The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. And What We’re Doing About It.

I know most of you must be familiar with the concept of your horse knowing your emotions before you do. Most people attribute it to horses being prey animals- they must be hyper-aware of their surroundings. I attribute it to voodoo magic. But whatever you attribute this to, horses always seem to be the mirror that shows us what’s actually going on.

For example: Addy has been refusing jumps in our last two lessons. Most are not dirty stops (though some absolutely are), but my jumping machine seems to have lost some of her hops. We can have a beautiful flowing course, and then she will come to a screeching halt at a simple 2’3″ vertical she’s jumped 2-3x a week for the last year.

I’ve never been the type to get overly worked up about a stop- I’ll give her a good thump in the sides as a big fat NOPE YOU DON’T GET TO ENJOY THIS, but I’m fine with making a circle and re-approaching. I’m not the rider who gets crazy frustrated and starts to cry about how my horse hates me. Instead, I’m more thinking “WTF is going on and what am I doing wrong.”

Key: what am *I* doing wrong. Not what darling pony is doing wrong. Me. Myself. I. Because even if I’m getting dirty stops, that’s something that I need to address. That’s a training opportunity.

So after ending our lesson on a decent note (I actually have lots of videos that I’ll be posting on Insta over the next couple days, shoutout to Manfriend for braving his allergies to get me more media!) I took a step back. I’ve been sick for a couple weeks. I’ve been out of town for several weekends. My riding routine has been disrupted and I’ve almost definitely lost some muscle mass from said disruption. Is it any wonder if my riding has suffered? My job has picked up a LOT lately. Is it any wonder that I’m coming to my lessons with a measure of stress and tension that wasn’t there before?

Addy is a horse that will work with me all day long and give me her whole heart, but she is not the type of horse to work for me. As frustrating as it is, she’s giving me the ride I need right now- reminding me that it’s OK to throw out the pretty equitation and get gutsy when need be.

But I also need to take a step back and realize what I’ve been asking her to do: even though I’ve been riding less so you’re not getting worked as consistently, and I’m tense and nervous and riding weakly, please cart my butt over that 3’3″ oxer. All my aids are screaming “I’m not sure about this,” but please go for it anyway.

Of course she’s not going to do it. Like I said last week, Precious Pony is not getting canonized any time soon, and it would certainly take some saintlike behavior to put up with that garbage.

But identifying this as a problem has actually made me feel tons better! Because now I have a trainer-approved plan to address it: build up our confidence. Her confidence in me, my confidence in her, and both of our confidence that we actually know what we’re doing.

So this involves building lots of positive experiences for both of us. Asking for things that she enjoys and excels at so that she gets tons of praise for succeeding. Taking the pressure off and enjoying each other’s company. Spending extra time grooming and bonding. Dropping my stirrups to get that muscle tone back. Basically psychological boot camp (with a little bit of physical boot camp too).

So when I rode Friday, she got to go on the buckle. I held a very light contact the entire time and just asked her to move freely without me hanging on her mouth. I didn’t ask her to collect or package or do anything too strenuous. Just stretch out and play together. Lo and behold, I got a gorgeous stretchy trot and a quiet, balanced canter. Bonus: I got a great lower body workout since I had basically thrown away the reins and was riding based on seat and leg.

Then just yesterday we went out on a long trail ride with friends. Even though she’s been on maybe 3 trail rides ever, she crossed bridges and trotted up steep hills and went through the woods and walked down neighborhood streets like she does this every day. It was just the reminder I needed that this horse is absolutely trustworthy. She wants to take care of me and she wants to do a good job.

It’s like Nicole explained in her post about the Trust Bank (which I legit refer to all the time because I love it so much)- if I want Addy to save my butt in tough situations, I need to make sure she knows that I will always always always do the same for her. Let her know that we get to have fun together including but not limited to jumping over colorful sticks. That I’m on board and leading and will set both of us up for success.

After all, two steps forward and one step back still counts as progress. I’m really excited about reaching a new level of understanding and communication with my Beastly Creature! I’ll keep you all updated on how it goes.

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What have you done when you needed to take a step back to build the trust back up? Any ideas for fun activities we can do together?

