Ready for the Maclay?

Huzzah! An actual lesson review!

I saw the course setup earlier in the week and was totally drooling over it- it’s a slightly simplified version of one of the Maclay regional courses (I think from Florida, but I could be wrong). Trainer tends to get medal-happy this time of year and loves to replicate the fun courses and we LOVE it. So of course I was super pumped to play around this week.

Our warmup was pretty standard- we did lots of extending-collecting trot transitions to try and create that adjustability, and did the same thing in the canter. This all went very smoothly to the left (Addy’s better direction) and Addy was balanced and relaxed. The right was a little bit stickier at the canter- this is traditionally Addy’s less balanced lead and it showed a lot last night. There was a lot of tension, bracing, and heaviness going on as we careened around. Trainer reminded me that on a short-necked horse like Beastly, I’m going to have to ask harder for something to break up the tension; over bend and release, squeeze up into the bridle and release, change the bend and release, anything to get her focusing on me and increasing that suppleness.

Then on to jumping! We warmed up over a crossrail a couple times and TrainWreck McJohnson jumped it like it was 3 feet tall. Weeee! I don’t mind that kind of enthusiasm at all, I’d rather her get excited about her job and carry me over.


Then we started practicing pieces of our overall course before piecing it together. First was the crossrail bending to the stonewall in 6 (1 to 2). Not 5. Six. So naturally the first time it was a god-awful five. But then we swung our track a little wider and Human McPassengerPants actually took the wheel and asked properly for the step for the six. Success!

One thing my trainer had me work on here was trotting in quietly. Key word: quietly. Addy loves her job so much that she really just wants to gallop at every jump in the ring once she gets going, and when she laser locks on a jump it can be tough to keep her at a trot. (I honestly don’t know what I would do with a horse that needs a boot off the ground, btw). I don’t want to be hanging on her face to slow her down since she’ll just lean on my hand- homegirl does not have a sensitive mouth and is happy to lean all day long- so we practiced asking for the half-halt and releasing back. We want to have the give and take, but I had to take enough so that I could ease up and give back to her. This would be a very different process on a more sensitive horse, but Addy needs a bigger reminder to come back so then I can allow her forward to the jump.

We then added the rollback to the other stone wall in the corner (1 to 2 to 3). This was a really tricky turn- the trick that helped a lot was holding my right rein over the bending out, so that she didn’t fall in and we could use our space to make the turn a bit wider. When I remembered to do that: fantastic. When I didn’t remember: technically we did make it over the jump but it ain’t pretty.

Next we tried the corner, bending to the hay-bale line (3 to 4 to 5). Trainer insisted that the stone to the first hay was at least a four, never a three, so I bargained my way into trotting in. That set us up for a very nice balanced bending 4, then a lovely two stride hay bale line. I absolutely loved this line- it was set for a flowing stride so it fit Addy perfectly! There was no wrestling to shorter her step at all!

After that we trotted into the end jump, then rolled back to the other end jump (6 to 7). This went surprisingly well, believe it or not. We had to remember to use our space to create a wide enough turn for ourselves. We then added a bending to the skinny rolltop out (6 to 7 to 8). The trick to that was (again) holding my right rein so that we could move our track out and approach the rolltop in a straighter line.

Here have this again as a reminder.
Here have this again as a reminder.

Then it was time for our full course! Which went: canter in outside vertical (1) bending out over the stone wall (2) in five; roll back to the corner stone wall (3), bending in four to the hay bale line (4 to 5) in 2; skip the end jump and just come around to the pink flowers (7); bending left out over the skinny rolltop (8) in 6; ending with a rollback right over the white gate (9).

So maybe we did the bending stonewall-hay in three…and maybe Addy tripped and almost fell on her face around the first rollback…but we totally went back and fixed those things! A couple parts that went really well:

  1. The rollback at the end of the ring to the pink flowers. Even though she came out of the haybale line rolling like a semi down a iced-over steep hill, she listened beautifully to my half-halt and balanced around to a nice comfortable distance.
  2. The bending out over the skinny rolltop. The conservative flower jump set us up for a quiet bending line with a straight approach.

