to the last oxer? Like got ahead of myself, came off the rail, didn’t see a distance, and just kind of puttered over it. None of it was TERRIBLE, but it wasn’t good.
NT raised up the narrow oxer to more like BN height (I think?), and we tried again.
To me, that shows big improvement! I was able to make adjustments to the oxer to oxer line, a better distance made the 6 really easy.
I landed off the oxer line and rode… really forward? Like what I am thinking in this picture?
So I had to whoa pretty good coming into the vertical, so May didn’t get her lead. She DID end up fixing it before the oxer, but the counter cantering pushed us off our rhythm juuuuuust enough to mess up the distance. However, I rode forward and she gave me the long spot. Yay!
At this point, the camera died, so no more media hahaha. Our last course was the gymnastic, right turn to the pink (set a bit bigger), right turn bending around to the yellow and black oxer, right turn to the purple and blue plank we hadn’t jumped yet and finishing over the oxer to oxer line.
Shocker… I messed up the intro to the gymnastic. Then… I kind of got lost on my way to 2. I kind of rode to nothing again, but it was fine. When my pace, balance, and line are good, May can easily deal with a less than ideal distance. Amazing how that works, right? 😉
However, I rode forward after 2 and had a GREAT distance to 3. The loop to 4 was easy, so we turned before the gymnastic to get back to the oxer to oxer line. Seriously, as much as I get weird feelings about oxers, I LOVED that oxer to oxer line all day.
At this point, we decided to just try the gymnastic one more time, and I think I said I would try the right turn to number 2 again, since I messed that up last time. Welp, as you all know, I never made it to 2. By the end though, we had figured it out, but I don’t think anyone wanted to jinx it by trying to get it on video at that point! haha
All in all though, it was a really great lesson, and I feel good heading into Spring Bay in like 10 days!
Remember when we were all talking last week about how great it is to get media?
I do! So on Tuesday, I strapped my helmet cam to my helmet and set off for my jumping lesson. With a freshly dragged ring, a new course set up, and temps in the mid 50s, it should’ve been a perfect lesson.
In a lot of ways, it was. We jumped higher. I felt more confident, and I did a lot more jumping than I had been able to handle in my last lesson. Then we had a quick conversation where my trainer said, I just want you to do the grid one last time, so you can really nail that turn.
Sure! I thought. I also thought I had already turned off my helmet cam. Turned out, I had JUST turned it on… so the below is the only helmet cam footage I have of the whole lesson (other than a lot of talking):
Sooo what happened? I never got straight coming around the turn. May has a bad habit of falling through her outside shoulder and in my desperation to get a better distance to the first jump, I sacrificed my line. By the time we were over the first fence, we were already practically outside the grid.
May, bless her heart, tried to correct it, but she realized (as did I) that there was no saving it. She scrambled right and stopped, and I just went over her shoulder.
I ended up asking my trainer to get on. She had never jumped May and has only ridden her once, so I think it was beneficial for both of us. Her thoughts? The right shoulder issue is a lot more prominent in the saddle than it looks from the ground, and I clearly have been compensating for May just blowing off my outside leg when turning left. (PREACH!)
She sorted it out, and I got back on so that she could teach me how to manage it. Three more times through the grid with good results, and we were done.
Today, I am bruised and sore. My elbow is skinned. But honestly? I kind of feel BETTER now that the “worst” has happened. I fell off because we made a mistake. I am fine. She is fine. And overall, we had a great jumping lesson. More on that soon!
Is this a thing? I think it’s a thing. Hold on, let me explain.
During my lesson this week, I was convinced the jumps were HUGE. Ok, not huge, but “a good size”. That they required effort from my little horse, an accurate ride, and that they needed a healthy dose of respect.
Then, I saw these photos:
Do you know what I see? some pretty small jumps… Not that I shouldn’t aim to ride them properly but… less than ideal distances, lines, and pace wouldn’t cause us to crash or have any significant impact on May’s confidence. It would just make them ugly.
Somehow, my brain had convinced me that I had something to fear from these jumps, from this course. As I made my way to start each round, I felt my chest tighten and my legs go weak. Even know, I can feel that drowning feeling that I get before any show jumping round.
Right now, I am coping by doing the following:
Leg on. Always. Having pace bails me out of a lot of issues, so I ride forward… almost to a fault at this point, since a couple of distances on Tuesday would’ve been fine if I had just sat pretty. Luckily, my internal metronome hasn’t gotten slow on me.
Riding with a neck strap. This lesson, I made the decision to ride with my neck strap. I promised myself that, if I started to feel the UNDYING need to pull, I would just hold onto it. I will say that I am a bit proud of not grabbing it.
Getting media. I think this helps. It puts everything in perspective. And, honestly, it helps me remember. When I get this nervous, I go blank. My memory goes BLACK. I remember showing as a junior and not remembering ANYTHING about a course as soon as I finished it. I was never the brave kid hahaha. That being said, I should break the habit of going back and watching the whole thing in slow-mo, so that I can judge every millisecond of myself.