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Chapter 6: Our First Rated Show at HITS Culpeper

Hello beautiful people.

I would apologize deeply for my radio silence (yet again) by exclaiming that I’ve been sick as a dog, crazy busy at work, and just plain lazy, but you don’t need to hear that. (I’m feeling much better despite the lingering cough, work is still busy but I’m learning how to manage it, and I gave myself a kick in the ass to get movin’.)

You’re here to hear about our first rated show! And if you’re not, then too bad because that’s what I’m talking about today. Get with it.

I had my lesson last Wednesday thinking very positive thoughts: it didn’t matter that I was sick and exhausted and couldn’t take a full deep breath! My pony would take care of me! It’s fine that I accidentally took the drowsiness-inducing meds before hopping on! Beastly is a saint!

I’m formally removing my petition to have the Big White Unicorn canonized. Not that she was bad, but she is definitely the type of horse to get her confidence and gumption from her rider. When said rider is flopping around barely conscious and alternately flapping the reins/pulling at her face? Yeah, she’s not going over any of those jumps.

I’m surprised I didn’t fall off, because she ducked out HARD so many times. A couple were dirty stops where she was being lazy, but the majority was me not sticking to me guns. We eventually ended on a good note, but that was probably our worst ride to date.

I was feeling SUPER not ready to show on Friday. All my trainer could tell me was that “you have to have a bad dress rehearsal before the real thing.” Somehow that didn’t seem super comforting.

But Thursday I had a great school where I basically rode Addy in circles til she was sleepy, gave her a nice bath, prepped everything, and went to bed at 9pm.

Friday was show day! Up at 4am and at the barn by 4:45am. Beastly had naturally slept in her poop, so we got to re-do the bath from Thursday. She then got to run around the indoor for a while to get the beans out of her system (thank goodness, she was tearing around in there like crazy). She loaded on the trailer like she does it every day, and we were off! I actually really need to get a video of her loading, she turns herself around and backs right into the narrow slot like one of those self-parking cars. She’s such a champ.

Once there, we got checked in at the show office, used the permanent bathrooms (not porta-potties! So classy!), and went to walk the course. Bonus side of long legs: course walking is my normal stride, not big goofy steps. The course was really cool- none of the turns were that crazy, some cool combos, and nothing was too spooky.

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The power phase started up the diagonal oxer, right turn down the single and continue out the gate, up the two-stride, down the diagonal line in 5, up the one-stride to six out. Then if you were clear the speed phase started, and it continued to the end oxer, rollback over the blue waves, left to go quarter-line bending out over the gold, rollback again over the blue waves, then hard right to end over the same jump as the power phase.

At least in theory. We had a great warmup, but I was still nervous going into our first class. My girl picked up on that, and we had a stop at the third fence and again at the in of the one stride. Not dirty stops, but I was staring at the jumps. So she said “OOH what’re we looking at?!” And stopped so she could see too. Womp womp. Note to self: we are not trying to get to the jump, we are trying to get over the jump. Stop staring at the jump.

So for the second round I grabbed a crop, they put spurs on me, and we changed the way I rode. We’re always holding her back and trying to keep the control, but we threw that out the window this time (to a certain extent…I still wanted control). The goal was to get the momentum going and have her carry me to the jumps so that stopping would just be too difficult. I was to let go of her face, guide with my legs, and let my horse do her goshdarn job.

And wouldn’t you know, when I got out of her way and encouraged her forward, my pony LOVES her job. She was thundering around with her ears pricked and I could feel her hunting down the next jump! We completed the power phase clear and continued straight on to the speed phase- we was one bobble at the first rollback where I didn’t set her up and she didn’t see the jump early enough so we had to circle and come back at it. We then finished off the rest of the course on a big huge step, which was crazy fun. I was beaming when I left the ring!

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Still beaming like an idiot ten minutes later. No, the bay is not a pony. Addy is just a very big girl.

Even with our circle, we got around 48 seconds in the speed phase- the winner was around 41 seconds, so we weren’t that far off! I think if we hadn’t circled we would’ve been in the ribbons for sure.

