More XC Media!

Sick of it yet?? Too bad! One of the moms there took some great pics and I just got access. I’ll have even more when the other girl finishes getting them off her camera! Enjoy a few more views of us having a ridiculous awesome time.

Princess Unicorn surveying her surroundings and deciding if she wants to exit the trailer, while her loyal subjects await her.
“Warmup xrails require a lot of inspection. Better put my head between my knees.” -Addy
One bounce…
…two bounce!
Going dowwwwwn
Happy mare likes big logs. Happy mare is also happy that Human doesn’t wear spurs, because Human has an awful habit of sticking her toes straight out.
Happy mare locks onto her next target
Rider squints through the haze as she and the Unicorn launch themselves up and out of the water
Human tries to slow down the Beast with limited success
Lifting off over the tire jump
Hi, my name is Olivia, and I am a Mane Sniffer

First Time XC Schooling

So as mentioned, my barn went XC schooling this past weekend. It was Addy’s first time on a XC course, and my first time doing anything remotely resembling XC since I was roughly 11.

Oh my gosh. I totally get it. I completely understand why you crazy eventers do it. I can see why now.

And Addy totally gets it too. My pony that HATES airy verticals (literally just a colorful pole) hunted down every jump and acted like she had done this a thousand times.

I don’t even know what else to say. This was so incredibly awesomely fun, my horse was definitely having an awesome time, and I’m still grinning about all of it. Water, ditches, banks, logs, all of it was amazing. I still stink at down banks (stupid jumping position muscle memory getting me into trouble), but it was SO. MUCH. FUN.

I’ll just let you see the video of all the fun elements we got to try, and you can see Addy’s first XC school for yourself. It goes in order from our warmup to the last element we tried. (HUGE thank you to manfriend, who spent several hours trekking after us over hill and dale to take these videos PLUS some awesome pictures. All this despite his allergy to horses. I know. He’s the absolute best.)

When can we go again?!

She’s Baaaaack

I have my pony back.

Seriously, my DragonBeastMare has returned to me. The horse that made me say “screw it” to my bank statements and dive back into this sport headfirst is back in action.

You may have noticed over the last two months or so that Addy and I have been riding the struggle bus. Nothing too crazy- she would get fast, or duck out, or sass me at odd times. All manageable things that we worked through little by little.

But then she started showing signs of ulcers, and we had to go up a girth size. Homegirl was getting fat and sassy and achy. Just recently I told you all that we decided to cut her grain a bit.

Well let me tell you: it is a night and day difference.

All ulcer-y behavior has cleared up and my brave trusting pony has re-appeared. She is, as always, a total DragonMare and has not magically turned into a slowpoke (thank goodness, I don’t know what I would do with that), but she isn’t tuning me out anymore.

When I asked for a collected canter: after much snorting and gnashing of teeth, we got a nice tiny canter. When I asked for the closer distance to almost every jump: no problem, she gave it to me. When I pointed her at the scary new coop jump she had been snorting at: carried me up and over without blinking. When my steering was vague and I turned her at a jump last minute: woohoo more jumps!

I didn’t say the short distance was pretty, just that she was willing to do it.

We’re having FUN again. We’re trusting each other again. I’m not holding-holding-holding to the base of the jump because she’s charging at it; I can soften up to the base because she’s got one ear flicked back listening to me.

I’ve certainly learned a ton over the last few months, but I won’t pretend I’m not thrilled to have my confidence-boosting-safer-than-safe mare back.

Big scary coop is not too scary for the DragonBeast.

And what do you do when you have a safe happy mare that loved going out on a hunter pace? You take her cross country schooling!! We’re heading out on Sunday to play around and try some new things and I can’t WAIT! Somehow I think Beastly is going to absolutely love it.

Have you ever noticed a huge behavior change due to changes in your horse’s nutrition? And any tips for a first time XC rider?

In Which We Leave the Ring and Survive

My dear readers. For those of you who have followed along for a while now, you may have gathered that I’m a bit of a ring princess. For the newer folks: I’m a ring princess. I LOVE hearing about XC adventures and think foxhunting sounds exciting, but really have never felt any desire to leave the confines of an arena. Considering I often use the wall to stop RollerCoaster McHappyPants, I really like having that wall there to help me.

