The Rollercoaster Show

Alternate title: How Stupid of an Injury Can You Get?

I’ll allay your fears off the bat: no one has any lasting damage, and nothing was even remotely related to Francis. Homeboy was uninvolved in my tomfoolery and continues to be his awesome amazing wonderful self.

This was probably the most relaxed show I’ve done in a long time. The numbers were EXTREMELY low so the showgrounds were crazy quiet, we weren’t trying to qualify or get points or anything, and it seemed super low key.

Friday was just a schooling day for us- we went in to do a ticketed warmup in one of the rings to try and find our eq pace. Which was hard. My trainer kept telling us to slow down, even when it felt like I was going backwards! I needed to get us into a nice rhythm and then leave my horse alone, instead of letting my electric seat take over and build a gallop. No gallop needed. But overall it was a great schooling session where we got to jump some fill (which we haven’t done in a good long time) and get my eye adjusted to the different pace. When we got the right pace, Frankie was able to jump up nice and square every single time.

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How is my horse so handsome all the time? How?

 

Saturday was our first eq day! Due to ring changes and schedule shifts, our very first class was a 3′ Eq Classic in the GP. On the one hand, a nice familiar ring with jumper-style jumps to ease us in. On the other hand, Frankie definitely knows that this ring means zoomies. It was an…interesting round. I came out of the ring and yelled DOUBLE CLEAR to my trainer, which is apparently not what we are supposed to go for in the eq. It was an odd combination of zooming around, yet not really making the striding anywhere. I think for me, it was tough to adjust my eye to the smaller jumps. Overall though Frankie was obedient and wanted to please (as always) and we ended up getting a nice big pretty yellow ribbon for our efforts.

Then we had two trips for the 18-35 Adult Eq division in the big Hunter 1 ring. We hadn’t gotten to school in there and I’ve never shown in there before, so I was excited to give it a try! The courses themselves were a little disappointing- they were the exact same as the hunter rounds, so no opportunity to show off any handiness. The most “exciting” it got was a two-stride across the diagonal.

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Literally no effort went into the eq courses

I was really really happy with Frankie in both trips. Neither trip was beautifully polished, and definitely had a lot of room for improvement, but Frankie was thinking hard and trying to figure out what I was asking. We’ve spent so long telling him that the show ring means GOING NOW MUST RUN and this time I was telling him the opposite. He definitely thought he was supposed to turn and burn around some of those corners and kept checking with me to make sure he was doing the right thing. My big thing to remember was softening at him- when I dropped him a little bit, he responded by relaxing and coming back to a more appropriate pace.

I could also feel him jumping SUPER cute- I didn’t end up buying it, but the photographer got a really adorable one of him over one of the oxers. I know he doesn’t actually need to try at 3′, so I’m proud of him for still putting in some effort! He makes my job so much easier when he jumps like that. His motion is so much easier to follow, the timing is much easier to allow to happen naturally, overall I feel like I’m able to show off my eq a little bit more.

Despite the little bobbles for us to work on, we took first in both classes! Full disclosure: we were the only entry in the second class. I told you the numbers were crazy low. But there were four entries in the first class! I may or may not have hugged the announcer when he told me (I really should stop hugging strangers at horse shows).

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We’ve got the blues!

I couldn’t be prouder of Frankie for going into a new ring, in a new discipline, with new jumps and new courses, and trusting me enough to listen and think so hard. He always has so much try and this was no different- I could really feel him trying to figure out what I wanted. He got lots of pats and scratches as I took out his braids.

Sunday dawned cool and breezy as I loaded my gear into the car for our final day of showing. And stick with me folks, because this is where I get dumb.

A little context: I have a Jeep Liberty. And the trunk of the Liberty opens in two pieces, as such:

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In this picture, the car is nice and clean and not a decrepit old trash heap like mine is. So the top part opens all the way automatically. But in my decrepit old trash heap, it does not actually open all the way. It opens to about forehead height.

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My professional reenactment diagram

I think you can see where I’m going with this.

While swinging my gear into the car, I smashed my head into the glass so. Dang. Hard.