Getting Regular Lessons. I will say that this was like my third jump lesson since the beginning of the year so… I am not doing great on this front, but I am doing better. Tuesday nights are officially my lesson night now, and I don’t see any reason for us to miss our next couple of weeks of lessons before our show. Both of them will be jump lessons. The Dressage stuff I can polish up a bit myself. (which is hilarious to me as my entire foundation is H/J)
But I really want to move past the management of these feelings and hopefully banish them away for good. Any recommendations of good sports psychology books or things that have helped you?
Typically, my lessons are on Tuesday nights, which tend to be unusually quiet at the barn, and honestly, I love that. By the time my lesson is over, the barn has mostly cleared out, and I get some quiet time to reflect on my lesson, pet my pony, and just relax. However, this week my lesson was on a Wednesday, sneaking it in right before NT spends a couple of weeks in Aiken (so jealous!).
This week, I pulled into the driveway to see a few horses tied to trailer by the indoor. Not thinking much of it. I got May all ready for a Dressage lesson. Since May has done a lot of jumping lately, I wanted to reestablish our connection and get some homework while NT was out of town. So the white boots and pad went on, I threw on my new spurs, and I headed out to the indoor. I got halfway there when I saw a white ball fly past the entrance, followed by a HERD of polo ponies.
Alright then… outdoor it is! While it was pretty warm (in the 50s and I ambitiously rode in a t-shirt because I only had heavy jackets and fleeces in my car), it was WINDY and CLOUDY. Since May had a fairly easy few days after last week’s jump-heavy rides, she was a bit up. Plus we were in the outdoor, with the jumps! And the polo team was in the indoor right next door to the outdoor. While May couldn’t really SEE them, she could definitely HEAR them.
I had a few minutes before NT headed to the ring, so I started with my usual “my aids mean something and you need to listen” routine. So we walked on the bit, and we halted. I try to be REALLY methodical about my aids when she’s like this, so I shifted my weight back, engaged my core, halted my seat, closed my thighs, and then rocked my hands back.
And she ignored me.
So then I pulled, and she threw her head up and halted.
And there is May in a nutshell. She KNOWS these aids. We do them EVERY TIME I ride, but she will always give that little baby test to see if I REALLY mean them. If not corrected at that point, it all snowballs into a big hot mess of her questioning if I REALLY mean that aid…
So we walked again, and again, I shifted my weight back, engaged my core, halted my seat, closed my thighs, and then rocked my hands back. And she slowwwllllyyy came to a halt. I let her move forward again, and repeated it in the other direction. After 3 – 5 repetitions, she is tuned in. So at that point, we can finally trot.
The trot was still a bit tuned out, so we just did big, loopy figure eights. I asked her to move off my legs and flex through her body. Buuuuut I actually don’t think this is still the best method of getting her to tune in at the trot. The walk/halt stuff is super important. And Trot/walk/halt tends to make her more tense instead of less.
BUT NT to the rescue. I told her that May just felt really tuned out, so she had us trot and just work through our gaits within the gait. So we started with working trot, then stretchy trot, then working trot, then collected, then working etc etc etc. By the time we rotated to her “bad” side (going to the right), she was on my aids and listening. The right bend has gotten SO MUCH better.
Once we had all three variations of trot nailed down, we moved into the same exercise at the canter, but replaced stretchy trot with a medium canter. My left lead transition was really good. She was actually a bit sticky off my leg to go into the medium, and that stickiness created some struggled at the collected canter.
You know how I knew when we got the collected canter? May GRUNTED. She sounded like me mid spin class when I realize I have another 20 min to go and the instructor says we are going to “ramp up the resistance”. UGH.
To the right, I was not surprised to get a little more resistance with some head tossing and breaking down to the trot. Ultimately though, we did get a few steps of true collection, so that was pretty cool.
Finally, we moved onto a serpentine exercise. Trot across the short side of the arena, turn left, do a 10m half circle, trot across the short side, turn right, do a 10m half circle etc etc etc. All the way to the end of the arena and then back.
Given that there are a TON of jumps in the ring, I had to get a bit creative with my half circles. However, by the end of the exercise, May was the most connected and steady in the connection as I have ever felt her. She was tracking up, in front of my leg, and I felt like we could spring forward or halt dead with ease.
So when we finished the exercise, and NT said to do it again at the canter with simple, trot changes in between, I was super excited. The first half circle to the left was GLORIOUS. I really felt her step under herself and bring her shoulders around.
Then we went right… and it was a little messy. I sat back further. I added more leg. I engaged my seat more… but she was clearly over it. We managed to mostly pull it together to finish, but it was clear she was tired, and it was really hard. While it wasn’t perfect, it definitely gives me a great set of things to work on while NT is away, AND it gives me a great baseline before her injections on Saturday.
Obviously though… she wasn’t THAT tired. Because when I turned her out that night, she GALLOPED down the hill, JUMPED over the ditch at the bottom, GALLOPED back up the hill to get to the new hay bale in her field…
Do you have a specific routine you go through that helps your horse settle into work?