Mirror Images

We’re in the final stretch until showtime this weekend, people. My first show since I was a wee 15-year-old. Addy’s first ever hunter show. Her first time off property since she’s arrived. A lot of firsts. It’s going to be AWESOME.

Anywho, last night was a very very good lesson, but not the same *click* lesson that we had before. It was simply fantastic, not amazingly fantastic (but, I mean, still fantastic). The paddocks are a total muddy mess because of the snow thawing out and a bunch of rain lately, so she hasn’t gotten a lot of playtime lately- too much potential for injuries in the slippery mud.

Well, Pretty Girl loves her playtime. So I got there early and took her for a walk around the farm, hand grazed her, poked our heads into the other barn, and made sure she got plenty of fresh air. Which I’m sure she appreciated, but it didn’t make a whit of difference under saddle.

Go, pony, go! We usually walk around quite a bit when I first hop on and Addy likes that time to wander about and relax while I do some stretches. Not yesterday. She stood still like a princess for me to hop on, waited for me to settle in my stirrups and gather up the reins, then moved off at a nice little jog. We half-halted back to walk. Three strides later, off again at a jog. I got the message- it was time to move.

We had a good warmup with some no-stirrup work (slowly getting easier) and getting limbered up. Cantering to the left gave us a little headache though, and I’ll explain why: when Addy is relaxed and lazy, she will pick up either with lead no problem. Her left lead is actually her easier one. But for whatever reason, once she gets excited it becomes the sticky lead. So that’s going to be something to remember at the show- in the flat classes, move my outside leg back and ask hard for that left lead.

Warm up over a little cross rail and some ground poles, then on to jumping! We didn’t do any huge courses yesterday but it was wonderfully happily symmetric. Here we go:

march_grid_course_diagram

Up through the grid, turn at the end to go over the diagonal vertical, bending line to a cavaletti (speedbump), then around and up the diagonal oxer. It was the exact same in both directions, hence the repeat numbers. So it was either: grid, yellow plank, bottom cavaletti, white oxer, or: grid, pink vertical, top cavaletti, green oxer.

This was a pretty nice return to basics. I would jump grids every single lesson if they let me- they’re such a good training tool for both horse and rider! The striding was a little short for Addy in there, but let’s be honest. All striding is a little short for Addy. Once we realized that we should come in at a nice balanced trot she backed off and nailed it. She built a bit going down the vertical towards home in both directions, but balanced super well for the bending to the cavaletti! Then she rocked back and let me call the shots to the oxers.

Things that went really well in this lesson:

  • Pace around the course. Adding leg and packaging her up made her SO much more adjustable- when I saw a distance to the oxer I was able to push her up to it! We weren’t already fully extended, so my options were completely open. Her canter has improved so much now that I’m being stronger about supporting her with my leg and seat- we didn’t miss a single distance all night! (Which is super rare for me, I have a pretty rusty eye)
  • The oxers. They weren’t too big- somewhere between 2’9″ and 3′, but there was no fill. They were just rails set somewhere between 2’9″ and 3′ off the ground. Addy loves fill. Addy hates no fill. Addy jumped this without flinching. Addy is the best pony in the whole wide world.
  • The grid. Just because I love grids and Addy loves grids. We didn’t go up quite as high as we did on Monday, but that was fine. I still got to practice my automatic release and staying straight through the grid.

What we need to work on:

  • Mainly getting her relaxed into the canter. She only tends to get squirrelly about this when she hasn’t gone outside in a few days, which I totally get. If she gets full playtime then her leads are nice and even, she’ll pick them up easily, and she will stay very straight and bend around the turns. On days like yesterday, she REALLY wanted to run around so our canter transitions were messy and crooked. She bowed out through her shoulder around the turns and coming back to a trot was an interesting proposition that she rejected out of hand. I’m learning how to correct these behaviors, so we’ll just need to keep at it. But hopefully she’ll relax a bit once the ground hardens and she can horse around outside (get it??? Horse around??).
  • Canter-trot transitions. Man, these are the worst. We can canter-walk like a boss, and even our canter-halt is improving, even if we do need the length of a runway to accomplish it. But canter-trot transitions are the worst. She just wants to move back up into the canter so out comes the giraffe and we goose-step around the ring. Not particularly cute. Again, I’m learning how to correct this and it just needs time to sink in with her.