I had the option to do one more class, but I called it a day after that. I was feeling great, Addy was feeling great, and I want her to associate these shows with getting to have fun doing what she loves best- jumping over colorful sticks. So we only did the 2’ and the 2’7”. Big step back in height, but huge step forward in learning how to communicate.

We then spent several hours hand grazing before she got to take a nap on the trailer, I did some shopping (bought a pair of breeches that I didn’t really need, but I reeeeally wanted them so close enough), and we watched AT totally beast the TB hunter division. I also spent way too much money getting one of the pro pics of us in the 2’ division. It was stupid expensive and the jump was super tiny, but I wanted a memento of our very first big show together. I’ll share it when it comes in!

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Addy liked watching the Grand Prix ring. She told me she wants to do that next show.

All in all, it was an incredible day. The hustle and bustle of the showgrounds, the feeling of being in the big jumper ring, getting to hang out with my pony all day, and every single other thing about it was amazing. Would I have loved a ribbon? Obviously. I don’t pay all this money without some hope of recognition. But I wouldn’t trade a single part of that day because holy moly we learned SO MUCH.

A few takeaways:

  1. Let go of her face! Picking and picking and pulling is never the answer. Have enough feel to guide, but push her up into the bridle instead of pulling.
  2. Forward is good. It’s not what we look for in the hunter ring, but it will save our butts in the jumper ring. Let her turn into that snowplow and beast around the course. She’s naturally careful, stop worrying about that as much.
  3. Carry a stick and use it on the approach. Not necessarily hard, but just as a reminder that yes horse, you do have to go over this obstacle. She likes the reassurance that I’m up there and paying attention too.
  4. Get in the rumble seat. Forget that hunter half-seat. Forget that equitation perch. Get my ass in the saddle, sit up, sit deep, and drive. It’s ok to get left behind a little bit at this height- focus on getting the horse over the jump. This is not a horse that needs some minor steering, this is a horse that needs me to be in the driver’s seat during every stride.
  5. Deep breaths! Every so often I made a point to breathe and smile on course. It made a world of difference keeping me and the beast relaxed and having fun.

So there you have it. We survived our first rated show and LOVED every second of it. Addy didn’t blink an eye at all the craziness going on- loudspeakers, buzzers, 120398 horses up her butt in the warmup ring, tractors across the street, anything. Beast mare don’t care. Time to start saving my pennies so we can go to more!

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Forever kisses

PS- I’m super bummed that I have no videos of either of my rounds. I would’ve loved to look back and review how we did!

Bouncing Our Way to Bounces

We finally had our lesson! And while the jumps were itty-bitty-mayyyybe-2′-if-they-stood-up-really-straight-basically-cavalettis, we got some great work in.

I was actually trying out a new saddle- Courtney from Vintage Virginia is letting me try one of hers (we hung out this weekend and it was AMAZEBALLS SO MUCH FUN but that will get its own post in the next few days). It’s a Duett and built for chunky ponies so we thought it might be a good fit for Addy. I’ve ridden in it twice now and the verdict from myself and my trainer- Addy seems to like the extra room with the wide tree, it fits her fairly well, and she’s been giving some good softness and bend in it. It doesn’t fit me perfectly, but nothing too terrible. We’ll probs hang on to it for a while until I hunt down something else this fall/winter. So a big thank you to Courtney for making my pony very happy 🙂

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Our happy dance

Our flat work was fairly simple and Addy was definitely softer than usual. I usually have to finagle her around to ease some of the tension and get her to stop bracing on my hand around corners, but she offered up a nice bend and sought out the contact right off the bat. I don’t know if it’s the saddle, the beautiful weather, the fact that she’s been worked super consistently lately, or the fact that I’m learning how to not make my horse tense (fun fact, tense rider = tense horse. Outlandish, I know), but she was truly a pleasure to ride. Still an absolute Unicorn Beast with lots of energy, but very responsive to my seat. I’m finally learning to rely on my reins less! I was so worried that I was turning into a “handsy” rider but all shall be well.

