Monday Tidbits

Fun little updates to start your week:

  • Saddle Updates: I talked to my local saddle rep that I bought my lovely glorious saddle from and had her take a look at Frankie. We tried a couple different saddles on and found one that fit him wonderfully….and had a flap that was way too short for me. But riding him in it was lovely- I could really feel the difference in his freedom of movement. We talked and debated the pros and cons of different options, and came up with a beyond ideal outcome: they are re-paneling my saddle! The tree was already fine, it was just the paneling that didn’t sit quite right on him. The saddle already fits me like it’s custom (it’s a 17.5 seat with a 5A flap, meaning it is a regular sized seat with the longest flap they make, forward. Not a common combo.), and now it’ll fit Frankie like it’s custom! Basically I’ll have a close-to-custom buffalo-leather Antares saddle for a small fraction of the price of a new one. This is why I love my saddle rep. She’s the bomb dot com.
  • Addy Updates: we haven’t found a new leaser for Addy yet, but her owners are just concerned with keeping her in consistent work when they travel for work. So during the weeks that they’re gone, I still get to hop on twice a week! It’s just a few times a month, but I’m incredibly grateful that they’re still letting me play an active role in Addy’s life. Even better: they understand that my finances are tied up with Francis and we’ve agreed that this arrangement is mutually beneficial with no need for money to change hands. Addy gets consistency with a rider who knows and loves her, her owners have the reassurance that someone who adores their horse is keeping an eye on things, and I get to have more saddle time with my favorite mare.
  • Other Horse Updates: I was chatting with a woman at the barn whose horse was getting spooky and naughty, and ended up hopping on and helping get her horse settled down. Her reaction was to ask my favorite wine and tell me her horse may need some conditioning rides, would I possibly be interested? I don’t anticipate it being a regular thing, but MOAR PONIES! OBVIOUSLY Francis is my priority at all times, but I will never turn down another ride. Danny Emerson said something about gaining mastery by spending the hours and days and weeks and years putting in the time- I really really really want to be a good rider, so I’m going to get as many hours in the saddle as I can.
  • Cool Barn Updates: my trainer is hosting a study group for our younger riders to prep for the USHJA Horsemanship Quiz Challenge. How cool is that?! They’re meeting every week to learn both theory and practical skills. I’m incredibly proud to ride at a barn that values horsemanship just as much as competition, and makes it a priority for our young riders. Can she host a study group for her ammies too??? I’ll bring the wine!

Hope all of you are having a FANTASTIC start to your week!!

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?

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!

DragonMare Attacks

I’m baaaack!

So I realized that I didn’t give a lesson review last week (I was busy hopping on a plane to RI and it got lost amidst the many festivities happening). I’ll briefly say that we did some fairly simple courses with a couple tough turns, and that Addy was a very good girl. Extremely heavy and barreling around without listening very carefully (we almost ran over my trainer because Addy disagreed with what jump we should be heading to), but she was honest and jumped everything from all sorts of angles.

On to this week! First of all, I got myself some fancypants and a new bonnet for Addy, so I was pretty psyched about looking cool. I’m a big fan of “dressing up” a little bit for lessons, I always feel like I ride better when I’ve put effort into my appearance.

Not too shabby, eh? I promise I’ll show you Beastly’s face soon too.

Once I was fully satisfied in how cool we looked, I hopped on and started warming up. Addy was good for this- she just got new shoes so I was feeling much better about the state of her feet. They’re just growing so fast these days! All that green grass. Our warmup was nothing special, just WTC with some extensions and collections. Addy was nice and quiet for this.

Aaaand then we started jumping. The quiet did not last. Here’s how the jumps were set up:


We warmed up over 3 as a crossrail a couple times, and Addy realized that OMG IT’S TIME TO JUMP THIS IS SO EXCITING I’VE NEVER DONE THIS BEFORE EVAR. Much excitement. Our consistent note from Trainer was that “there’s one more step in there, hold to the base,” which was definitely a struggle. Homegirl was launching from downtown. But we did get a couple nice ones in there.

I even smiled about it. Check out her awesome new bonnet!

We then slowly built up the gymnastic. At first, it was just the first crossrail and the other two were ground poles set at one stride each. Addy being a snorty unicorn, decided that she would gazelle-leap over the crossrail, bounce over the next ground pole instead of cantering a stride, and then leap the final ground pole. Because, you know, that felt right. I did eventually get her to trot in marginally more quietly and put the correct striding in.

Then the second jump went up to a vertical and we did that a couple times, and then finally put the final jump to a crossrail. That first one-stride was set very short and we kept coming up on it too hard, so my big focus was getting a super slow backwards trot to the first fence. This was kinda hit-or-miss, but it did get better over the course of the lesson.

We then put the last jump up to a nice wide oxer (I know the diagram is backwards, so sue me) and continued through that way a couple times. Once she was going through the grid in a more civilized manner, I shifted my focus to staying straight down to the end of the ring so that we didn’t cut in our turn.

This was put to the test by the following: up the grid (1A-1B-1C), then turn right at the end and do a circle down at that end of the ring, then come down the outside vertical (2), then come back to a trot and go back up the grid, turn left, circle, and come down the other outside vertical (3).

By this point we had the grid pretty much down, but adding the outside verticals just stoked Addy’s internal fire. Her zest. Her zeal. Her pep. We came up through the grid nicely, got a surprisingly decent canter circle, then came to a nice quiet distance to 2. And then GOT REALLY EXCITED LET’S GO WHY ARE YOU TELLING ME TO TROT WOMAN. I sure as hell made her trot into the grid, but we were veering all over like a drunken sailor. Canter circle to the left was a little less pretty and we ended up galloping up to a longish distance to 3. We then proceeded to prance around the ring like a carousel horse instead of sitting quietly and waiting our next turn.

If you look closely, you can see actual flames shooting out of her nose and a glint of madness in her eyes.

But we tried again- got back to trot a little more sedately after the outside vertical, held the canter a little more nicely in both directions, and fit that last step in to the last vertical. It wasn’t pretty, but homegirl needs to learn to love the base instead of blasting through my aids and picking her own distance. I was very happy to end on that good note of her listening to me.

All in all, not a great lesson. I didn’t really bring my A game, and Addy wasn’t inclined to be charitable. Nothing particularly bad or dangerous in any way, just not super rideable. I’m thinking that I may start using the Pelham more consistently if we’ll be jumping; it’ll be harder for her to lean on that and drag me around.

That being said- while this has been my worst lesson in a while, we still managed to hop around all the jumps the way we were supposed to, we were safe, and I still had those moments of joy in the air with my girl. I’m extremely lucky that this counts as a “bad” lesson for me.

What happened in your last “bad” lesson and how did you work through it?

Pretty Girl Photo Dump

The promised photos! All taken by an extremely talented junior at our barn- you should totally check out her Instagram @hgielloh, she posts awesome pics of her and her hunky gelding doing the big eq and super cool shows.

I know I should do what Lauren at She Moved to Texas does and use these photos in my blog posts….but I have absolutely no self control and must share them with you all at once.

face wut
oh wow such majestic
looking really not pleased about the whole “no-stirrup” thing
cute trot!
are pics when you’re in the “up” of your positing trot always awkward, or is it just me?
continued majesty.
holy crap she’s massive
seriously what a beefcake
oh wow leg looking SUPER effective here
gonna go sit on my horse couch for a little bit
ohmygosh her face is the cutest little pony face!!!!
just look at it!
by my expression, it seems that someone just told me that my mother died. y u in such pain, self?
human derping at no stirrups. horse super photogenic.
Pretty Girl being super Pretty.
those floppy donkey ears!
another sweet flop. lawlz elbowz.
taking a breather to admire how cute and relaxed and easy this pony is

Talented photog had to run at this point, but I promise it got better from there. Read my lesson recap if you don’t believe me.

Hope you enjoyed seeing more of the majestic unicorn that is the DragonMare!

Mental Health Day

What a treat for you, Dear Reader: two professional Powerpoint diagrams two days in a row!!

Yesterday’s lesson was exactly what I needed: a reminder that even though we couldn’t do Very Hard Things on Monday, there’s plenty that we’re still good at and we’ve come so SO far together.

After a lovely afternoon thunderstorm rolled through, we warmed up in the outdoor ring. The rain kept the dust down and it was beautiful soft afternoon sunshine as the sun began to set. As I was walking around to get ready, I had one of those “how lucky am I?” moments. Answer: fortunate beyond belief.

Addy is always very short-stepped in the outdoor ring and dislikes going into the corners, so I focused on holding my leg strongly and pushing her exactly where I wanted her. Once I sat deeper in the saddle our circles got much more civilized. At one point a piece of machinery nearby backfired twice (sounded like a gunshot!) and Addy twitched and continued on. Love this spook-proof pony. We also did lots and lots of no-stirrup work at the trot and canter with Trainer laughing gleefully and yelling, “I love no stirrup work, it makes me sleep better at night to make you do it!” No joke, she was downright giddy.

We popped over a crossrail in the outdoor a couple times to warm up, then headed inside to play. Here’s our course!


We warmed up over the quarter line towards home G-C a couple times. We trotted in and cantered out, so Trainer wanted us to do it in 4 strides. The first time through was great, the second was a very gappy three because I got complacent, and then we schooled through 2 more times to reinforce the 4. It’s awesome that she moves up for me, but I need to keep that leg tight and half-halt as soon as we land to remind her that a short, powerful stride to the base is our friend.

Then on to our course! We did A-B-C-D-E-F-G. Isn’t it funny how alphabetical that is? Almost like I planned it that way. So outside red 2’9″-3’ish vertical, then down the diagonal swedish oxer at 2’6″ish. Up the broken pink to yellow plank in a bending four (both 2’3″-2’6″ish), down the outside zebra-gate at 2’9″, and back up the swedish the other direction broken to the stone wall (2’3″ish) in a direct three. Nothing too big or scary for us, though the zebra gate was brand new.

Our first jump was very nice even though it was one of the bigger ones on course and out of a long approach. We’ve done this approach often enough that I know how to leg up and hold for our distance, and Addy rarely wiggles to this anymore. Coming down the swedish was actually ridiculous- we took a totally huge flier over it. Good pony for saving my butt when I thought we had another stride in there. In all honesty, I should’ve held stronger for that closer distance. Lesson learned. Our first time through we got a little gappy into the pink, so I had to sit deep and WOAH for the four, but we salvaged that and jumped out well. We came around to the zebra and I got complacent, which meant that Pretty Pony ducked out. New scary jump plus lack of commitment from the lady upstairs? She wasn’t feeling it. So I circled and came at that sucker with so much gumption! She went just fine after that. We were a little strung out to the swedish in the other direction though the distance was decent, and held for the broken three out.

We went back through and tried this again, and I changed a couple things. I still got a bit of a gap into the oxer, which got us a bit strung out for the first broken. I committed HARD to the zebra fence and we got that very comfortably, and finished up more packaged and controlled for the final broken.

Trainer had me go back and just do the long approach to the oxer to the broken four. I kept my leg on more strongly and held to the base, which set us up really nicely through the corner on landing. It made it a lot easier to get more powerful- not faster or longer, just more powerful- out of the turn to the pink, so our distance set us up for a nice bouncy four out.

One side note: Addy was absolutely jumping out of her skin over every single one of these jumps. I don’t know why she was leaping so high, but she cleared everything by a solid foot. DragonMare was NOT going to touch those rails! It made it a little more difficult to keep my balance, but on the bright side I can’t think 3’6″ would be scary anymore. We’re already jumping 3’6″ over 2’6″ jumps, how different can it be to actually have the rail there?

I was very happy to hear Trainer tell me that she was happy with how I schooled Pretty Girl. She told me that as Addy has gotten fit and as I’m asking for more and more from Addy she’s giving me a more challenging ride, and Trainer is very happy that I’m keeping up and riding actively. Then she added that when we nail a course it’s because I was thinking and making the right decisions. When we were doing crossrails and tiny jumps Addy was very auto-pilot and made all the decisions for us- which is honestly why I started leasing her. But as I’m pushing her buttons she’s giving me more to work with, and it’s getting more difficult to contain all of it. It is seriously So. Much Fun. I would much rather work hard to package and push and play with this girl and do all the fun things we do instead of having a point-and-shoot beginner’s horse. I never think of Addy as a difficult horse to ride since I’m so used to her, so it was really nice to hear Trainer say that she liked how I rode her. I have miles and miles to work on and improve, but it’s so awesome to have an encouraging trainer and the DragonMare to point me on my way!

We didn’t do anything crazy- the jumps weren’t huge and the courses were simple- but it reminded me that a few short months ago I could barely release over a crossrail, and I would’ve never been able to package Addy up for the corners and different stridings. We’re going to continue to work really hard on getting her more sensitive to my leg so we can get those turns, but I’m going to remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day. We’re going to train hard and improve and have so much fun doing it!

PS- One of the juniors at the barn took some GORGEOUS pictures on her fancy camera while we were warming up, and I’d love to share. I’m just waiting on the OK from her, so hopefully in the next few days I’ll have a post for you that’s almost exclusively pretty pics of the Beastly Unicorn!

PPS- I also got Addy a fancy new show pad for our trip to Loch Moy on the 16th. I felt really bad that I had treated myself to TS breeches and got her the cheapo $30 fake fleece pad. I snagged the Shire fleecey pad when Dover was having a sale, and was very happy when I used it during our lesson yesterday.

PPPS- Last one I promise. I told Owner Lady that I want a saddle just like hers since it’s so supremely comfortably and fits both me and Addy really well, and she may sell hers to me! It needs some re-stitching, but it would be great if I could snag it! It’s a 17.5″ M. Toulouse and feels like sitting on a cloud with my legs placed just right. I’m in love with it. Now I keep texting her that she deserves to treat herself with a saddle upgrade and does she really want to go through the hassle of consignment when she already has a willing buyer?? Keep your fingers crossed for me!

When have you had a moment where you looked back and realized your progress? What’s been your proudest horsey moment lately?