Any and all of our sticky spots yesterday came from the fact that Pretty Girl didn’t get to roll around in her favorite mud puddle, and all of those sticky spots manifested while we were warming up on the flat. Of course she was perfect once we started jumping. I think that’s the answer- we need to avoid U/S classes at all costs. The jumpers is looking like a better and better option for us! Because if you’re bad at something, avoid it. Right? No? Fine, we’ll keep working on our flatwork.

PSA- FLATWORK IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING EVER.

march_lesson_grid_course
Bonus: a creeper picture of the course. Taken through the window while an innocent was trying to school her horse in peace.

Time to talk show prep.

I’m doing a half-day at work on Friday so I can get to the barn and get everything set up the way I want it to. I know, it’s a tiny local show 10 minutes down the road, but it’s been 8 years! If I want to set aside 6 hours to bathe my horse and clean my tack, then by golly I will set aside 6 hours. We’re also fitting in one more small lesson to get her moving and tired for the next day.

The plan on Friday is to get to the barn after lunch, hop on for a lesson, get any last minute pointers, bathe and groom Addy, clean ALL tack, and arrange everything so it’s ready to load in the trailer the next day. Theoretically on Saturday morning all I’ll have to do is load everything up on the trailer (including the squeaky clean horse) and head out. My paperwork is together and my show clothes are ready. We’re almost there!

What is something you never head to a show without? Do you have a certain show-prep routine? Any advice for this re-entry to the ring?

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Wordless Wednesday- Mud Monster

mud_monster

I know, this looks super similar to last week’s post. We do live on these crossties.

But while my enthusiasm and yearning for spring knows no bounds, it is different when you’re responsible for a gray horse. Notice the mud stockings and mud neck adornment. It’ll be interesting when the blankets come off and she turns into a complete mud creature.

Lord give me strength.

PS- How cute is that face? I just want to squish her nose and give her kisses. Sweetest girl in the world.

Over the Moon

But, like, literally.

To those of you who haven’t seen this on Facebook or Instagram yet (find me on Instagram @hellomylivia! There’s lots of cute pics of Pretty Girl and my roommate’s adorable dog!), check out what we jumped yesterday.

36_oxer

No seriously, we actually jumped over that! While 3’6″ might not be a big deal to a lot of people, this is the highest I’ve ever jumped in my entire life. Read: THIS IS A HUGE DEAL!!! I don’t usually jump on Mondays, but the assistant trainer (who is one of the best people on earth) had me pop through a small grid while she was there: cavaletti, crossrail, one stride, crossrail. Except every time through she cranked the back fence up a bit until we reached what you see there.

Pretty Girl was perfect! It was such a different sensation: when the jumps are smaller, her front feet are pretty much already on the ground by the time her back feet launch. With this height, there was so much hang time and she really had to crack her back over it. Which in turn cracked my back. I also tended to anticipate and try to jump for her, so I’m definitely going to have to work on that position.

But I did manage to use my automatic release, which made a lot more sense over this height. Now that I’ve started to actually use my muscles instead of flopping around like a salmon trying to spawn, I was able to follow with my hands instead of grabbing mane and reciting Our Father. I think Addy appreciated this: she practically dragged me towards the jumps when I would circle past them. Turns out she really likes the bigger heights! I’ve been boring her with this 2’6″ nonsense.

This was a lot less scary than I thought it would be- I’ve always had a sort of mental block about anything over 3′. Even 3′ seemed a bit overwhelming, and 2’6″ to 2’9″ has been my very comfortable comfort zone.

Now that I’ve seen how much fun she has over this height, there’s no stopping us. We’re still showing in the 2’9″ this weekend, but the move up to 3′ seems like a no-brainer now. And I’m begging and pleading our assistant trainer to come with me to some local jumper shows so I can start moving up there too.

After all, the lowest adult jumper classics I’ve been able to find in the area start at 1.10m (3’7″). And I reeeeally want to wear those white pants I grabbed, so we’ve got to start practicing.

Side note- We’ve picked out a show name for Pretty Girl! Jen from A Year in the Saddle, you’re brilliant. It turns out that your idea was one of the names on Owner Lady’s short list! She will be debuting this weekend as No Regrets.

Any suggestions for maintaining a good position and adjusting to these bigger heights?

Snippet Saturday- Make Your Bed

Nothing makes you feel like an adult more than making your bed. There are all sorts of blog posts and articles on why this habit is good for you (all of which I ignored for years), and I’ll let those speak for themselves. Coming home to a nicely made-up bed is one of the best feelings in the world! Take the extra 45 seconds to do that in the morning.