We kept the jumps pretty teeny tiny since we were working more on adjustability and staying balanced through turns, but this definitely wasn’t an easy lesson! The course and Addy and my trainer all made me think about every single stride. And of course I ended with the same thing I say to my trainer at the end of every lesson.

“Hey can I tell you something? I love this horse so much.”

Do you like to “copycat” fun courses? When you design your own, what are your favorite elements to include?

Where in the world is Olivia?

Friends, it’s been a crazy few weeks. Some crazy good, some crazy bad, and some just plain crazy.

I’ll start with the horse stuff, because why else would you be here? 😉

Addy and I had a couple really horrendous lessons in a row where it felt like we were not on the same page at all, and she was just nope-ing around the ring. Refusing little jumps she had seen 1000x, getting super strong, and generally being a sassypants. Nothing at all dangerous, just not our usual badass selves.

After a couple reminders to her mediocre rider that a) I’m allowed and encouraged to actually keep my leg on b) staring at the jump is counterproductive unless I want my horse to stop and stare at it too and c) sometimes breathing helps you not be a potato, we finally had a great lesson the other week! We ended up doing a 3’ course (see thecluelessbutcuriousrider for details on it!) and ended with the cutest knees-to-chin oxer ever. I felt like I had my happy pony back! Of course, pony was happy the whole time, it was her bumbling driver getting all bamboozled.

And then some sad stuff happened. My grandmother, my amazing Yia-yia, passed away about two weeks ago. She had been sick for quite a while and it wasn’t a huge surprise, but we’re definitely feeling her loss. I was able to catch a flight home two days later and spend time with family; exactly what we all needed. It was a bitter reason to get everyone together, but I have no doubt that my grandmother would’ve smiled to see all her (12!) grandkids sharing memories and being together.

I could talk for days about what an amazing woman she was- strong and beautiful and so incredibly devoted to her family and friends. I could talk for days about how she taught us to swim, let us make up our own recipes in the kitchen, snuggled us to sleep, and her contagious laughter. I’m incredibly lucky to have all these memories.

But I’m now back in VA and back to work and back at the barn, which is a blessing and a curse. Because as I’ve alluded to several times now, I got a promotion over the summer. It doesn’t change much about my responsibilities or reporting structure- it just means I have a little more authority. And with great authority comes great workload. Or something like that, right?

I’m being overdramatic here, of course. I get to work on interesting assignments with awesome intelligent people so it isn’t all bad by any measure. There may have been a week or two where I was booked for 3 or 4 different projects that added up to 60-70 hours per week, but those are not the norm. However, the new norm is staying late on non-barn days to ensure I can leave on time when I do have a lesson to get to. I’m also leading more projects- meaning that my deadlines now fall under my responsibility of getting done in time. Checking blogs and my email during work breaks have had to fall by the wayside as those breaks have gotten shorter and almost disappeared.

I don’t want you to think I’m grouping this under the “crazy bad” category- simply “crazy.” I’m genuinely enjoying all the new tasks I get to be responsible for- I even get to present at a conference my company is hosting next week!- and have been adjusting to the new workload. It’s not as bad as engineering school, so I just have to gear back up a little bit.

Thankfully, I got to ride my pony Monday for the first time since before my grandmother passed. 10 days may not be super long to some people, but it felt like forever away from my girl! Her owner did ride while I was away so she got to play a couple times, but I like to think she was happy to have me back on board. We popped over a couple tiny jumps since she was feeling so relaxed and happy, and homegirl loved it! Waited to the base, jumped carefully, landed fairly balanced, and was hunting down the next jump. I couldn’t even get her to walk to cool down- she kept laser-locking onto jumps and trying to trot over them. I can’t tell you how happy it made me to have that reminder that Addy genuinely loves her job.

