Breeches Review

I’ve been slowly building up my collection of riding pants over the last few months, and I wanted to share my findings with you. Here’s a list of what’s currently in my closet and what I think about them:

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Image: Smartpak. Looks accurate.

TS Trophy Hunters (mid-rise, side-zip $189): Obsessed. They are definitely the most expensive breeches in my closet, but I think they’re worth every penny. I have them in tan and white and can’t wait to collect more colors. The material stretches where it should, holds me in where it should, and the euro-seat is super flattering. They do get a little baggy in the crotch if I’m not wearing a belt/don’t pull them up enough, but I feel naked without a belt anyways so that’s not a big deal. I may try out the front-zip or low-rise for schooling some time.

I can’t find a picture that look like mine.

TS (low-rise, side-zip, on sale for $99): Just the classic breeches, though I think the reason they were on sale is because they’re from a defective product run- the knee patches aren’t the classic suede. These do run a little small, but they stay up nicely with or without a belt. If I could have a do-over I would either size up or get the mid-rise since they’re pretty tight on my hips, but it’s not too constricting so I’ll just deal with it- bonus that there’s no sagging anywhere because they stay in place on their own. A little lighter fabric than the Trophy Hunters, but still has good stretch. Got these for a steal on sale and super happy with them. Only negative: the velcro on the bottom hits at a really weird place at the inside of my leg, so I can really only use these with tall boots unless I want weird rubs on my shins.

Still can’t find a picture. Do I only own bootleg breeches?

RJ Classics (low-rise, side-zip, $140ish): These are my go-to schooling breeches. They’re a little stiff after I wash them, but once I do some knee-bends they soften up just fine. The velcro bottom hits just right on my leg, and the knee doesn’t bunch up under my tall boots. Showing in these hasn’t been quite right though: my shirt doesn’t stay tucked in because it’s too low-rise. My long-torso self needs to stick with the mid-rise for shows.

RS_brownImage: Dover. Imagine these in blue.

Riding Sport (low-rise, side-zip, $70): In case you haven’t noticed yet, I’m a side-zip kinda girl. These are another favorite; I’ve washed them a thousand times with no sign of wear, I ride in them at least once a week, and the slate blue color makes me super happy. They’re stretchy, comfy, and good looking to boot. All that for $70. I would totally show in the tan version of these, that’s how much I love them.

Seriously can’t find a picture. These are pretty bootleg though.

Fouganza tights (mid-rise, pull-on, $15 on sale): So yeah, these breeches were on sale for $15 and there’s a reason for that. They’re a nice stretchy knit, pretty thick so good for winter. The knee patch is just more fabric so there’s not a ton of grip there. I only ever wear these for riding on my own, never in lessons, and they get the job done. These are what I wear on bath days since I don’t mind getting them wet and dirty and messy. They’re showing a little wear after being washed a bunch, but for $15 I won’t complain.

These do not deserve the honor of a photograph.

Corduroy full seat (mid-rise, pull-on, depths of a consignment shop): I won’t even dignify these with a brand name because it’s not worth digging them out of the depths of my closet. The suede full seat makes me feel like I’m wearing a diaper and these only make an appearance when I don’t do laundry for 3 weeks and have literally no other choice. Even then I’ll probably end up wearing jeans with my half chaps. Anyone want to buy some terrible full seat breeches? (I don’t think I have a promising future in sales).

My question for you, Dear Readers: what’s your favorite breech for schooling? For shows? Anything you would super duper recommend to someone who is 5’9″ and slender? I’m always looking to grow my collection!

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No Big Deal

Woohoo we had a lesson! It was only one week that we missed, but I seriously love our lessons so much. One week off is one week too many. And, in true awesome form, manfriend came to take videos! Finally there will be some relevant pictures to break up the wall of text- be warned, the pics are all screenshots from videos, so they’re super blurry and motion-y. I think it looks kinda cool.

Anywho. We had a pretty basic warmup on the flat, just to get our muscles warmed up. Pretty Girl was clearly feeling real good; just waiting for the chance to run around. No turnout yesterday due to rain = pony turning into a racehorse. I loved it though; she had been so tired and lazy on Monday and I much prefer my peppy pony. We like the go button!

We popped over a crossrail a couple times after WTCing in both directions and then it was time for fun! Here’s how the jumps were set up (there were others in the ring that we didn’t jump, so they’re not included in the diagram):

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We warmed up on the outside line a couple times (D-E) which seemed to bother Addy- she was extremely wiggly in that line. Some strong inside leg and opening outside rein fixed that our second time through. We then slowly built up our first course at 2’6″ ish: A-B-C-D-E-F-G. Very alphabetical. The long approach to A was a little difficult, so we ended up taking a flyer. I focused so much on getting her moving to start our course and didn’t focus enough on packaging her up once she realized what we were doing. Then it was around to the diagonal line in 3, which was pretty comfortable- not a forward ride but didn’t need too much woah either. Then up the outside in three, which was a lovely forward three. One horse did it in a comfortable 4 but Addy was very happy to open up and leave it out. It flowed beautifully up out of the corner. Then down the long approach to the green oxer, and up the single outside vertical.

Time to put the jumps up! I didn’t actually measure, but my extremely professional eye estimates that most jumps were 2’9″-3′, with the outside oxer looking closer to 3’3″. But I’m making that up. I actually have no idea. Let’s roll with it. But it was totally no big deal! No panic attacks over bigger jumps, it was just something to do. Woohoo!

The course that we worked on the most was: g-D-E-F-G-B-C. So.

Down the outside single.

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Very civilized to start.

Up the outside line.

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LAWLZ HUNTER DUCK
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Flowy oxer out. Release 4 dayz.

Down the diagonal oxer.

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She hit the rails on this once. Never again.

Up the outside vertical.

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RAWR DRAGON PONY ATTACK

And down the diagonal line (no stills of that line, sorry!).

OMG I love having pictures. This was a really fun course, even if it was pretty basic. The outside single and outside line both rode up very comfortably out of the corners- we did chip in to the single once but managed to correct that on our next try. That diagonal oxer gave us all sorts of difficulties though- Addy really charged at it like we were jousting and wasn’t inclined to collect at all. Once I managed to arm-wrestle her into an actual canter instead of a WE-CAN’T-GET-TIME-FAULTS-hand-gallop, it actually rode up very nicely out of the corner. The diagonal line did come up a little tight out of that corner, but Addy handled that with grace and listened to my half halt to fit the three in.

For your viewing pleasure, here are the videos manfriend took for me. Notice the expert panning, perfect zoom-in-zoom-out, and general skill there! For better or for worse, manfriend has gotten quite good at filming.

Something I noticed from watching the video: holy moly oh my goodness do I lean at the jumps. I’m like the leaning tower of Pisa. I need to sit up straight!!! Addy responds so much better to that nice deep upright ride, and I need to give it to her! Funny how you don’t feel something, but then you see it and it hits you like a load of bricks. I knew she was pulling me a little forward out of the tack, but didn’t realize it was quite so noticeable.

Something else I noticed: we got every lead change! This is a fairly new development, which I think stems from (a) Pretty Girl building up her muscle in more consistent work and (b) I’m staying out of her way more. It’s the weirdest thing, she will never give a lead change if you ask, but will do them perfectly cleanly if you don’t touch her. I kinda admire her “let me do it myself” attitude.

So my homework:

  1. Work on sitting more upright and deeper in the saddle.
  2. Keep working without stirrups so I can hold my leg more still over the jump.
  3. Remember to use my automatic release over the bigger jumps instead of the weird crest-auto release I used here.
  4. Keep adding the fricking leg. How do I keep forgetting this. I iz so dum.

I’m so so so grateful to manfriend, who not only braved his spring allergies to come out, but braved his really terrible indoor allergies to stay and film every course. (Anyone know what he might be allergic to? He seems to be fine in the barn and at shows, but turns into a sneeze-machine in our indoor. I can’t tell if it’s the dust, dander, poop, pee, hair, or some combination of the petri dish that is an indoor.)

My question to you this week: What habit have you only noticed when you see a video of yourself? How did you correct it?

Chiming Back In with a Goals Review

Hi gang! Sorry for the radio silence over the last week- between some all-day trainings at work and a pileup of chores, I ended up taking a mini blog vacation. I’ve been reading through some posts and definitely want to catch up with my commenting; some of you guys had really fantastic weeks!

Anywho. Brief horse-life update: Trainer and Assistant Trainer were both out of town with a bunch of our riders at the Maryland National show last week (everyone did really well!) so Pretty Girl and I did not have a lesson. We just popped over a couple crossrails with a buddy and called it a day. All the swelling in Addy’s leg is completely gone and she has shown zero tenderness or heat in the area. We think that the weather evening out, more consistent work, and lots of turnout on firm ground is what she needed. Very glad it turned out to be so minor!

What I wanted to do today was chime in with a lot of folks that are doing a quarterly review of their horse-goals for the year. So looking back to my resolutions for the year, here goes!

  • Get comfortable schooling 3′. Done! Not only do we school 3′ comfortably, but we’ve even shown at that height! This was a huge breakthrough for me and I’m so so so thrilled to finally get over that mental hitch.
  • Make it to a horse show. We’ve made it to two so far this year! They’re tiny little local shows, but that’s perfect for where we are right now. Beautiful facilities, low-key atmosphere, and good sportsmanship.
  • Try a jumper class. Still on the list. I’m hoping to convince my trainer and some of the other riders to try out a local jumper show at the end of April, so fingers crossed that happens!
  • Live through a lesson with no stirrups. Hah. That’s funny. I’ve been terrible about this lately and really need to jump back on the wagon. These legs aren’t going to strengthen themselves!
  • Keep up my confidence. Done, and not done. I’ve stayed brave and positive, and have pushed myself through some bouts of anxiety with great results. But I’ll never be “done” with this; I’m not a naturally brave rider and this will be an ongoing effort!

2.5/5 isn’t too bad! But I’m going to cheat a little and rewrite these. I figure if I’ve already achieved 2 goals and it’s only the first quarter, then I was aiming too low. Now that I have a few show miles under my belt and have a better idea of where we are in our training, here’s my new list of goals:

  • Get comfortable schooling full courses at 3’3″. Why stop at 3′? Pretty Girl and I can both go higher and I know she loves the additional challenge.
  • Jump 3’6″ regularly. Even if it’s just the “out” in a gymnastic, I want to start getting used to the different feel of bigger jumps. Addy seems to clear 3’6″ with no problem, but I’ll be paying close attention to see if this is something she wants to do with me. I’ll need to continuously work on improving my position to make her job as easy as possible.
  • Compete in the Adult Equitation Medal class at least once. Now that I’m OK at 3′, I want to start refining our technique a bit more so I can re-join the eq world. I’ve always enjoyed the technicality of the equitation and I think Addy would really love the chance to show off her moves.
  • Try a jumper class. This is still on there and I still mean it.
  • Make it to an “A” horse show. This is a very tentative goal, and depends on a lot of outside factors. I would need Owner Lady to go as well so we could share expenses- I simply don’t have the spare cash to afford something like this myself. Also between my brother getting married and my other brother welcoming a new baby, there may not be a free weekend for me that lines up with one of the nearby shows. So this is a very tentative goal, but a goal nonetheless!
  • Learn how to braid manes and tails. This kinda ties into making it to an “A” show; if I could save some money by braiding my own horse then it might be a little more feasible. I could potentially even make a few dollars by helping out barnmates. I’ve always been a good braider of human hair, so hopefully I’ll be a quick study!
  • Live through a lesson without stirrups. I will accomplish this! I’m going to the barn today and by golly I am going to push myself on this one.
  • Go on at least one trail ride. For those of you that hack out all the time, I know this is no biggie. But I’ve always gotten very nervous without a ring to contain me! We’ve got some beautiful trails running by the barn and I’d like to get out of my own head and enjoy those with Addy- she’s got such a good brain and I have no doubt she would take great care of me out there.
  • Keep my confidence up. This will never not be a goal.

I’ll check back in on these in a couple months!

What do you guys think of these goals? Any advice on how to go about accomplishing them?

Chapter 2: In Which my Horse is a Fire-Breathing Dragon from Planet Unicorn

Show number two is under our belts!! Those of you who I’ve connected with on Instagram already know how it went, but don’t spoil it for the rest of the gang. Suspense is always fun.

Anywho, I had a really bad feeling about this show. Addy has been stocked up in her left hind for a couple days, and even though she’s been perfectly sound, I’m a paranoid horse mom (or aunt or nanny or whatever). I rode her yesterday briefly and she felt A-OK and both Trainer and Assistant Trainer gave the thumbs up, so when my alarm went off at 5:45am on Sunday, I figured we may as well give it a try.

Well, that lasted until I got to the barn. After eating her breakfast I noticed that her leg was still pretty puffy, but she still didn’t mind me poking and prodding around it. Trainer said we should toss her on the lunge line for a bit and see how she was moving and if the swelling would go down.

OH THANK GOODNESS WE DID THAT. Oh my word. Pretty Girl just ran in circles, threw bucks, snorted, pranced, and was generally full of beans. So glad we got her moving around like that BEFORE anyone got on.

Once she had tired herself out a little we checked and saw the swelling had already started to go down. She hadn’t taken a single ouchie step, so it was time to load onto the trailer! At this point I was feeling SO nervous- the stress of worrying about her leg for the past couple days, wondering if today was the day she became a bucking bronco pony, worrying about the fact that I didn’t have any buddies with me so who was going to hold my horse if I had to pee?! and just general show nerves. But I’ve been a weenie in the past, and I was determined to at least make it to the show and put in an effort.

We made it there, and Beastly over here came off the trailer with nostrils flared and tail pricked. Showoff. I asked Trainer to hop on her first to take her around, which turned out to be unneeded. It was like Addy remembered her job and instantly relaxed once someone was on her back. She went around the warmup ring with absolutely no problems, both with Trainer and with myself.

She went back on the trailer just long enough for me to get my number and sign up for my classes, then it was back on! My first round at 2’9″ was, um, interesting. I’d like to think of it as a warmup round. We chipped, we took fliers, we had one memorable oxer where we stuck a 5 in a bending line where a lot of horses were putting 7. Ah well. Such is life. We needed to box it in a lot harder- I thought that because she was relaxed in the warmup she would be relaxed on course, but that was not the case. She seems to know when it’s showtime and transforms into the racehorse half of her heritage.

Second round was a little bit better- still not one of our best rides, but a definite improvement. Nothing too noticeable here, except for the fact that we did manage the comfortable 6 in the bending line.

We won both classes! I think we were the only person in one class and there was only one other person in the other…but hey. A win is a win. I’ll take it.

Then it was flat class time. Note to self: we do not do well in flat classes. Addy gets very confused why we’re not jumping any of the pretty jumps and wants to run and be freeee and feel the wind in her mane and is having none of my “please trot you beastly little dragon.” She was an absolute fire-breathing dragon. Manfriend was giggling at the video I showed him- and that was the direction that she was behaving decently in. We cantered when they said walk. We cantered when they said trot. We hand-galloped when they said canter. I ran her into a wall when they said walk and line up. It was all very exciting. I think if they could’ve given me lower than second place they would have, but alas there were only two of us in the class. Bright side: my trainer saw me struggling and called out that I should forget about trying to make her hunter-y and just make her listen. So this flat class ended up being a very useful schooling session where she ended up listening, even if she was framed up like a dressage horse instead of on the buckle.

This did end up being enough for me to get champion in my division out of two people, but like I said- a win is a win! And now we have a big pretty champion ribbon hanging on her door!

Our 3′ division was canceled since no one else signed up, but my trainer convinced them to offer a 3′ option in the Child/Adult Hunters (which was listed at 2’6″). Warmup for that was uneventful, but she was definitely charging around with me a bit. We bumped her up to a slow twist recently, but I think she may need something stronger for shows because she was blowing right through my hand.

But we went in for our first 3′ round!!!! And it felt amazing. We got packaged up, got nice distances, she jumped sooo cute, and it flowed smoothly. I walked out of the ring with the absolute biggest grin on my face. I wasn’t surprised when we won that class, and I don’t mean to sound cocky there. But you know that feeling when you just click with your horse and it feels so good and you just know that you rocked it? It was that feeling.

Second round was ehhhhhh not great. We didn’t package up nearly as well, and it was a bit of a hot mess. By this point Addy was a little tired and less inclined to collect when asked. Also for some reason, I did not see a single distance in this round. For the life of me, I could not see anything. It was like my eye had gone out the window. All I could do was close my leg and hope for the best. Addy, of course, is the best pony to exist in the whole wide world and carried my butt through the whole course very good-naturedly. This was enough to get us 3rd!

Second flat class- we went into this one with a schooling mentality so it was less eventful. I literally said the words to her: “Do not be a dragon. You are not a unicorn. You are a horse. Please act like a horse. This is a horse show for horses.” I think some rando got that on the video they were recording of their buddy in the class and I’d love to get a copy of me giving Pretty Girl a pep talk. We were still much too “up” and had some breaking-into-canter moments because oh man trotting is boring IS THAT A JUMP CAN I DO IT PLEASE. But overall it was less fire-breathing. We still got 5th out of 5, but that’s as expected. Seriously. Flat classes are not our friend (though I think we could do well in eq flat classes where there’s a little more to distract her with, she loves dressage-y movements and going in a frame).

For your viewing pleasure, a selection of our trips! I’m trying to figure out how to edit together all the funny parts from our flat class, so hopefully I can share that later in the week.

  • First 2’9″ trip at 0:00 (obviously)
  • Second 2’9″ trip at 1:13 (this is truncated for some reason, and a little fuzzy)
  • First 3′ trip at 1:34- if you’re going to watch anything, just watch this one. It’s the good one.
  • Second 3′ trip at 2:45. You can ignore this one (please).

We did the 3′!!! And we even managed to win one of our classes at that height!! I am so so so unbelievably proud of my girl, who has handled this transition to being a show pony with her usual sweetness and dependability. She gets Monday off to play outside with her friends all day, and then it will be business as usual in our lesson on Wednesday. Can’t wait to keep progressing with her!

PS- regarding Addy’s leg, we think the stocking up is probably due to some crazy weather changes, inconsistent turnout, and a changing riding schedule. By the end of the show, the swelling was almost completely gone and she was still completely sound. We’re tracking it closely and taking some steps to make sure she’s not ouchie in any way, but so far she’s been perfectly fine. I’ll keep you posted!

Ode to the Packers

I’m not talking about the football team here.

I’m talking about the horses who cart your butt around despite everything you do to get in the way.

The ones who never refuse a jump even though you’re climbing up their necks and not releasing.

The ones who stand still while waiting and move forward as soon as they are asked, even though your aids are about as decisive as a limp noodle.

The horses who make you look good because they know what they’re doing better than you do.

These are not unicorns, folks. They exist, and they are called packers. And I think they are massively under appreciated. Because of things like this:

Let me just clarify: I agree with this 100%. I will be first in line to say that difficult horses teach us how to ride effectively. Learning to encourage a horse to accept the bit when they’re resisting, to sit a buck, to stop a gallop, to anticipate and counteract a refusal, and how to handle a horse just being a horse are all so necessary. Figuring out the quirks and difficulties of the horse you’re on is true equestrianism, not just keeping heels down and legs still. Learning all of these things is an education for you and for your horse as a team.

But sometimes there are horses who have gotten their education. They’ve not only gotten their education, but they’ve graduated with a Bachelor’s in Sensitivity to Aids, Masters in Finding Their Own Distance, and a PhD in Auto Changes. There are no quirks to figure out- this horse has been there, done that, bought the t-shirt, then sold the t-shirt on e-Bay for a profit. Because this horse is savvy like that.

This horse goes around on a looped rein without trying to run away with you, but he accepts the bit when it’s time to work that frame. Heck, he’ll pop into a frame without any contact at all because he has the know-how to carry himself. He’s not going to refuse that jump because he’s seen every type of obstacle there is, and he’s been taught to jump with confidence. Don’t worry, he’s got enough confidence for both of you.

He might not be a 10 mover, and he might not jump higher than 18′, and he might need 15 minutes of lunging to get the bucks out before you hop on. But when you are on his back, he will take you where you want to go without a fuss, and he will enjoy it.

He’s had his education, and he lets you focus on yours. He teaches you how to sit still and be deliberate, because he will respond to even unintentional aids. He teaches you to perfect your position, because he allows you to stop focusing on being effective and just think about being technical. He teaches you how a horse should respond to correctly given aids. He lets you relax and (re)discover the exuberant pleasure of nailing that course or test or pattern, and he gives you the confidence that yeah, you can absolutely do this.

He gives you back the education that he received. He is the teacher. And when you learn from him, you can go back to your non-packer and teach in turn. Packers are what drive the cycle of correct training, both for horse and rider.

Difficult horses are so interesting and rewarding to ride, and they are what make us equestrians. Keep riding those tough horses so they can push you to be your best and you can push them in turn. But be grateful for the packers in your life, because they have taught you more than you realize.

What have you learned from your packers? Your “difficult” horses?

Great Success!

We did it!!! Not only did we live through our first show, but we had a blast doing it! It was even more fun than I had hoped, and Addy was absolute perfection with everything we threw at her.

Manfriend and I got up at 5:20 so I could triple check all my gear before heading to the barn. I was very keyed up and energetic, manfriend less so. Poor guy was up before 6am on a weekend to go stand in the rain, I don’t blame him.

But we got to the barn around 6:30, and proceeded to wait for the teens to show up- apparently telling some 16 year olds to be somewhere at 6:30 means they’ll probs show up around 7am. But we got Addy brushed and gave her breakfast and put her saddle on to save us some time at the show. All my gear was already in the car, so we loaded the horses up and headed out.

[Side note: I’ve never seen a trailer like this; I had to walk Addy on and then back her into the very narrow slot. Poor girl was very confused and convinced she wouldn’t be able to fit, but was so sweet about trying to figure it out. After the first time, she was an old pro and backed herself in like a Tonka truck. Perfect trailering manners.]

We got there in the pouring rain just as the warmup was starting, so the assistant trainer hopped on to take Addy around a couple times for me. This was just simple caution on my part; it was Addy’s first time off property and I wanted to make sure she had a super confident rider on her in case she needed some reassuring. After taking her around and over a couple jumps, Addy was pronounced lazy and safe, so I hopped on.

I had forgotten how chaotic warmup rings can be! Ten riders all trying to jump, calling things out and passing each other. We actually did get into a minor collision (entirely my fault and I feel so awful about it, the other rider absolutely had right-of-way and I wasn’t paying enough attention), and while the other horse kicked out and got fussy, Addy just kept plowing and said I DON’T EVEN CARE GET AT ME. At least that’s what I imagine she was saying.

This was a brand new indoor, big bulky jumps, lots of horses, lots of noise, pounding rain on the roof, and all sorts of new sights and smells. And Addy certainly was looking around at all this with her ears pricked, but not once did she act up. She was perfect.

After going around a couple times we put her back on the trailer so she could munch on some hay, and we waited for our first division of the day- the 2’6″ Unrestricted Hunters. Manfriend, my lesson buddy, and myself enjoyed some wine while we waited, which may just be my favorite part of showing as an adult. We did end up missing our flat class since they moved it without announcing (oh well), but got warmed up outside over a couple crossrails before heading in for our trips.

[Another side note: this was Addy’s first time being ridden outside since about October. The ring was full of puddles, it was raining on her, the jump standards were big and spooky, and she. did. not. care. Like I said, perfect.]

I was really pleased with our trips! The lines were set a little short for us, but that’s nothing new. We did end up chipping out a couple times, and I got a couple flyers, but she covered my butt and kept trekking around the course. We did get a bit snowplow-ish and I didn’t sit back enough to correct that, but that was entirely on me. Our first round got 5th out of 12, and the second got 4th!!

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Cute knees!

Then it was time for her to go back on the trailer while we waited for our next division- the 2’9″ Charity Hunters. Originally we planned on doing another 2’6″ division but we decided to scratch since she was being so good. I felt fine going straight to the 2’9″ with her.

After a little more wine, we took her back out and got her warmed up again. Our trainer had me pop over a vertical a couple times, and then raised it up a bit. I asked if it was 2’9″ since it looked awful big, and she reassured me that it was- so we popped over it a couple times and figured out our pace. As we headed to the ring, Trainer admitted that it was actually closer to 3’3″, and gleefully announced that the 2’9″ would feel like baby stuff! The little liar! She was right though, 2’9″ felt like nothing after warming up over the bigger jump.

Our 2’9″ rounds went great! She was more tired by this point in the day, so our pace was a little more controlled down the lines. I still didn’t sit back and woah enough around the corners, but overall I was quite happy with my rounds- both earned me second place out of three or four (or maybe five? I wasn’t sure how many were actually in the class).

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Please ignore my swinging leg and just look at how mellow my girl is.
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That sweet face!

Honestly, she seemed pretty bored with the height, even at 2’9″.

Manfriend was awesome enough to video all of my rounds, so here they are all smushed together. The first two are my 2’6″ Unrestricted Hunter rounds, and the second two are my 2’9″ Charity Hunter rounds!

She even gave me perfectly clean lead changes without being asked! I almost never get those from her at home.

Then it was time for our flat class! There were only three of us in there for that, including a junior rider from my barn on her gorgeous junior hunter. It went about as expected- we do not have the nice long loopy rein that they’re looking for in the hunters. She behaved wonderfully, responded well, and even our downwards transitions were fairly smooth, but compared to the other horses in the ring we didn’t have the “look.” Also, we were lapping everyone at the canter, so that may have made us look less hunter-y. We took third out of three for that, but who cares! It was her first ever under saddle class and I was so proud of her for being such a good girl.

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Oh lordy do I look haggard. But Pretty Girl looks gorgeous, so lets just focus on that.
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We washed and wrapped her tail, and she still managed to get poop stains on the 3 inches we left exposed. It’s almost a superpower with her. But look at that rump.

Then it was time to cool her down, make sure she had plenty of hay and water, settle the bill, and watch the juniors go in their 3′ divisions! We headed home, got everything cleaned up and put away, then gave Addy lots and lots of love.

A couple really cool things: this was our assistant trainer’s first time running a show solo as the main trainer (our main trainer was on her way to Florida for a judge’s clinic) and she did an incredible job. She made sure everyone was ready and warmed up when they needed to be, and was there at the ring for every single round to give encouragement, give tips as we passed by, and cheer for us at the end of our rounds. Everything went super smoothly and I got the attention I wanted, and it was entirely thanks to her organization and talent!

Also, a quick note on ground manners: I have a whole post on this waiting in my drafts folder. I just want to say that I have never had a horse that was easier to trailer than Addy was- she walked right on, stood happily, and walked right off without hesitation. She also stood for me to hop on, let herself be led by cars and trucks and strange horses, and generally was an absolute lady.

There were so many things going on this weekend that could’ve really thrown Addy off: pouring rain, first time in an outdoor for months, lots of splashy puddles, a new ring, new jumps, tons of strange horses running up her butt, a loud megaphone, and any number of other things. But she kept a level head the entire time. She’s the best!!

I couldn’t be prouder of my girl- this could’ve been her 200th time out instead of her 1st and I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. We had so much fun together doing what we love and hanging out with other horsey folk! A couple little girls came up and told me how pretty my girl is and how she looks like so much fun, and it put such a big smile on my face that other people could see it too.

I’m now so sore I can barely move, and I’m still exhausted from such a long day. But now I can’t wait for the next one! We’re ready for the 3′ and we’re ready for anything they throw at us. Because we felt like total rockstars this weekend.

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Mirror Images

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

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

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

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

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

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

march_grid_course_diagram

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

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

Things that went really well in this lesson:

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

What we need to work on:

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

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

PSA- FLATWORK IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING EVER.

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

Time to talk show prep.

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

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

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

Riding the Choo-Choo Train to Awesometown

Guys.

Hey, Guys.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Time to (Not) Hit the Brakes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Victory Gallops

WE GOT TO JUMP LAST NIGHT!!! For the first time in a couple weeks, the weather and my health cooperated and we got to hop over obstacles. Sure, it was only two weeks since we had jumped, but it felt longer! And Addy certainly let me know how happy she was to have some “real” work to do.

We warmed up with some nice stretchy walk and then trotted big circles and serpentines to encourage the horses to reach for the contact. Addy was pretty pokey- for her, this means that I wasn’t actively trying to slow her down. I still didn’t need to add leg. We worked on our half seats a bit, some sitting trot/extended trot transitions, and she was listening wonderfully.

We moved on to canter, and she definitely woke up! She still listened beautifully, but pokey pony was gone. We think that she wasn’t taking the ride seriously until we started moving. We did some collecting and lengthening in the canter, with our lengthenings looking much less like a wrestling match than the collectings.

Then it was time for jumps! We warmed up by trotting over a crossrail a couple times- my trot jump is feeling a lot better thanks to the advice I got from you guys!- and then over a broken line in 8ish. I say 8ish because the other horses put 9. But the 8 worked so nicely for us!

Now on to the course! Presenting this week’s professional diagram- jumps were 2’6″-2’9″:

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How this course was meant to be ridden: 1 to 2 in a bending 8, balance around the corner for the Swedish oxer, balance around the corner for the bending 4 to 5 in 6 strides (my proportions on this diagram are clearly off, I swear that was the striding), balance around the corner to 6, then you’re done.

How we actually rode it: 1 to 2 in a bending 7 once the jumps were up. Careen around the corner to the oxer. EXTRA CAREEN around to 4, almost miss it and slice it straight to 5 in 5. CAREEN AROUND THE CORNER to 6. Ask for woah. Do not receive woah. Realize that this is Addy’s version of a happy dance for a course well done.

So we did a victory gallop.

While the turns were quite tight and we probably didn’t balance as well through them as we should have (hence the wild careening about the ring), this course ended up riding extremely smoothly. The bending 7 was very comfortable, and the oxer was in a sweet spot off the rail so we got a nice close distance to it. The tight turn meant that we had to slice 4, but that worked out for the best, since slicing that line straight to the end gave us more room to maneuver around the left turn to the last jump.

We also reversed the course: 4-5-6-1-2-3. Similar turns, similar careening. This time it was the 1-2 line that got sliced- the horses build a lot over 6 since it’s towards home and pretty big, so balancing around to 1 is HARD! But the slice ended up working beautifully again.

And when we ended the course, we did a victory gallop.

Instead of getting tired as the lesson progressed, she got more excited about what she was doing and our victory laps got longer. She wasn’t trying to take off or be bratty, so I let her express herself. There’s nothing quite like being on a horse that is telling you so clearly, “I’M HAVING SO MUCH FUN RIGHT NOW!!”

A couple things I noticed and was really happy about:

  1. I’ve been trying to focus on my release more and I felt that it paid off yesterday. Addy has such a big powerful jump, and I never want to discourage her by knocking her in the mouth. I don’t want to exaggerate my release by any stretch; I want to be conscious of staying out of her way so she can use herself. She responded yesterday by giving me a tremendous effort over every single jump!
  2. While the corners were tight and we did a bit of barrel racing turns to get around them, I was able to sit deep in the tack and keep a feel on her mouth. I’ve struggled in the past with getting popped out of the tack around hard turns; this time I felt more secure and comfortable, even if we were listing to port.
  3. Our distances were very deliberate. As I’ve been getting my eye back, I’ve admittedly had a couple “Jesus take the wheel” moments. Or more accurately, “Addy please get me out of this mess” moments (or even more accurately, a little of both). There was none of that yesterday. I saw my spots and either moved up or collected to reach the spot that I chose. I even asked her for a couple close spots and she didn’t get nearly as upset about it as she usually does- either she was happy to be jumping, or she finally thought that I was there to support her. Progress!
  4. I could feel her hesitating a lot and getting wiggly to jump 5- this was a very simple vertical with no filler. For some reason, this is Addy’s least favorite type of jump- she will go over any flower box, stone wall, gate, or any type of filler without blinking, but give her a plain vertical with no filler and she gets very wary. But this time instead of letting her call the shots and duck out, I closed my leg and rode more actively to the base. Once we made it over once she didn’t look at it again. I think she needed to get the reassurance that I wasn’t going to let her go it alone- I was there to help her out.

The pattern here was that this was a much more active ride than I’ve been doing lately. My requests to Addy felt deliberate and I was able to support her to the base of every jump, then get out of her way. I know we have homework to do- our downwards transitions are still sticky and getting those will  be the key to balancing around those tough corners- but this lesson felt like such progress! I finally felt that our success was due at least in part to my riding and not just Addy’s ability.

I also found out about our new plan for a first show! There’s a VHSA show about 20 minutes away on March 14th, and we’re planning on being there! They have some 2’6″ hunter classes we can do, and if things go well we may enter the 2’9″ benefit hunters. Trainer asked if I’d want to try out the 3′, but I’d like to stick to our original plan and see how Addy behaves at shows before getting to the top of my comfort zone. I’m so excited!! Anyone in the area planning on going to River Chase on the 14th?

Have you had an “aha” moment where you realized you were taking control of your ride? How do you handle tough turns in your course- do you ride them a certain way, or are there flatwork exercises that help you prepare?