Perfect Princess Pony

To start, May probably wasn’t a total perfect princess last night in our lesson, but she was still totally amazing. Also, I like alliteration. I only got to ride May once this weekend since my mom was in town for a visit. However, since I had someone with me on Saturday, I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to work continue to work on the idea of May listening my cues regarding what lead to land on over fences without sacrificing our balance, rhythm, or straightness.

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Random old media

We popped over a few fences to warm up. Again, I just kept the emphasis on landing on the lead I was asking for, and she was really listening and getting into the “game”. I decided that we would go for pulling a little course together.

Then I jumped around a little course. After the first line, she landed on the left lead (her favorite), even though we were clearly turning right after it. I corrected her by moved her off my right leg before picking up the canter again. We popped over a little vertical over a liverpool to change directions. (Again, no issues landing on the left lead).

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Then, I decided to really test my correction. I jumped a vertical diagonal and then made right, bending line, to an oxer with the intention of turning right after the oxer. This did a couple of things. It gave May the opportunity to fall through her right shoulder while turning right, while also finishing at a jump that is square to the rail (i.e. could easily turn right OR left after).

And you know what? She landed on the right lead. So I gave her pats and let her be done with that.

So last night, I came out to my lesson with the plan of working on the same concept over a longer, more complicated course. (outside line, diagonal, bending line isn’t exactly a SJ course…) As always, Mandy did not disappoint.

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The first exercise was a gymnastic along the short side of the arena. It contained 4 rails as one stride bounces, an oxer, one stride to a last placing rail. Since it was set along the short side, you only really had one or two straight strides before the first pole and had to turn immediately after the placement pole after the jump. AND we came at the whole thing from our right lead.

The first time through? I kicked May past her point of balance and, while she fixed it because she’s awesome, it was not pretty. We came through again, and I figured out the right balance, while maintaining the forward. Like all my jumping, I had to really remember to move her right shoulder over coming around the turn to help us stay straight.

Mandy put the oxer up a bit, and we cruised through again. By this point, May had figured out the game, so it became my job to keep her as straight as possible. Even when I didn’t do the best job of that, she still landed on her right lead, so I felt pretty confident about our ability to bring that new still over to course work.

Our first course was over the liverpool, bending to the black oxer, right turn to the pink oxer, and around to the yellow line. There were a couple of bogies in this course. First, the liverpool was on the ground with no standards or anything over it, so it was a bit like riding a ditch. Fun fact, May could care less about ditches but always puts a HUGE effort over liverpools the first time she jumps them.

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5A and B we added in the second course. 

This time was no exception as she jumped a bit long with her knees around her eyeballs and even jumped us past our line a bit. As a result, I had to really contain the right shoulder and get her super straight to the oxer. We ended up a bit right of center but were straight as a pin, so it rode great.

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The left turn to the pink oxer was a hard turn for us. It was both away from home and a sharp left turn. I wrangled the right shoulder a bit late (when we were almost already out of the turn), and then didn’t have the impulsion I needed. I added leg, but the distance wasn’t there. HOWEVER, I am super happy that I made the decision to add leg vs. either making NO decision (my favorite) or pulling (also my favorite). May can get us out of most ugly situations as long as I ride forward.

Not surprisingly, we didn’t get our right lead over the pink oxer. I corrected it, and came down to the yellow line. Now, it is worth noting that the yellow line was deliberately set at 4.5 strides. I find that once you get above 4 strides, it becomes a bit of a choice on a horse like May regarding if you want to add or ride the forward stride. The first time to it, she jumped a bit under the oxer coming into it, and just lost her balance on the landing side, so I gave a fairly firm correction (deep seat, leg on, lifting hands).

It was the right call though, since the firm correction during the first 2 strides allowed me to soften into the last five strides. AND it left her in a good enough balance to land on the right lead. (on Saturday, this was the jump where she wanted to always land left). Not a perfect first course, but one where I made good decisions and May listened to me.