After popping over a tiny vertical a couple times to warm up we got down to some courses. Like I said before, they were all teeny tiny jumps- so of course my trainer had to add difficulty in other ways.

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1-2 was a quiet 4 strides. For whatever reason, my trainer always looks at me very pointedly when she tells us the striding. I have no idea why she thought I would put in 3. That’s just silliness. Anywho. After going through that a couple times (and holding for the 4 every single time, might I add) we built our first course. Come off the left and trot up 1-2, land right lead and circle around to do the bounce 3a-3b, immediately turn hard right to get a simple change across the diagonal and come up pink 4 on the quarter line.

I was very happy with this! We held for the 4, got a nice civilized circle around to the bounce, a somewhat crooked line across the diagonal, and a nice neat turn that got us right to the base of 4.

We then reversed this and added on a little extra: come off the right, up 1-2 in 4, turn left and circle to do the bounce the other way (3b-3a), simple change across the diagonal, up the green 4 on the quarter line, and THEN slice pink 4-1 in two strides (our resident jumper horse then added the slice 1-green 4, but I wanted to take it one step at a time with my big white barge). Trainer was extremely emphatic that the slice was in 2 strides. Deep eye contact, used my full name, the works. Fair enough, I suppose I deserve that.

And you know what? We fit in two strides. It wasn’t a nice soft even pretty two strides, but it was two full strides. And I’m damn proud of my pony for doing that for me!

We finished up with this course: slice pink 4-1, come around the end of the ring and slice 1-green 4, go around the end and slice 2-4, and then finish up on jump 5. Trainer said she didn’t care what direction or what approach we used to get over 5, she just wanted us to come back to a trot and make it over that jump.

The first slice went well again, but I goofed a little heading to the second one- took my leg off, steered with my hands, and steered right past the jump. Classic. Circled around and made it on the second try though! DragonMare made her appearance around this time and we put one stride in the slice from 2-4, but I sat deep and got her to sit on her ass before trotting around the end of the ring and slicing 5 towards pink 4. We then cantered for a couple minutes so she could stretch out (also my attempts to stop were met with contempt on her end, so I just rolled with it).

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Not much of it was pretty, but it was effective. The one thing my trainer said that really stuck with me has to do with mindset: I need to stop thinking “It’ll be hard to get that striding, but we can do it,” and start thinking “We will get that striding, end of story.” When I rode in with a plan and KNEW that I was getting the two strides, we put in two strides. When I relaxed and wasn’t sure, we left it out and put in one. Basically I need to ride every single stride with conviction.

So add this to my list of skills I’ve been working on lately: it’s ok to soften and relax when things are going well, but I still have to keep the focus and ride the plan.

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Just like Zefron always said!

Anyone else had to shift their thinking lately? How’d it work out?

Wordless Wednesday- Shadows

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Enjoying the sunny summer days with my gigantic Cookie Monster Lovebug Mare

PS- Work has really picked up lately, leading to some late nights and less free time. Hooray for promotions! But I pinky promise that I’ll be much more active once I’m over this hump. Missing all you lovely people, and can’t wait to catch up on all your recent adventures.

What’s My Discipline?

Due to the gang heading to Lexington and some late nights at work causing me to miss my makeup lesson, this week is lesson-less. I know how much you all love hearing about every single stride of my super duper advanced lessons- I apologize from the bottom of my heart for the lack of lesson reviews this week. Instead, please enjoy my semi-coherent ramblings.

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I was doing some really deep navel-gazing lately and thinking about my future with horses. Where do I want to get to? How far do I want to go? I talked about my big long-term goal a little while ago and that’s definitely still on my radar, but that’s not going to be happening any time soon. That’s a couple years down the line barring any big snags (and in the horse world, there are always snags).

So I was thinking, where do I want to be right now? Knowing that I’ve got a kickass 3′ (and possibly higher) horse, a trainer who will help me reach whatever goals I set, and a tiny but useable budget to get out and show semi-regularly: what do I want to be doing with this wonderful situation I find myself in?

And it’s a harder question than I thought it would be. Some people just know and have always known that they want to be in the jumper ring (I’m looking at you, Jenn), and some people find the elegance of the hunters to be their happy place.