Fun side fact: I talked with one of my trainers about the difficulty with refusals we’ve been having lately, and she responded with a version of, “well yeah Olivia, that’s what green horses do.” Wait, what? Addy isn’t green, is she? Apparently greener than I thought! Her owner didn’t jump super consistently with her and mostly focused on building her flatwork (which is so funny because while she has tons of fancy buttons, Addy much prefers jumping), so she only has maybe 2 consistent years of jumping, most of which has been 2’6” and under. Knowing that these bobbles are “greenie moments” actually makes me feel a lot better about them. I can work with greenie moments. It also makes me even prouder of my wonder-pony for giving me everything I ask for!

So I’d like to apologize for my muteness the last couple of weeks, and apologize in advance for the next couple weeks. I told myself when I started this blog that it would be purely for enjoyment and I would not allow it to become a source of stress. I’m still reading and loving all your updates and I’m still loving having this platform, but we all know that sometimes life happens. I’m going to update as I can and hopefully connect with some of you as I can, but know that even if I’m not super active I’m still thinking of you and rooting you on from VA!

Interview with a Trainer, Part 1

Hey all! As promised, I have a fun little interview with one of my trainers here. I’ve referred to her as AT (Assistant Trainer) many times, but I honestly think we can lose the “assistant” at this point. She’s taught a whole bunch of our lessons, coached me at shows, schooled my horse, and helped me out when I’ve been hacking around. She’s a kickass trainer and a totally kickass person.



Introduce yourself! Or at least as much as you want to share on the internet.

Initially from the Midwest (Minnesota/Illinois/Iowa), Joanna honed her knowledge of barn management and schooling green horses early in her riding career. She taught beginner to intermediate/advanced lessons, was a summer camp director, and worked local shows – pulling ingate duty, announcing, and filling in for jump crew. Joanna also specialized in off-track thoroughbreds and retraining difficult and problem horses. She rode competitively in the hunter and equitation divisions before crossing into the jumper ring. Throughout her junior career, she helped pay her own show fees by braiding at shows.

After college, Joanna ventured to Wellington, Florida to work for Stadium Sport Horses, in conjunction with Ashland Farm, as a show groom for the Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF). While there, Joanna gained much of her experience from Debbi White (who rode and managed for Anne Kursinski), and Luis Madriz, a top groom for Ashland. Through WEF, she received an opportunity to be a rider and show manager for Wood Run Farm, based outside of Denver, Colorado. At that upper level show barn, she kept the show string organized, groomed, and prepared for various show seasons; which included hunters, amateur jumpers, and FEI-level horses.

Eventually, Joanna longed for a change of pace, and was encouraged by close friends to check out the Northern Virginia area. Here, she met Terri and Don and the Clairvaux family and knew it felt like home.

Most often you will find her at the farm with her dog, Tifa, keeping busy with the well-being of her four-legged clients and passing on her knowledge to her students.

(Editor’s note: she doesn’t actually talk like this, she just copied and pasted her bio from the barn’s website. Clever girl.)

When did you start riding?

My cousin got a pony when I was 3/4yo. I started formal hunter/jumper lessons at 7yo.

What was your path to becoming a professional?

I tried a lot of other normal-ish jobs, and finally decided that I might as well try to do the horses professionally. It’s the one thing I’m completely passionate about. I was in my early 20s, and didn’t have any strings attached to anything to stop me, so why not.

What’s your favorite discipline and why?

Jumpers. I’m not against other disciplines, or think that jumpers is the best, I just prefer it. It’s the closest I’ll ever get to flying without mechanical help. I also like that it’s judged objectively.

Favorite horse you’ve ever ridden and why?

So many, for different reasons. I think it’s easier to list the horses I don’t like (which are mostly limited to the ones that would prefer to stomp me into the ground).

Best/favorite parts about being a pro/trainer?

When the green horse you’ve been training does what you’ve been trying to teach it. When things start to click, no matter how minuscule it seems.

Same applies to students.

Worst/least favorite parts?

Dealing with drama and politics

What’s something important about being a trainer than you didn’t realize before you became one?

Not everyone has the same level of commitment that I do.

What’s the biggest difference between teaching kids, competitive juniors, and amateurs? Do you prefer one over the others?

Every person learns differently, even if they are competing at the same level.

I prefer anyone who has the desire to improve; I’ll take hard work every time.

What are the corrections you have to give almost everyone?

More leg. Outside rein. Outside aids.

(Ed. note: this is the soundtrack to my lessons. One day she won’t have to remind me as often. One day…)

Do you usually have a goal in mind for each lesson? Show?

I have a rough outline of what I’d like to accomplish in the day, but working with horses makes you be able to be flexible with plans. The horses (and sometimes riders) are good at not following your plan.

What tips would you give to an adult getting back into the sport after some time off?

Find a good trainer. Try not to overthink things. Have fun. Work hard. Let go (literally and figuratively). Lots of stretching. If you are only planning to ride once a week, have realistic goals for making progress. Don’t rely on riding to be your sole form of exercise, you’re an athlete – treat your body as such. When you’re an adult making a comeback, it’s a lot of mental strength, not just physical.

Any advice for an amateur on a budget to continue progressing?

If you have a good working relationship with your trainer, they’ll be able to help you make progress, no matter your budget. Be willing to get on anything and everything. Work hard. Absorb lots. Say you can’t ride in a clinic- go audit (it’s usually cheap or free to listen). Watch the classes you have goals to compete in; see what the level of riding is to be successful in those classes. Watch the pro classes- don’t be caught up in how well the horse goes, study what the pro is doing before, over, and after each fence to help the horse be successful.

Who is your favorite client and why is it me?

Lol. My favorite is anyone who wants to be a student of the horses.

(Ed. note: nah but seriously she just doesn’t want to hurt anyone else’s feelings. Totally me.)

Anything else you want to share?

Have big goals, but have realistic/attainable steps to those goals. Be able to take constructive criticism and try to apply. As a trainer, I want you and the horse to succeed. I would never ask either to do something that cannot be done, I will not set you up for failure. Don’t get frustrated; if you’re having a rough round, take a breath, find the little things that went right, live to ride another day. Success in riding does not happen overnight.


Yeah I know, it’s totally awesome that I get to ride with her. Next in the series will be input from our other trainer/barn owner, so stay tuned for that!

Would you guys be interested in reading interviews with other people at the barn? I’m thinking maybe one of the barnhands, a parent of one of our juniors, another ammy, basically anyone I could get to sit down and answer some questions. Would love your feedback!

Sneak Preview

Hello friends!

I’m really hoping D’Arcy at thecluelessbutcuriousrider is more on her game than me, because I haven’t even started a recap of our lesson yet. Hopefully will put that together tonight*- spoiler alert, it was fantastic. I actually kept my leg on and stuck to my guns, and PonyFace was an absolute flippin’ rockstar!

But just so that I don’t leave you hanging, here’s a couple exciting things in the works that I’ll be posting over the next few weeks:

  1. An ode to Hunt Club. They’re pretty much my favorite company and I’m obsessed with their belts. I’m their creepy Twitter fan. I love them so much it hurts. I must share with you how glorious they are.
  2. Interviews with my Trainer and Assistant Trainer. I figure I quote them all the time, why not go straight to the source? They’ve both agreed to respond to a list of questions I put together and share their wisdom with the world! Both of them are genuinely awesome people as well as talented trainers and coaches.
  3. A post about my job and work/life balance and other musings about that. Yes, a non-horse post (it’s been months since I posted something non-horse related!). But as I’ve mentioned a couple times, my job has picked up a ton lately and I’d like to share a little bit more about all the shenanigans going on in that aspect of my life.
  4. My show prep checklist. Things inevitably go a little wonky on show days, but so far no huge disasters have happened for us (*knocks on wood*). Also, I love lists more than I love almost anything else. So yeah, have some unsolicited advice from a rank amateur.
  5. A review of my new breeches. Since my last post about FancyPants I’ve added several to the collection! I actually had to put myself on a breeches spending freeze because my trainer said, and I quote, “Stop buying pants and start saving for more shows!!!” Oops. #sorrynotsorry
  6. My wishlist of tack/show clothes/horsey stuffs. Also known as the When-I-Win-The-Lottery list.

Stay tuned!

*I do have a wedding this weekend that I have to pack and prep for, so this maaaay be postponed.