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At this point, Mandy got to listen to my word vomit about all the things I needed to do the next time. Seriously, I am not sure how that woman puts up with me. No matter how long-winded I get in my blog posts, trust me, I am WAY MORE rambly in person. However, here were my takeaways:

  • Keep my right leg on over my liverpool, so we don’t shoot past the line for the oxer.
  • Counter bend a bit BEFORE the turn to the pink so that I can wrangle that shoulder early and then ride forward through the corner.
  • I have a long ride from the pink to the yellow line, so make sure that, while i need to push her forward for a bit, I get the balance back BEFORE the oxer.

So we did it again, and I WISH I had video of it. (It kept raining on and off last night, so made it a bit hard to have the phones out.) This second time, though, we added in the purple line, which was a vertical, on stride, to an oxer off the right lead. This was set for a true one stride, so a bit open for May.

As expected, the liverpool jump was a bit more reasonable this time, so I got a better line to the oxer. I landed and checked in on that right shoulder before riding forward around the turn. I know you are all shocked to know that the pink rode super well when I did my job.

Again, she landed on the left lead after the pink. (UGH) However, this time I just kept the counter canter. She jumped MUCH better over the yellow oxer, and I saw the four strides being RIGHT there. So I just kept my shoulders back and my leg on, and it was easy peasy.

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I cut the right turn to the one stride. I KNOW I KNOW. BUT I did get SUPER straight to it on a nice open stride and May happily pinged through it. All the pats, all the cookies. Good girl! At that point, we decided to be done. It wasn’t a ton of jumping, but with a hunter pace this weekend, I wanted to keep it a bit on the lighter side.

Don’t worry though, Mandy got a solid 8 minutes of word vomit after that round too. Mostly about how I actually executed on my plan and how May actually listened to me and OMG isn’t she the BEST.

If you can’t laugh at yourself, who can you laugh at. Right?

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When Your Horse is a Teenage Girl

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.

not suspicious at all

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.

May:

Me:

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.

Riding Through the Ugly

It’s always interesting to compare how training is so different from showing. At shows, the goals is to keep all the rails in the cups (and do the million other things required to  make this one thing happen). However, in training, we sometimes need to correct the issues that sometimes pop up and cause those rails to go down. When I got May, the biggest issue was balance.

Then, we started trying to get more forward while maintaining this balance, and things fell apart for a while.

Then… we moved to KY hahaha. So this really didn’t get fixed for a while. Recently though, this balance and forward thing has REALLY been coming together.

However, when I was watching Mandy ride May last Tuesday, I realized that she was having to make some pretty clear corrections. Almost all of these corrections were keeping the straightness to the base of the jumps.

Go back, rewatch that last video. Do you see what I see? I see a rider who tries to get her horse straight coming out of the corner, and then about three strides away from the fence, just gets soft and let’s her horse get crooked. That rider is me hahaha. I don’t hold May to any real standard as we get to the base of the jumps, and many times, it costs us our balance over the fence and on the landing side. When the jumps get bigger, it gets even more obvious.

So when I showed up to my lesson on Tuesday, I asked for one thing: Teach me to make corrections to the base of fences even if it means an ugly jump. As I soften over those last three strides, I just invite May’s right shoulder over. Sooo we want to land on our left lead and fall a bit right through our turns after our fences. UGH

The lesson started out pretty conservatively. We went down the line near the seating area next to the ring that Mandy did last week. It was set on a short turn to an open 3 strides. So Mandy had us come in with more collected canter, get super straight, and stay straight and collected for four strides.

First time? A bit rough, as she popped her shoulder right over the first fence. Second time? She tried to blow through me and we got 3.5 strides. Third time? Finally nailed it in a soft and even four. Then we had to get it in three, and I sliced around the corner and made it all ugly and ugh. We finally nailed that though, and went out to do a course.

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Mandy clearly being more influential over fences than I am. 

The course had several jumps set off the short side of the arena, so you really had to square your turns, get straight, and be prepared for another square turn after. May though? She felt she had all the time in the world and could counter canter all the things. (We did A LOT Of jumping out of counter canter this week by pure default). We did the same vertical to oxer line Mandy did and then beant it to the three stride we warmed up through and… I COULD NOT nail this.

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Cute pic, but even here she is pushing through my right leg. 