I made it about 45 minutes before the pressure-headache-feels-like-a-hangover-slight-dizziness set in. I chugged water, took some Advil, and waited for it to subside. And it didn’t.

And that is the story of how I slammed my head into my car so hard that I ended up scratching my classes and having my boyfriend and his brother drive 90 minutes to come pick me up and drive me home.

OMG.

Was I being overcautious? Probably. I’m pretty sure I could’ve made it around another couple trips- especially with such a trustworthy steed. But I’m pretty paranoid when it comes to any sort of head injury, no matter how IDIOTICALLY they may have occurred. Part of me is saying that I was being way overly unnecessarily careful about the whole thing, and the other part of me is saying that I made the right call by scratching. Ugh.

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MAHM WUT R U DOIN Y R U SWAYING

Further earning his Sweetest Horse Ever award, Frankie stood calmly with his head down so I could take his braids out without using the step ladder. I swear he always seems to know when I’m feeling unsteady and is extra careful with me at those times. Such a total lovebug.

The dizziness wore off within a few hours and I’m now just nursing a bit of a headache and some wounded pride. If nothing else, it makes a pretty funny story (especially when I act out the field neuro exam Manfriend gave me upon my father’s instructions). Luckily Manfriend had a sense of humor about the whole thing and reassured me that next time I should just ask him to come to the show, there’s no need to bash my head in to convince him. Har har har.

I guess I was overdue for a klutzy moment.

Please make me feel better and share your most ridiculous injuries that kept you from riding/showing. I can’t be alone in this!

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Eq Lesson Recap

Alternate title: “Olivia, you’re not being timed right now.”

Francis and I were able to fit in an extra lesson this weekend to sharpen up some things, and I was super happy with the Beast. I mean, I’m always super happy with the Beast, but it’s really fun getting to push our comfort zone and work on some different stuff together.

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Unrelated but I’ve got some tall beefy men in my life and Manfriend is delightfully tolerant of the fact that I’m constantly staring at the horse.

Our flatwork involved a major focus on straightness, and riding off the rail to test that straightness. Francis has thoroughly figured out the leg-yield-to-the-rail game and we wanted to get him ACTUALLY listening to my cues instead of assuming he knew what was happening.

We also know that between him and me, our left turns are crap. I don’t know if I’m so lopsided that I’ve made him lopsided, if he was one-sided before and made me more one-sided, or if both of us were lopsided to start and we’ve just fed on each other. Whether the chicken or the egg came first, the fact remains that we are not ambiturners. We worked on a lot of serpentines with the intent to keep our turns smooth and consistent. No making angry faces and speeding up through the left turns because stepping under is hard.

We put some work in on our counter-canter as well, which I really enjoy working on with Frankie. I have to help him get those haunches out of the way around the turns, but he’s got good balance and it doesn’t feel too difficult for him. I’m pretty sure it’s just because he doesn’t care about being on the wrong lead, but I’ll take it. We talked about how I can set him up for it- come off the rail and ask for the bend like we’re turning back to the rail- and AT reminded me that pumping with my shoulders is not traditionally accepted as a canter transition aid. I GUESS.

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Literal death grip on the lead because Francis was throwing a tantrum about not being able to eat the grass.

 

On to jumping! Warmup over a little crossrail went relatively well- I’ll never be a huge fan of trot jumps, but we’re getting better at finding forward-but-not-running-at-it. Then a nice big bending line with a focus on straightness over and away from the jumps.

Then we started building our course! The jumps were set to mimic one of the Maclay Regionals- I love this time of year because we end up trying out all the medal courses and it’s a BLAST. We did a different course from the medal so we could focus on what we needed to try, but it was great nonetheless.

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We started out with the S-turn: red to gray Swedish oxer in 5 or 6, out over green skinny in 5 or 6. Either a 5 to a 5 or a 6 to a 6. We clearly did the 5 to 5 because Francis is a tank. Frankie has a tendency to bulge left so I pushed him right hard over the gray and he responded surprisingly well- so well, in fact, that the 5 out was a little tight because I wasn’t anticipating such a reaction. Happy to see progress there, even if it led to a closer spot out!

Then it was around to the outside line, set in 4 strides. I LOVED how this was set. My trainer is a huge fan of setting short lines for us to help that booty werk, but this one was set on a regular flowing stride. It was lovely. My only job was to keep both legs on so Frankie could stay straight through and land his lead.

Then it was two long approach oxers. Going down 6 was junky every time- either we ended up moving up to a gallop spot, which was adequate but not delightful- or we shortened to a smaller spot, which was fine but not as smooth as I’d like. Nothing disastrous or dramatic, just not as rhythmic as I was aiming for. Balancing through the end up to the gray Swedish the other way went fine every time.

Then it was come back to walk and counter-canter the long approach to blue oxer on the rail. For this I turned early to go between jumps 10 and 11, which set us up to “turn left” to the rail to more easily get the counter-lead. Francis jumped this blue one super cute every time.

The first time through the combo, Frankie assumed he wasn’t jumping it. We got through it just fine- homeboy can walk a 3′ jump- but he was pretty sure that there wasn’t a jump coming up out of that corner. Second time went much more smoothly. The five strides out over the oxer was set short, especially flowing out of a combo, but he sat back nicely for me.

Then it was just a simple rollback to the final vertical- the first time I went around jump 1 to get there, but then decided to go inside the next time. I need to remember to support strongly with that outside rein and leg around left turns to help him out, because we are much more balanced when we do that.

I liked this course a lot! It was a good test of our “togetherness” over a variety of questions. It’s refreshing to take a break from the get-it-done attitude and drill more into getting every piece polished and perfected.

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Short answer: yes

We’re not trying to qualify for anything or pursue a career in the equitation (literally already missing the jumper ring and I haven’t even done the eq yet)- this outing will be an opportunity to school my horse. Straightness ALWAYS over every jump. Forward pace without getting heavy on the forehand. But like, not too forward because OLIVIA YOU’RE NOT BEING TIMED. No need to rush anything. The eq courses at Culpeper are usually pretty hunterific so we can find our stride and let it flow around the course.

Frankie’s mane is pulled and ready for the braider, I have laced reins instead of rubber on my bridle, and we are feeling good about exploring a new ring together! I can’t wait to let you know how it goes and share pictures.

 

Mr. Versatile

We have such a super fun fall coming up!

As you all know, we just came off of Jumper Championships where Francis was the most adorably wonderful amazing packer pony in the whole universe. He was Jumper Man Extraordinaire.

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FrancisGoZoomies(TM)

So now that we’ve gotten him fully legged up into Jumper Mode, we’re switching the game on him!

We have one last show of the season coming up at the end of September. Our options were to do the High division (though points wouldn’t count towards anything since finals are over), try some higher classes (eh the courses get harder throughout the season, so now is a tough time to try that), or do something totally different. We went with the last option.

Francis will play Eq Pony for me! We’ll even do several flat classes *GASP*. I’m so excited to see what he looks like braided and all eq-y. I haven’t done anything besides jumpers in a couple years now, and Frankie has only done the jumpers with me- it’ll be interesting to see if we can transition a bit.

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FrancisNoZoomies(TM)

We just want to go out there and have fun trying something a little different. We always have a blast going to compete together, I have no doubt Frankie will be a superstar eq horse for me too. The tough part will be for me to actually ride well instead of clinging to my horse like a barnacle #noaddedvalue.

But wait, there’s more!

We’re FINALLY going XC schooling in October! I’ve been looking forward to this since I brought Frankie home. I’m not planning on doing anything intimidating because we all know I’m a ring princess, but I know Francis is going to have a total blast out there. If it’s half as much fun as when I took Addy out, it’ll be one to remember.

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Big Man can show me the ropes of XC (this is Frankie with his previous trainer!)

I think we’ll then wrap up our season with one of the local shows, where we’ll do the pleasure classes. You thought I was joking. I am not. I would really like to go toodle around with my pony and enjoy a low-pressure outing.

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Honestly I think toodling around on a loose rein will be his favorite show yet

There you have in. In the space of just a few months, I will be taking my 1.15m High Adult JumperPony into the equitation ring, out on the cross country field, and bopping around the pleasure division.

Biggest pats for Best Pony who so happily carts my butt around everywhere I point him. I can’t wait to share our adventures with you all ❤

Oh Right, I Forgot

You know how sometimes you forget things that you’ve known forever? Or not that you’ve forgotten, they’ve just kinda slipped by the wayside?

I have a couple things like that and I’m trying to focus more attention on them.

Most basic of all: moving forward at the walk. Francis almost always has a super forward swingy walk throughout our rides, so I never really think about it. But as it gets hotter and he gets lazier (yes, it is possible), he sees walking as a chance to amble around like a 32yo school pony. Actually, he walks SLOWER than the 32yo school pony. It’s embarrassing. I need to consciously notice what kind of walk we have and correct if needed to make sure it’s the walk we want.

Also super basic: allowing my horse to turn left. I’m so weirdly crooked in such strange ways that I’ve pretty much blocked my horse from being able to turn left. The only way I can convince my body to straighten out is to think “right hip forward and light.” Because it reeeeally wants to be tilted back and digging into Frankie’s back. So basically I’m thinking I’m telling him “move off my left leg and bend through your body!” but what my seat is telling him is “BEND TO THE RIGHT AND ALSO MOVE LEFT FOREVER.” When I consciously think to push my right hip forward, we suddenly get straighter through his body, smoother turns, better bend, more adjustability, and more lightness in my hand. So yeah. Gonna have to figure out how to just not be a total pretzel at all times so that my horse can do his job. I’M NOT AN AMBITURNER.

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But like…literally.

Still basic: shoulders tall at the sitting trot. I think we’ve got a pretty decent sitting trot- Frankie usually stays pretty soft through his back so it’s fairly comfortable to go with his motion. But I’ve been so focused on my seat and core that I’ve neglected working on keeping my upper body tall. I know I’m capable of putting those pieces together, it’s just a matter of actually doing the thing. We don’t do flat classes or anything so this isn’t a competition goal, just a polish and precision goal.

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It’s happened before, I’m like 70% sure it can happen again.

Less basic: Solidifying my position over fences. In theory, I’m fantastic at this. My trainer and I joke that in theory, I’m an Olympic rider. I know what I should be doing, and I’m pretty good at diagnosing what I’ve done wrong and how I can fix it. It’s just a matter of….doing those things. And doing those things the first time so I don’t have to diagnose and go back and fix and go through that whole process. For example, my leg isn’t staying where I want it and I’d like to work more on an automatic following release. These are tools I know I have in my toolbox, and I need to be more conscious of honing them and actively using them. My position always looks 20x more solid when shit hits the fan- aka massive chip or leaving a stride out- than it does when things are going well. I want it to consistently be solid.

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SOMEHOW MY LEG DOESN’T BUDGE WHEN I RIDE LIKE CRAP WHAT THE HELL

Also less basic: Insisting on adjustability. Frankie CAN and HAS given me powerful strides ranging from 8′ to 18′. The adjustability is there to use if I ask for it. I need to stop settling into a comfortable canter and maintaining that for the whole course- everything comes up so much more smoothly and powerfully when I actively rate back and forth. Collect through the turn, power up to the single, sit  back in the line, push through the combo, etc. There is no magic stride length to get the job done and I need to use the appropriate stride to each question on course.

I can’t be the only one! What habits do you need to remind yourself of? What’s  so basic that you’ve neglected it and now have to go back and fix?

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?

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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!

Ready for the Maclay?

Huzzah! An actual lesson review!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s My Discipline?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

addy_toes

Back To Basics

We’re gonna keep rolling with the lesson reviews, because I keep rolling with the lessons.

And folks, this was a good one.

Before I get into the nitty gritty, I want to give huge props to my esteemed Daddoo, who very patiently and enthusiastically listens to me minutely describe every stride of every lesson, which helps me organize my thoughts before blogging. Without my dear father, these recaps would not be what they are and I would be lost in a sea of sadness. Dramatic? Maybe. I get it from my Dad.

Anywho, last night we had a lesson with my awesome Assistant Trainer (I’ve sung her praises in past posts and will continue to do so here). Not only is she a genuinely cool person in real life, but she has such a knack for coaching.

We spent a looong time on our flatwork last night with a focus on suppleness and control. We did a lot of transitions from counter-bend to correct bend at the trot, large circles to small circles, serpentines, changing directions, and maintaining the power in the sitting trot. Beastly was a little behind my leg at some points and I had to leg her up, but she responded reeeeally well to the counter-bending exercises we did; she was much softer and willing to be led once we loosened up like that. AT wanted us focusing hard on using our outside aids- she said that we want to set the track and bend using our inside leg and hand, but the outside aids need to be present and strong to maintain the balance and create a place for the horse to move into. She was constantly reminding us to keep that feel on the outside rein no matter what we were doing.

Moving up into canter work, we did a fun exercise where we changed seats. After establishing a comfortable working canter she had us stand in our stirrups for a while-  focusing on getting our heels far down and keeping our leg stable- then drop a little bit into a half seat- where we moved our hands low and wide so we couldn’t rely on them for balance and instead had to engage our cores- and then drop further into a more upright and deep “equitation” seat- keeping our legs long and engaged, and our shoulders back.

In all of this there was a focus on straightness- we wanted a gentle bend around the corners but we wanted a perfectly straight track down the long side. She also emphasized keeping our leg on, and said that collecting in a gait takes 100x more leg than extending should because you have to be there to support that collection.

After getting my butt kicked around the ring on the flat, we warmed up by trotting a small crossrail. My job was to create straightness and balance to the jump without rushing and without anticipating with my shoulders, and this went well. We then moved on to some more exercises with the following setup:

july_joanna

Our first exercise was to trot in to B, turn right and halt in front of E. Getting a halt after a jump is a pretty Herculean effort on Beastly. so AT showed us that instead of just bracing in the stirrups and waterskiing, she wanted me to sit deep, engage my core, and keep my leg on to support that halt. We definitely halted closer to the wall than I wanted, but AT was much happier with our second attempt! She reminded me that on a horse like Addy who tends to get rolling, I have to commit early to any changes in pace so that I have plenty of time to achieve them.

Our next exercise was the bending line from D to E. This was set so that if we came in conservatively and bowed the track it could be a four stride, or a more direct three stride. Hmmm, I wonder what we got?? I was able to get super conservative in with a nice small bouncy canter, but wasn’t able to recover fast enough to get the small strides again for the four. At one point I had set the Unicorn up for a really nice short distance in out of a small canter and she ducked out- AT told me that I had made the right move and that was definitely the right decision, Addy just didn’t want to do it because it was hard. We circled around and made Addy put in the effort from the base. This jump was like 2′ tall, she had no excuse not to.

Next! We went up the diagonal at F and hard right turn to roll back over G on the wall. I was pretty nervous because this closely resembled the Turn of Doom we had such trouble with a while ago, but determined to leg on and make it happen. Our first attempt wasn’t exactly pretty, but we did make it happen! The next time through AT had me slice the jump a little from right-to-left to create more of a space to turn in, sit super deep in the saddle, and use my outside leg HARD to get that turn. And we did it!

After working on all of these things individually, we pieced it together into the following course: A-B-C-D-E-F-G. Canter up the outside crossrail, down the in of the outside line, turn right to come over the plank, down the bending line, up the diagonal stone and rollback over the red out.

This rode really great! We got a little gappy to the crossrail which was totally unnecessary, but got nice and quiet to the black vertical. We could’ve used our space better in the rollback to the quarter line, but this worked out well regardless. The bending line was our best yet- a liiiittle bit more and I think we could’ve fit the four in. The rollback went beautifully- I even cantered in to the diagonal jump and we STILL got the turn without too much fuss (AT had let me trot in before to guarantee a quieter in).

This was such a cool lesson because it was really focused on the basics. None of the jumps were higher than 2’3″ (I’d be surprised if they were even that big) but the exercises we were doing were intended to make our horses more rideable. We worked on our equitation and giving our horses the support they need on the flat and over fences, and we built up our course bit by bit so we could master each section. I was definitely exhausted both mentally and physically after this lesson!

AT had a really good point- we want to get Addy “rideable” enough so that we don’t have to put the Pelham in when we jump. She is not a professional’s horse, she is an amateur’s horse. Her owner did not buy her to go win the Modified Adults at A shows, she got her because she enjoys riding her. My goal should be to get her relaxed and comfortable with jumping instead of hot and excited.

The short version: counter bending and bending, changing seats, leg on, master each piece of the course. Basically, be a better rider.

Here, have a selfie of us recovering after our ride:

selfie_july

What basics have you been working on lately?

An Ambidextrous Sport

I had a sore muscle in my arm the other day, and I got an interesting reaction from a coworker when I mentioned it. She said in quite certain terms that it was likely from riding because I’m right hand dominant.

No matter what I said, I could not convince her that riding is symmetrical(ish). That if I was holding more strongly with my right hand, we would be going in circles the whole time.

Who can blame her? Can you think of any other sport that is truly symmetric? Soccer players tend to kick with their dominant side, baseball players pitch and bat with their dominant side, track and field athletes run or throw or grip with a certain side. Even swimmers tend to breathe more from a certain side.

I’m not saying there are no exceptions to this (several popped into my head as I typed this), but it is exceptionally rare to find a sport in which there is no “dominant side.”

At least in theory.

I know that practice can be quite different- many of us have weaker left sides, or their right leg tends to float, or any number of bad habits that I certainly don’t have. But these are things that we’re all consistently working to correct (or should be).

We’re careful to lunge a horse the same number of circles in both directions. We want to sit directly in the center of the saddle so that we are prepared to ask for anything. A rollback to the right and a rollback to the left can easily be in the same course, so your legs better both be strong for that. You dressage folks are even more obsessed with straightness and balance than those of us in the H/J world, but we all should be!

I’ve read and re-read this article quoting George Morris probably 10-12 times now, and so much of it relates back to the ever-important straightness and balance. Straightness at all gaits, straightness to jumps, straightness for changes, straightness 4ever. Imagine how hard it is for the horse to be straight when we as riders aren’t straight! (Says the girl who collapses to the left, wiggles her inside leg, over-bends/counter-bends at random times, and then has the gall to ask “WHY WON’T SHE JUST GO IN A STRAIGHT LINE?!” Because you’re an idiot, Olivia. Because you’re an idiot.)

I had a really excellent school with Addy yesterday that brought this to the forefront- I lowered my stirrups by a hole to a more appropriate flatting length, put her snaffle bit back in, popped on some very gentle spurs, and declared it Equitation Day. She moved right up into the bridle almost immediately, was salivating out the wazoo, and gave me some really great effort. We did lateral movements, extensions, collections, transitions, and everything felt really calm and balanced. She wasn’t leaning on the bit to catch her balance, she was moving more upright and carried herself more. To say I was happy with how quickly she caught on would be an understatement. I started screaming for everyone to LOOK AT MY DRESSAGE PONY SHE’S SO FANCY.

However, our lack of ambidextrousness (is that a word? I’m assuming you’re all smart enough to know what I’m saying here) became more apparent once we moved into the canter. I was able to get a beautiful balanced canter to the left- she stayed nice and round, balanced and bent through her turns and around circles, and we could extend and collect without a fuss. It was one of the best quality canters I’ve ever gotten from her. But then going to the right, it wasn’t as nice. It wasn’t a hot mess by any means and she certainly was working hard for me, but required much more support around turns and when collecting.

I tested this out by counter-cantering, which historically has been pretty tough for us. She was able to hold when we were going left, but when she was unable to collapse in on the right she got very discombobulated. I didn’t want to drill this without a trainer present, but our short experiment confirmed what I thought- we need to build her muscle and balance more evenly. After all, it’s not fair to ask her to carry me around a course in all directions if I haven’t developed her capabilities in all directions.

I’m going to start building “Equitation Day” into our schedule much more often so that we can consciously work on that. Encouraging that correct round movement will likely be difficult for her at first, but with her work ethic and my fumbling attempts at support I think we’ll get there. Besides, she sure would look purty taking me around an Adult Medal class….

Does your horse have a stronger side? How do you address that? What are your favorite exercises for building self-carriage and balance?

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?