But I was talked into joining the barn for an old fashioned paper chase this weekend! For those of you who don’t know what a paper chase is (like me), it was a 3-5 mile hack along a course through fields/woods/wilderness, with optional logs and coops to jump. The group I was in elected to do the Jumping II division- a 3 mile course with some logs to pop over.

This. Was. Amazing. I won’t say that my fear of riding outside the ring is gone, but Fun and Happy and Excitement are jumping up and down yelling, “Again! Again!” and I think Fear has gotten trampled in the process.

Addy thinks it was no big deal. Don’t let this face fool you, Beastly was the happiest horse on the property.

Much of my nervousness came from the fact that Addy has never done anything like this before. We’ve done a couple little trail rides near the barn and cantered across a field or two, but never anything near cows, with a group of riders, through woods, or anything like that. I know that Beastly is a very sane and calm mount. I know that she has never once offered a spook or a bolt in the year that I’ve been on her. But I was still a little wary of how she would handle this.

There was zero reason for me to be worried. Addy LOVED this. Seriously loved it! She handled gates, climbing up rocky banks, big herds of cows, lots of horses all around her, all the commotion. When I asked her to trot she gave me the biggest springiest ground-covering trot you’ve ever seen, and when we decided to canter she gave me a light and easy lope. No heaviness or pulling in the least- she was content to take her time and enjoy the scenery. Cantering down the trail through the woods was amazing! We even went for a bit of a gallop across a field and she was such a happy camper to open up and run.

BossMare was more than happy to lead the way. Check out that trot!

And the jumps! They were all tiny little 2′ logs but it was so fun! She didn’t hesitate at any of them for even a second. Even when a third jump popped up around a blind corner after a little line, she carried me right over it. I swear one of them even looked like a little ditch. She waited to the base every time and jumped carefully. For realz, she loved it!

While some of the other horses we were with got a little snorty and went on alert, Addy was relaxed the entire time. I had her on a loose rein even when were galloping and popping over jumps because she was being so easy going! I was so sad to canter over the finish line and I think Addy was too.

Our time ended up being just enough slower than the “optimum time” for our division and that kept us out of the ribbons. I can’t make myself care even a little bit. I’m glad we took our time and went at the pace we did- we took plenty of walk breaks when we hit rocky or muddy footing, when we weren’t sure of where to go, and to give the horses a breather after popping over jumps. It was the perfect pace for us.

Go team go!

Anyone know of any more hunter paces in Virginia? I want to sign us up for one every weekend!

An Adult Amateur’s Guide to Horse Show Prep

Hi, my name is Olivia, and I’m addicted to lists.

For real though, lists 5ever for EVERYTHING. Grocery lists, chore lists, to-do lists, wishlists, packing lists, I will make a list for everything ever. When I’m overwhelmed at work? I stop and make a list of what needs to get done. Lists are soothing.

But one of my favorite lists that has evolved over the years has been my horse show prep checklist. This has gone through many iterations as I’ve grown and learned- it had its beginnings back in middle school when I was doing the Short Stirrup division.

Back in those days, my trainer would swing by my house to pick me up in the wee hours of the morning. Having inherited the punctuality gene from my non-Greek parent, I was very determined to be ready for him. So ready, in fact, that my morning checklist had times associated with every item. Including putting on socks. That sucker was detailed. 5am: wake up. 5:02am: go to the bathroom. 5:03am: wash face. All the way up to 5:45am: get in the car. Just ask my parents, they saw it all in action.

But I don’t think you’re all interested in how long it took middle-school-me to put on each article of clothing. Instead, here’s how I prep for shows as an adult!

The day before:

  1. Do a nice relaxing ride on the beast. Keep it simple and fairly short and let her stretch around. Some people like to give their ponies the day off before a show, but Beastly and I definitely need that time to have fun together.
  2. Give the Beast a bath. She’s going to roll in mud and poop overnight anyways, but this just feels like something I should do. If nothing else, I try to get her mane and tail a little whiter. Proceed to cry intermittently about how unfair it is that your friend gets to ride a dark bay with ZERO chrome.
  3. Clean tack. I usually keep my tack wiped down and in good condition, so this isn’t too onerous. I’ll be extra careful to condition well so we get a nice gleam on the leather, and I’ll pay attention to any grime built up around buckles and keepers. Then the saddle goes in the cover and the bridle gets put in the bridle bag. (Side note: for me, this process also includes changing bits to the Pelham)
  4. Pack my grooming tote. My trainer has lots of grooming stuff available in the trailer anyways so I don’t get too fussed about this, but I do throw a few things together:
  • Hoofpick
  • Soft brush
  • Curry comb
  • Small towel
  • Treats
  • Vetwrap
  1. Load the trailer. I’m lucky enough that my trainer has a 4 horse trailer that we almost always use, and it has a nice big dressing room. I always make sure to have all these things in there
  • Saddle
  • Bridle
  • Girth (and maybe a spare if I’m feeling SUPER prepared)
  • Grooming tote
  • Fleece pad if it’s a hunter show, half-pad if it’s a jumper show (if we’re doing the jumpers, we use AP pads that have our barn logo on it under the half-pad so I don’t worry about packing those)
  1. Confirm that Trainer’s collection of 239487 show coats are still there just in case this list doesn’t work and I forget to bring my show coat. Which actually happened one time.
  2. Clean Beastly’s boots. I like to trailer her in her boots, so I’ll brush those down to get rid of any sweat or mud that’s accumulated. Then I hang them on her stall door so I don’t forget them in the morning.
  3. Get out her nice halter and leadline. These are relics from my past show days when my parents funded things, so we have a very fancy leather lead with my name on a brass plate, and a fancy halter that says Starlight Express. Totally not her name. Turns out my studly Holsteiner and my albino elephant have a very similar head size.
  4. Bribe pony with treats and kisses to not kill me the next day.

Then I go home and prep my own gear!

  1. Lay out exactly what clothing I’ll be leaving the house in. That usually means my show pants, boot socks, hiking boots, an undershirt, maybe my show shirt/polo, fleece sweatshirt (depending on weather), and my beloved Pony Farm hat. This way I don’t have to rummage through drawers in the wee hours of the morning.
  2. Lay out other show clothing to bring. For hunter shows this is probably my show shirt and jacket, but for jumper shows I generally just wear my polo all day. I always mean to bring a raincoat. I never remember to bring a raincoat.
  3. Polish my tall boots. Sometimes I’ll do this while I’m cleaning tack since the soap is out anyways, and sometimes I do this at home. Once they’re nice and shiny I put them in their boot bag to protect them.
  4. Pack my show backpack. I’ve heard some polarizing things about show backpacks, but mine has been absolutely invaluable. I’ll put my wallet, checkbook, sunglasses, glasses, and Coggins, along with any other necessary paperwork in one pocket. A change of clothes/jacket goes in the big pouch. My crop, gloves, spurs, and helmet all have their place along with a pocket for my water bottle. No need for a purse!
  5. Knock back some ZZQuil and go to sleep! Judge me if you must, but I like to get more than 6 hours of sleep. If I’m going to be up at 4a-5a, this means I want to be drooling on my pillow by 10p. That’s not that much earlier than I usually go to bed, but early enough that I like to get a little chemical help to zonk out.

Now on to the day of the show!

  1. Don’t bother with makeup, just get dressed, grab all my gear that’s waiting by the front door, and hit the road.
  2. Once at the barn, make sure Beastly and any other horses heading to the show get their breakfast.
  3. While she’s eating, identify the poop/mud spots and attempt to curry them out. Mentally talk yourself into believing that the judge won’t care if your gray looks like a paint.
  4. Braid and wrap Beastly’s tail. I don’t mean fancy shmancy braiding, I mean a basic braid down to the very end. This makes it much easier to wrap up with an Ace bandage. I do this because her butt is up against the wall in the trailer and if I don’t, her tail will be entirely crusted over with manure by the time we arrive at the show. It’s super cute. As is, I have to deal with poopy fetlocks.
  5. Triple check the trailer and my car to make sure I have everything while Unicorn finishes her breakfast.
  6. Get her boots on, her fancy lead rope and halter, and take her to the indoor. Turn her loose for 10 minutes to get the silly beans out of her system.
  7. Load her on the trailer (always on the driver’s side because she’s always the biggest pony on the trailer) and hit the road!

So there you have it! So far this routine has served me well to arrive on time, in style, and feeling prepared. Whether or not I feel prepared as a rider is a whole different ball game and requires prep much sooner than the day before.

Beast Mare Don’t Care

I learned several things in this week’s lesson:

Addy is bigger and stronger than me.
Addy is getting too much food.
Riding correctly doesn’t get a huge response from the Beast.
Sometimes, even though she’s been charging at the jumps all night, she’ll decide to just nope.
I don’t even care, I love this mare.

Let’s dive right in, shall we?

We started off with a really lovely flat warmup- the Unicorn was giving me some very nice softness around the corners and was balancing around our turns. Considering that our circles and corners usually involve at least a passing thought that we might fall over, this was a big deal. We did a decent amount of no-stirrup work with my trainer shouting gleefully, “I EAT NO STIRRUP WORK FOR BREAKFAST.” You may be seeing a pattern here. Trainer loves to gloat as we post around in pain.

I was very happy with the quality of our canter too! Last week we talked about ways to break up the tension and encourage softness in her jaw, but I didn’t really need to do much of that at all this week. My half-halts, while still a regular part of our vocabulary, actually had an effect on balancing her and picking her up. Success!

Something I haven’t mentioned in a while: walking on a contact. I’ve been working on this a lot lately. Walking on a loose rein, picking up the contact WHILE REMAINING AT A WALK, dropping the contact, picking it up again and NOPE WE’RE STILL NOT TROTTING, dropping it again and WOAH PSYCH WE’RE TROTTING ON A LOOSE REIN NOW. Basically trying to break that connection in her mind that contact = go faster and loose rein = break time. I really do think this is improving! In our lesson she was much better about waiting for my cue even when I had a shorter contact. At least, she was good about it until we started jumping. But we’ll get into that shortly.

We warmed up over fences with an interesting exercise of “go trot every jump in the ring. Also don’t run into each other.” Basically recreating the chaos of a warmup ring! Luckily there were only two of us in the lesson and we managed to trot everything. One little plot twist: we had to trot everything. No cantering. And we had to do every jump. So each jump of the one-stride had to be sliced so we didn’t do both. And then we were ready to start stringing our course together!

From what I heard, this one is based on the Florida regional Maclay. But I might be making that up. Can anyone confirm?


Anywho, we started off with 1 rollback to 2. This wasn’t an insanely tight rollback- we went around the skinny red to get to the stone wall. Unless you’re a giant white barge and your rider stares at the ground. Or if you’re a big albino gazelle that lands 14 feet out from the jump because that vertical miiiight be 8′ wide. Then it’s a pretty tough turn. It rode a lot smoother once Potato von StaresAlot picked her eyes up and actually looked in the direction we wanted to go.

The next piece we schooled was 3 to 4. We had the option of adding the green rolltop at the end to make an S turn if we liked our track. I did not take that option. The bending line wasn’t too bad at all- we had to press out to bend our track to make the striding, but what else is new?

Then was 5-6a-6b. White gate, four strides to the hay bale one-stride. FOUR STRIDES. This was very tough. The reason this was so tough: Addy had really hit her stride at this point and was running me at the jumps. I know what you’re thinking: “But Olivia, doesn’t DragonBeast usually run you at the jumps??” Why yes, Dear Reader, she does tend to carry a pace to the colored sticks. But this was straight up ignoring me. It didn’t matter if I saw a distance because homegirl just got fast and flat and blew right through it. That is not a fun ride. I don’t mind some wrestling to get us on the same page. I do mind being ignored. My trainer even told me that I was asking correctly and making the right moves, she was just not listening.

From this I learned several things: her grain is getting reduced because she’s been getting hotter over the last couple weeks. Also fatter when she doesn’t need to be fatter. My big white humpback whale. We are also bumping up to a Pelham again when jumping. I’ve been sticking with the slow twist lately and that just isn’t doing the trick. My trainer said that she is fairly adamantly anti-bitting up BUT in this case it might be necessary short term. Our hope is by cutting her feed a bit, her energy levels will return to their usual high-but-manageable-levels.

Pardon the brief interlude. We kept going! Just because Beastly was being a pig didn’t give her (or me) the excuse to get out of work. We did manage to fit the four in, and the one stride was nice and easy. The hay bales must’ve been very inviting- both horses hit the rails almost every time through.

We then put a full course together! 1-2-3-4-5-6a-6b-7-8-9. Outside vertical rollback to the stone wall, black bending up to pink stone wall, white gate to the hay one-stride, outside vertical, around to the skinny red oxer, then ending on the yellow end jump.

Honestly? This went so much better than expected. Nowhere near perfect and TONS of room for TONS of improvement, but so much better than each of those individual pieces were. The rollback continued to be tricky but manageable, the bending line was straightforward, and we fit in the four strides between the gate and the hay (with lots and lots of wrestling). Even though Addy usually hates airy verticals, she carried me right up to a beautiful distance to the next outside vertical. The turn to the red skinny was very sharp and we ended up swinging wide. But Hotpants McGee was in the zone and carried me right over! Then the turn to the end jump was nice and easy and we ended on a good note.

Sure, I could’ve worked that first rollback better or asked for the 4 strides sooner or balanced around my turn to the red skinny more. But I’m going to focus on the positives: my horse listened to me, she was eager to jump every jump, and she felt like she was having a blast.

Then PLOT TWIST! We did the whole course backwards. 9-8-7-6b-6a-5-4-3-2-1. End jump up to skinny, around to outside vertical, up the one stride to the 4 stride, bending pink to black, up the diagonal stone wall and rollback to the red vertical on the rail.

This was reasonable. Landing from the one-stride and getting the four proved to be extremely difficult and we never quite accomplished it. Everything else rode pretty much the same. I did bungle the last rollback- Beastly saw the whole wide ring open to her and instead of saying “maybe I should turn,” instead said “WANNA GO FAST LET’S GO.” We took the long way around. Setting up our track differently would have made a big difference here.

We did go back and school the one-stride to the four strides to the gate. Or at least, we tried to. Beast Creature had spent so much energy in over-jumping and galloping around that she was getting tired by this point. So when I pointed her at the one-stride, she noped. No big deal, I wasn’t really looking where I was going and wasn’t giving her clear signals. So we tried again. Nope. OK, that time I was doing the right thing, what gives. Third try I forgot to steer because sometimes I haz the dum. Fourth time she got a solid smack on the shoulder and we went through it no problemo. Still couldn’t quite fit in the four, but little victories! (Side note: I don’t usually carry a crop when I’m riding since Beastly doesn’t really need encouragement to go, so we have to stop and have Trainer hand me a crop when Beastly DOES need that encouragement).

We called it a day at this point. And while it may come across that this wasn’t a great lesson, I was actually really happy with it! It was a great workout for both of us and I learned a ton. I honestly think Addy is exactly the horse I need to be on right now- I never feel unsafe on her (even when she gets fast, because I know that’s the worst she’ll do and I can handle fast), but she challenges me to adjust my riding with every stride. I’ve got decent eq and the muscle memory to keep my eq even when I’m focusing on other things- I know how to sit pretty. Heels down, shoulders back, the whole shebang.

What I need to work on is throwing away the pretty and riding HARD. Sitting pretty like that will work wonderfully on a horse that is perfectly schooled and trained to respond to classical equitation. BUT. I will likely never be able to afford a schoolmaster on my budget. So I need to learn how to ride through the difficulties and adjust so that I can get the best possible ride no matter what horse I’m on. I don’t need a horse that lets me focus on myself, I need a horse that forces me to focus every second on the horse.

So thank heavens for Big White Elephants that teach me with every ride and keep me safe while we’re doing it!

PS- we miiiiight be doing a jumper show on Sunday. But only if it’s not raining. To heck with that, I’m not chasing points for anything. Ain’t nobody want to stand outside in the rain all day.

PPS- In super exciting news, my trainer has set up a clinic with Kip Rosenthal at my barn at the end of November!!!!!! It’s going to be 2 days over a weekend, complete with a sports psychology session. Those of you in the northern VA/Maryland/DC area: let me know if you’d be interested in joining! I think registration will be open October 10. Owner Lady has given her blessing for me to do both days and I’m ridiculously excited.

PPPS- I may have some exciting show news for the upcoming months….stay tuned and I’ll share as soon as I have some details!