I could not get the right lead over either of the jumps set off the short side. I kept pushing too much through the bending line to the oxer, almost getting 4 strides instead of 5 at one point, and I kept slicing the turn to the last line. At times, May threw her head up and had full meltdowns when I insisted that she not fall through her right shoulder. It was… not pretty, but I could feel the holes in our training. As a result, Mandy and I figured out a plan to fix them, complete with my own homework.

For now, the plan is to continue to work on her responsiveness on the flat and to add in smaller verticals or large crossrails and loop through them with straight approaches and lots of changes in direction.

Definitely not the jump lesson that leaves you on a high of confidence, but it was so necessary at this point.

Heat, Work, Life

Last week was the first week in a long time where I only rode my horse once. On Tuesday, my trainer rode her, and I had all the plans in the world to ride on Thursday evening. Then… I got stuck at work until almost 7:30PM. UGH. Friday wasn’t an option because #Life. And then Saturday I had some adulting duties to attend to.

Before

So Sunday, I got to the barn relatively early (before 9AM), and I pulled May out of the field. (Turns out, if it’s not too hot out yet, she is right near the gait eating grass. Good to know.) I threw her in her stall to give her a chance to drink some water, as I pull out my tack. Her field has an automatic waterer, which I have seen her use many times, but when the grazing is good, May would much prefer damp grass over actual water. (I feel the same way about a milkshake vs. actual water)

By the time I threw tack on, it was around 9:30, and I was already covered in sweat. Glorious. Given that she hadn’t been ridden since Tuesday, I figured I would do a fitness ride. 5 min of walk. 4 sets of 3 min of trot with 1 min of walk in between. 2 sets of 2 min of canter with 1 min walk in between. 5 min walk. Total ride, about 32 minutes with about half of that walking.

The cool think about our farm is there is ALMOST a complete track loop around the property. Unfortunately, it is kind of disrupted by the arenas/indoor/driveway. and it is super hilly between the arenas and the paddocks, so you can only really walk up and down that section.

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My solution? I started looping and reversing direction through the arena, since the gaits are left open enough to trot though them (with some caution). I for sure wouldn’t canter through them, and I probably wouldn’t have done this if anyone else was riding in the outdoor, but it was just me and May. It worked out really well, especially since one loop around what part of the loop is available is about 1.5 minutes of canter. Winning.

I figured May was going to be kind of forward and want to blow through my half halts, so I was surprised when she came out kind of behind my leg. I think I spent the first two trot sets kicking her along and wishing I had my Dressage whip with me. Oh well, notes for next time. She really does not like the heat.

However, a ton of walk breaks meant that, by the time we were done, she was hot and tired but not overly uncomfortable. We just about broke a full body sweat before finishing, so I figure that’s a job well done in this weather. How did May feel about it though? Less than enthused.

After

Excessive Heat Warning

In case I needed more reason to stick to my “no horse trials in July” rule with May, basically the entire state of KY is under an extreme heat warning from 2PM today THROUGH 8PM on SUNDAY. The heat alone is one thing, but look at the right hand column of this chart:

July Weather

So much UGH. I included Tuesday so that you can see what type of weather KY is actually capable of. Beautiful, reasonable 82 degrees with 50% humidity and a light breeze.

So what’s the plan for the weekend? Most of the barn is actually going to a horse trial at the Hoosier Horse Park (part of me is actually a bit jealous). So I am probably just going to get up early and get to the barn in the coolest part of the days. If it’s too hot, then we will just have to settle for light hack days and baths. Especially with a horse like May, I really don’t believe in pushing it.

Also, in case you all were worried, May was clearly not exhausted from her pro ride on Wednesday… as I got this text yesterday afternoon.

I swear… she waits until the barn is quiet for a while and then looks for ways to sneak out. I figure she went to check on Barbie and Lady, her friends that stay out all day, got a quick lunch out, and then headed back before realizing she couldn’t get back in the way she came. Oh mares.

 

May As Well Have a Spa Day

I’m not sure about the rest of the country, but it has been hot and HUMID in Kentucky lately. May has been putting in requests for a relocate to the North Pole to work for Santa, but since that just isn’t a reality, I decided to put my money where my mouth is and treat May to a massage and MagnaWave session.