Riding the Choo-Choo Train to Awesometown

Guys.

Hey, Guys.

I am on cloud nine. Everything is so awesome. We had seriously SUCH an amazing lesson!!

Let’s get started: I hopped on as the lesson before me was wrapping up so we could walk around and stretch out our muscles. Once our lesson kicked off, we did lots and lots of trot work- two point, no stirrups, sitting trot, extended trot, all of that. My legs were burning but in a totally satisfying kind of way. I’ve been wearing my tall boots for lessons lately, and I have to say that they actually give me more support and help me hold my leg more than my half chaps. Weird.

We moved up into canter, and it was absolutely civilized! I suspect that has something to do with my half-halts getting more sophisticated, so it’s easier for her to listen. But then we started doing canter-trot transitions. Whoo boy. Those are top of the homework list right there. Addy gets so riled up because she wants to move back up into her canter, and we turn into a lovely giraffe stampeding around the ring. Wish I had a picture to show you, because she seriously turns into a parade pony.

But we worked past that and went through some ground poles (she only jumped them the first two times through, she’s learning!!) and then started warming up over a crossrail. Crossrail turned into a mini grid- just ground poles to a crossrail to a vertical/oxer- which she went through in her sleep, and then we were ready for our course! Behold:

gymnastic_course_march
Never fear, mon amie, we will review this together. You can see part of this course in my latest Instagram post over in the sidebar!

Check this out! Super cool course, right?? We started out by just doing 1-6, and then separately doing 7-12; they’re simply mirror images of each other. But then to bump up the difficulty, we glued the two together for the monstrosity you see before you.

Here’s how it went: trot poles into the crossrail/oxer grid, turn right at the end and come back to trot to the bending green crossrail to red in three strides, up the pink to white in three, come back to trot to loop around over the bounce. Repeat in the mirror image (grid, left to do the white crossrail to pink in three, up the red to yellow in three, loop around over the bounce).

I think the diagram makes this look more complicated than it was, but the symmetry made it really easy to remember.

Remember our chat about deliberate riding last week?? Yesterday, my friends, was true deliberate riding. Let’s go through it step by step.

The grid was off a tight balancing turn but was set up for a big stride, so the timing there was tricky; we wanted to be nice and packaged through the turn up the centerline, but as soon as we hit the trot poles we needed to open up. Once that oxer in the back went up, it became even more important to be carrying a pace. The horses built up down the centerline, so I added in a halt at the end so Addy wouldn’t anticipate the turn. If you notice just how close to the rail the green crossrail is, you’ll realize that there is absolutely no time for a square turn there, so we sliced it going towards our next jump. This made the conservative three strides in there a VERY tight three strides, so we had to sit back and make it work. Then we had to package back up into a bouncy canter for the conservative three strides up the diagonal line, after which I added another halt since Addy turned into an excited snowplow. Then a sitting trot to loop around and get nice and straight to our bounce. Then do it all the other way!

Ermegerd this course was so much fun. Here’s what I mean by deliberate riding- Little Miss Go-Button over here wanted to charge all over the course and call the shots, which simply would not work with such tight turns and small striding. Baby Girl needed to listen to me and I needed to communicate very clearly exactly what I expected. And I’m squealing now because I actually managed to do that!

The grid was very easy; we had a nice balanced approach and you know by now that Addy has zero problem opening up her stride when asked. She wasn’t thrilled about the halt at the end, but she obliged. We trotted into the crossrail off the rail, then went to our pink AND PRETTY PONY DUCKED OUT. But instead of losing my nerve and letting her get away with it, she did not get to go past the jump (our trainer says that if the horse gets past the jump without going over it, they win. We both need to be winners, not just her) and I booted her over it from a walk. Before I get cries of “abuse!” you should know that it was a baby crossrail, she could absolutely jump it from a walk, and I gave her plenty of release. So there.

Anyways, we went back and tried that bending line again, and this time she didn’t even hesitate. She did land in a bit of a heap towards home, so I packaged her up around the short end for the diagonal line. For the first time, packaging her up actually worked to get this amazing bouncy canter, and you know what was different? I added leg. I added SO much leg. My legs are still shaky. But that’s what she needed! By wrapping my leg around her and giving her that support, she was able to balance herself much more easily and collect. It clicked! The diagonal line was very simple, but I asked for a halt in that corner to keep Addy from anticipating. Then it was a little baby trot, adding leg to keep her straight through the loop, and bounce on out. After which we did a big victory gallop because Pretty Girl reeeeally wanted to run around.

On every stride of this course, I felt like I was calling the shots. I started to feel that way last week, but this was a whole new level. I wasn’t perched on top hoping that Addy would take care of me (which she always has and I know she would)- I was the leader and an active partner in our work. Addy, of course, was thrilled that I had pulled my head out of my butt and actually contributed something.

Even better, I got such positive feedback from my trainer. She said that I should be really proud of the ride I put in, and that this is the strongest she’s seen me ride yet. Aahhhhh! I almost started tearing up when she said that. We’ve been working so hard together and feeling so good, and hearing that someone else can see us clicking was incredible. Hence the cloud nine.

I can’t wait to get back on and keep movin’ and improvin’.

Any tips for staying balanced and calm in canter-trot transitions? What do you do if your horse is building too much in the middle of a course?

Time to (Not) Hit the Brakes

I’ve alluded to something several times in my posts on this blog, but I’m going to state it outright and give this some attention:

Addy has a go button. She loves the go button. She lives for the go button. Not a huge fan of the brakes.

I’m embracing the go button as an adult, but this wasn’t always the case. Addy is the type of horse that terrified me as a junior- I would’ve been crying and yelling to my trainer, “she’s going too fast, why isn’t she slowing down?!?!” I hated the go button, because I didn’t understand the go button (how many times can I say “go button” in one post?). I wanted a horse that was constantly on the brakes and only moved forward when explicitly asked.

Past me was such a ditz. Nowadays, I feel so much safer knowing that my horse is going to move up if I let her. On a horse moving sluggishly there are two extreme options for changes in motion- they could stop dramatically, or they could bolt. On Addy the only real extreme available to us is stopping, and she shows little inclination for that. Her power and speed make her predictable.

I’m about to all metaphorical up in here, so bear with me.

When you sit in a car and are not pressing the gas OR the brakes, you usually idle along around 5 mph. You hit the brakes to come to a full stop, or hit the gas to go faster. Most horses I’ve ridden are like this- idling along at a walk until told otherwise.

Once we’re warmed up, Addy does not idle at the walk. She idles at the hand-gallop. There is no need to ever hit the gas pedal, just varying degrees of hitting  or releasing the brakes. My aids are almost entirely devoted to straightening and balancing, because there is no need to push her up in front of my leg. She lives in front of my leg. I do not ask her to move forward- I allow her to move forward into the pace she wants.

If you look closely you’ll notice the wrestling match going on trying to get this freight train to balance and slooooow dooooowwwnnnn.

I’m going to take this metaphor one step further: we all know that the brake is on the left and the gas pedal is on the right. Just like we were are taught that pulling hands back on the reins means slow down and releasing means move forward. Addy got that memo, but then became too smart for her own good- she knows that if she’s on a loopy rein it means we’re relaxing, and she knows that if I take up a contact it means we’re going to be doing something fun. Our brakes and gas pedals are mixed up. If we’re walking and I take up a contact she will canter off, and if we finish a course and I loose the reins she will come back to a walk. Clever girl.

All of this kinda makes her sounds like some snorty complicated beast that takes off with me and won’t stop, and that couldn’t be further from the truth. I have never once felt unsafe or out of control with her, and she always always always listens when I ask her to downshift (even if it is rather begrudgingly and takes a minute). But my struggles seem to be a lot different from many others seeking advice.

There is so much written about generating and maintaining impulsion and getting the horse moving with energy. But what do you do when your horse a) generates her own impulsion b) maintains her own impulsion and c) moves with plenty of energy? How do you harness that and channel it for the powers of good?

You ask people on the internet who know better than you. All you horsey people in blogland have given me some awesome ideas for exercises to improve our adjustability. And I took it one step further- I asked the experts on Judge My Ride to give me some advice.

Dressage goddess Karen McGoldrick delivered. I love reading through her responses to other people’s questions because she always takes the time to explain the mechanics behind the movement and takes everything back to the root of the issue. Seriously, if you’re struggling with something I would totally recommend posting in the “Ask the Judge” category, or even just browsing through to see if someone is asking your question for you. It’s pure gold.

Anyways, she gave me some really solid advice- go back to basics and NAIL that half halt. But she didn’t just leave it at that. She walked me through every. single. step. of how to get to that ideal half halt, and explained how my body should be positioned as we progress. And then explained how it should feel when we get it right. It’s the next best thing to having her there while I’m on the horse, and I was excited to give this a try yesterday.

I’m a big believer in going back to basics, which is why I have been struggling with certain exercises- they may have helped with Addy’s adjustability, but I didn’t feel like we were getting to the root of the problem. Taking the pressure off and going back to our half halts is the building block skill that sets us up for adjustability when we’re thundering down those lines.

Addy responded so well to this! Despite no turnout yesterday and a fairly light workload the last few weeks, she came right back when I asked properly. She very much wanted to move up, but she was so sensitive just to the stopping of my seat and a light touch on the reins. Being more conscious of my seat let me keep her on a contact when we were moving slow, and kept her going when I loosened the reins a bit. It all goes back to being more deliberate– I’m getting to the point where I can and need to ride actively instead of clomping on her back like a potato.

Her reward for this was twofold- she got to hand gallop around a whole bunch to get the ants out of her pants and stretch out (with periodic downward transitions to make sure she was still paying attention and staying balanced), and we jumped through a grid a couple times. We don’t usually jump outside of lessons, but the assistant trainer saw what I was working on and let me take her up the centerline a couple times. She was so good! She stayed balanced off the hard turn up the centerline, and then stayed straight to the end before balancing through the turn.

There’s plenty still to work on, but it was so encouraging to see the results of a few simple changes in position. Correcting just the angle of my hips led to a chain reaction of changing the pace of my horse! It was a productive and fun ride for me, and I’m sure Addy felt the same.

I actually never doubt that Addy is having fun during our rides, because she’s the one who asks to keep going (I have to steer her away from jumps when we’re done). So we’re going to work on our balancing, and our straightness, and engaging the hind end, and packaging her power, and not anticipating, and a whole slew of other things. But we are going to embrace that go button and keep the engine running.

How do you work with your forward horse? Any tips for perfecting our half halt?

PS- I impulse-bought a pair of white TS breeches the other day, and I’m so obsessed. Owner Lady has also announced that she has a breastplate and figure-8 bridle I can use any time and OH MY GOSH PLEASE CAN I TRY THE JUMPERS NOW. I’ve got the look nailed down so that means my trainer has to let me, right? Right?! 3’6″ looks like my new goal so I can get to those Jumper Classics…

Bacon Chocolate Chip Waffles with Bourbon Maple Syrup

As promised, the incredible breakfast that manfriend put together for us!

bacon_chocolate chip_waffles_bourbon_maple syrup
Ummmm do you see the bits of bacon poking out? And the crazy amount of chocolate chips in there? And the perfect golden brown color? Ok I’ll stop and let you get to the recipe.

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/3 c flour
  • 4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs, separated
  • Pack of bacon- we used maple flavored
  • 1 3/4 c milk
  • Chocolate chips- as many as your sweet tooth requires
  • Maple syrup- the real stuff please. We’re making waffles from scratch here, not some Bisquick and Aunt Jemima stuff (though I’ll admit to loving both of those).
  • Bourbon- your favorite kind. Or the cheapest kind. Or manfriend’s favorite kind because you don’t really like bourbon that much. I dunno.

Directions:

  1. Make the bacon, and reserve alllll of the bacon grease. If you don’t have 1/2 cup, go ahead and melt some butter so you have a full half cup of greasy buttery fatty deliciousness. When the bacon is nice and crispy, cut or crumble it into small pieces
  2. While the bacon is cooking, go ahead and whisk together all the dry ingredients. Then add the egg yolks in.
  3. In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until moderately stiff.
  4. Add the milk and bacon grease/melted butter to the dry ingredient mixture and blend.
  5. Fold the stiff egg whites into mixture, then add in bacon bits and chocolate chips.
  6. Use your favorite waffle iron to get them to your desired doneness.
  7. For the syrup: add a generous helping of maple syrup to a pan, then splash in bourbon to your desired booziness. Heat it up and stir it around a bit, but not too much- cooking off that alcohol there would be a downright shame and beat the purpose of putting booze on your breakfast.

We served these suckers up with some sliced avocado sprinkled with coarse salt. I don’t know if the tastes complimented or anything, we just really like avocados. You should follow your heart and serve whatever you want with them.

Caution: your house will smell like bourbon and maple syrup 4 dayz. This is generally awesome, unless you’re hungover and really don’t want to be smelling bourbon. Then it’s a bit of a struggle.