And Addy and I have had a ton of fun in both those rings! With consistent work and more show miles, she’s turning into a really lovely hunter. We’ll never place well on the flat (even if DragonBeast decided she liked flat classes, we’re not great movers), but Beastly carries a beautiful pace, snaps her knees up when she rounds over the jumps, and is becoming a more and more pleasant ride around a hunter course. I think if we turned our attention to the hunters full time, we could be competitive on the local circuit- even if more people start showing up for the 3′. Maybe not the rateds with their fancy hunters, but ain’t nobody got cash for that anyways (unless I start eating Ramen for dinner a lot more, which I haven’t completely ruled out).

But then the jumpers- Beastly loves to move. And by move I mean haul ass. Pardon my French. We’ve only had the one outing and it did not go smoothly at all, but once I became a human rider instead of a potato things clicked into place. Addy seems to love more technical courses with turns and such, and I’ve found that I love the faster pace and excitement of the jumpers. If we focused our attention to the jumpers full time, we could probably be competitive at even the rateds- no one cares if she’s a fancy mover there as long as we jump clear, careful, and fast. We can definitely do clear, careful, and fast.

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Here, have a picture of Addy thinking I’m a carrot.

I’ve had a great time in the hunters, and I’ve had a great time in the jumpers. That likely has to do with the pony I get to ride! I trust that Addy will take care of me if I take care of her no matter what we’re doing and what trouble we run into. I adore the tradition and “prettiness” of the hunters, and I adore the adrenaline rush I get in the jumpers. But I’ve never really been a hunter rider, and I’m still quite new to the jumpers.

Then there’s my true love- the equitation. I showed exclusively in the equitation divisions growing up and LOVED it. There were the exciting courses from the jumpers, the beauty of the hunters, and a little extra technical aspect to make sure every single little thing was perfectly in place. Sadly the local shows around here don’t offer many eq classes- I’ll have to go to the rateds for a chance to rock out in the 18-35 Adult Equitation. And I haven’t even been in an eq class in years. Beastly has a haphazard counter-canter, we’re still developing a frame, and I’ve gotten a little sloppy as I’ve moved into the hunters and jumpers.

But here’s what I’m thinking: we’ll keep doing the hunters when that’s available. Learning to carry a steady rhythm and stay calm on course will only help us. We’ll keep doing the jumpers when that’s available. Adjusting our pace and learning to truly plan a ride will only help us. And then whenever it’s possible, I’m going to enter all the 3′ adult equitation medal I can get find/afford. Balancing and becoming more position-oriented will only help us.

So am I a hunter rider, a jumper rider, or an eq rider at heart? My musings haven’t really given me a clear answer, except for the fact that I’m Addy’s rider. My job is to give her a good ride no matter what ring we’re in, and bonus points if I can add to her training and make her more rideable for her owner.

So yes, I will be searching for more jumper classes to do, because I’m pretty sure that’s where I’ll eventually end up. But I also won’t say no to tagging along to more hunter shows. Heck, we’ll tag along when our barn goes to the nearby baby horse trial in the fall. Whatever I need to do to build my own skills and My Little Pony’s skills is what we’ll do.

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Viva Carlos Blog Hop- My Cubicle

Thank you L. for the blog hop! Fun to see everyone’s non-horsey home away from home. Here’s mine!

When entering, you get the full sense that you’re going into some weirdo nerd’s office/lair:

office_door

In my defense, most of those signs were gifts. Not sure what it says about me that people know how much I’ll giggle at them…

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We then move on to the majestic shelving unit full of who-knows-what. A bunch of binders (most are empty and just there to look legit), a water bottle someone left here a couple weeks ago, Ramen for emergencies, and like 4 mugs/bottles that I never use. Also a sequined American top hat, because why not??

office_chair

Over in that corner is my pride and joy: the most comfortable chair in the world. I unashamedly take naps there during my lunch breaks, and people will take any excuse to have meetings in my office so they can sit in it. It is magical. It brings people together. This thing could end wars. You can also see my SUPER professional painting that I made at a paint night, and a bulletin board full of pics of my family. And an exercise ball that just kinda lives here and only sees use as a footrest when I’m sitting in the Magic Chair.

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Then we have my secondary desk over on this wall, where I keep necessities like tissues, highlighters, and ALL MY PAPERWORK. Honestly everything I do is on the computer, but I do take tons of notes on paper and I like to keep them organized by topic in those file folders. I also like to sit here to eat lunch when I’m feeling antisocial/sleepy/working through lunch. I’m also a total baller that likes to publicize the results of my last performance review so people can hold me accountable for working on my weaknesses (I realize that having a weakness in content knowledge sounds terrible…but I swear it’s not as bad as it sounds).

office_real desk

The crowning glory: where I spend all day erry day! That white board hasn’t been updated in roughly a year, I have no idea how to use the phone, and those post-its mostly contain useful information such as traced sketches of cartoon dogs. It’s usually in the standing position unless I’ve just eaten lunch and am too full to stand. Because like a child, I have no concept of eating til full. I eat until stuffed. The database that I’m constantly playing not pictured because, well, confidentiality and all that.

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So there you have it, my full-to-the-brim tiny little office that I love! Tons of maps, a gazillion lamps, and as much personality as I can infuse into the space. My boss is right across the hall too, so a side bonus is that I can yell across the hall when I get stuck. He loves that.

*Bonus points if you can spy my barn bag complete with crop sticking up hiding in the corner

What have we learned lately?

Surprise weekend post! I realized that I’ve been soaking up helpful tidbits like a thirsty little sponge lately, and I wanted to get them all in one spot. Without further ado, here’s what I’d like to get in my muscle memory:

  1. Large circles with a counter-bend to small circles with the correct bend help give a lot of suppleness and softness at the trot. Changing the bend often is a great way to break up stiffness and resistance.
  2. Long warmups at the walk, both on and off the contact, are great for getting Beastly’s back moving and getting in the right mental state. Show up a little early for rides so we have plenty of time to do big stretchy circles before getting into more strenuous work.
  3. When the Unicorn tries to lean on my inside hand and get unbalanced around corners, give her a good push with my inside leg to force her into my outside aids.
  4. However, don’t overdo the bend. Keep a very strong feel on the outside aids around corners.
  5. Pick my hands up- bracing on her mane does absolutely nothing except ruin my position and take away control. Hands should be at hip height for now until I learn to let them be more independent.
  6. Sit up straight and sit deep. We may have fun at hunter shows, but a light seat doesn’t help us. Nor does leaning up the neck until I’m lying on my face. As my trainer tells me so often, “Ride like ze Germans!”
  7. Take deep breaths on the approach to a fence. This has a 100% success rate of getting us to a nice distance. I can still sometimes find a decent takeoff spot if I’m not breathing regularly, but it happens much more naturally if I’m actually taking in oxygen.
  8. Half-halt with my thighs. This has recently changed my world. Suddenly my half-halts are actually accomplishing something pretty dramatic! Remember to back it up with a lot of leg.
  9. Leg leg leg leg leg leg leg. It is OK to soften when things are going well. Softening does not equal taking leg off. As soon as the leg comes off, we lose brakes, steering, gas pedal, all sorts of control. Leg must be on at all times.
  10. As stated, soften when things are going well. Don’t be clinging to her face or half-halting every other stride if we’re balanced and comfortable. Correct her just enough to reach a good place, and then reward her by getting out of her way. Re-correct as necessary.
  11. Use all the releases in my toolbox. If we have a very tight turn as soon as we land, an 80s style gigantic jumper release probably isn’t the right choice. Our automatic release has proved to be a fantastic choice most of the time, but there is still a place for the familiar crest release.
  12. Get Drafty McDrafterson to stop trying to pull from her front end like her plow-horse ancestors, and get her instead to push from her hind end by doing tons of extension-collection transitions. Collection needs SO MUCH LEG to encourage her to pick herself up and channel the energy more roundly instead of just forward.
  13. Give My Little Pony infinite kisses and treats for challenging me and teaching me, all while making sure I stay safe. She has saved my butt countless times as I try to put all the pieces together. She earns all those cookies.