One of the women that boards at my barn is a license masseuse and magnawave technician. It’s been in the back of my mind to sign May up, but I honestly just didn’t feel like shelling out the cash. There really isn’t anything major about May’s way of going that was concerning to me. She didn’t show any signs of back pain or really any pain. Our biggest issue is, and has always been, her shoulders wanting to exit stage right.

Since our tech is a fellow boarder, she is pretty familiar with May, but she still asked me if there are any issues we have. (see above) She explained that she feels like she can get the best read on a horse’s body with her hands with her massage background, but she thinks the combination of magnawave and massage helps create longer lasting results. Sure, sounds great.

How did May feel about it? There was a lot of droopy lip, and by the time she got to the back end with the massage, May was so loose through her body that she just let the massage wave through her body from tail to nose. I was actually surprised at her patience with it. Typically, May has a timer in her head. If you spend more than that amount of time messing with her, she starts to get fussy, especially with how bad the flies were yesterday afternoon.

During the MagnaWave session, though, she just leaned into the massage, let her eyelids float closed, and enjoyed a zen-like pony state.

img_7172As for the feedback, overall, I think the tech was pretty impressed. She had some tightness the left side of her neck and her right hip, but none of it was painful enough that working through the stiffness caused any discomfort for May. And the magnawave didn’t show any major reactions either. Again, the left side of her next showed the largest reaction, but it was still pretty minor from what I have seen before. I guess I need to be more diligent about the carrot stretches for that side.

Overall, the jury is still out. I think May enjoyed it, and it was a nice treat for her. The biggest positive, to me, is getting another set of hands/eyes on how my horse’s body is feeling. It obviously doesn’t substitute our yearly wellness check, or any check if I start to feel her being less-than-willing in her work, but it does seems like a nice check in when nothing is obviously wrong. However, I won’t know if it had any positive impact on her way of going until I hop back on Tuesday.

So look for another post with my follow-up thoughts on Wednesday! If anyone in the area is looking to try it, I am happy to recommend the tech from my barn.

Getting Comfortable with More Height

This lesson was a bit different than our usual lessons because we ended up doing a semi-private instead of a private lesson! The girl in the lesson before me jumps a bit bigger than I do on her horse, but when her horse lost a shoe while she was warming up yesterday, she ended up taking a catch ride on another friend’s horse (barefoot horses for the win).

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Since I was already pretty much tacked up, a bit behind schedule, and it was 90-something degrees out with humidity, I asked her if she wanted to share the lesson. Luckily, she said yes!

I gave May a super light warm up, since the heat really isn’t her friend. Then, the lesson started really simply. We just looped a figure 8 back and forth over two verticals. The idea was so keep the balance through the turn and get straight before the jumps. It was a good exercise to get me focused on managing that right shoulder.

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This face says it all. 

When we reversed the exercise, Mandy put the jumps up a bit. May and I are pretty comfortable with the whole 2’3″ to 2’6″ thing. However, this lesson ended up pushing a little over the upper end of that. Honestly, I think if it was a private, I would have chickened out.

Once we figured out our rhythm, balance, and straightness over the figure 8, we moved onto course work. We did the same course as last week, but we added the two stride combination to it.

Good thing this little mare is game…

Now, the set up of that two stride was REALLY hard for me. We jumped big over the corner… then I CHASED her to try to get 6 strides… which didn’t work… then I jumped up her neck… (enjoy the below pic)

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Can I say again how lucky I am to have this little mare?

Luckily, I have mostly fixed my historic reaction to this mistake. Not so long ago, I would have pulled to try to shove 3 strides into the two stride… Now, I kicked on and focused on getting her super straight. Guess what? We were able to jump out of it fine. I kept that rhythm around the rest of the course, and everything else worked out really well. The jumps I was the most concerned about (the corner and the triple bar) rode the best.

Then, we did the same course again. May, by this point, was hot and tired, so you can see her just kind of getting lazy with the verticals, but I was super happy with this course. Perfect? Nope, but I made the necessary changes and smoothed most of it out really well.

You can see the full video below: