We Lessoned!

For the first time in about a month, I actually jumped my pony over colorful sticks!

OHGOD
This is pretty much all I’ve done for the last month. Toodle.

Nothing crazy- some grid work with placing poles to inspire straightness and encourage a good effort over the jumps. Seeing as Francis thinks lifting his shoulders and picking up his knees and rounding over his back over jumps is like OMG SO DUMB, this was a fantastic exercise for him.

And a fantastic exercise for me too- I didn’t have to worry about remembering courses, finding a distance, or doing much of anything besides work on my own position. Professional diagram below:

gymnastic_april

So trot in to the crossrail, one SHORT stride to the oxer, then one bigger stride to the vertical out. Poles to keep us straight to the oxer, then straightening poles over the vertical. Then a pole after the vertical because FRANCIS STOP SUCKING OUT TO THE WALL.

The added poles were really what made this grid work so well for us- that first stride to the oxer was super short. As in, the first time through we definitely bounced it. #18footstride. No bueno.

The trick was to get a short powerful trot in, so that he could land close to the crossrail and put in a nice short stride there. That channel created by the poles forced him to keep his body straight and not give himself extra room by bulging to either side. Homeboy actually had to pick himself up.

Then I LOVED the straightening poles over the last fence. You’ve all seen pictures of Frankie jumping- homeboy is athletic enough and is happy to jump anything, but he doesn’t have the most…classical…technique. As in, he jumps like a llama.

But the V-poles here really forced him to pick his shoulders up and stay completely straight, instead of leaning to either side. And while I don’t have media, I could feel him jumping SO CUTE. When your horse typically jumps like a drunk alpaca, it’s pretty easy to feel the difference. It’s such a nicer motion to stay with- I could let him push me up out of the saddle and give a really generous release instead of trying to figure out where the center of balance is and keeping a feel because lord knows we’re going to land in a heap and we need all the communication we can get right now so help me.

The pacing of this exercise was also something I needed to work on- you really had to ride one jump at a time (no kidding Olivia, that’s what we call “progressing through time.”) But what I mean is that the timing of the aids had to be more precise here.

That first stride was very short. Meaning we could not canter in, we could not beast-trot in (that’s an official dressage term btw). We had to get a powerful, short, straight, elastic trot in and keep shoulders up to collect the first stride. And then over the oxer I needed to PRESS and land moving for the bigger stride. If I asked too early for the bigger stride, I made Frankie’s life harder to the oxer. If I asked too late, I made his life harder to the vertical. If I timed it properly, I set him up for success at both jumps.

Side note- I love that even after doing grids for almost 20 years, there’s still so much to think about and consider even when they’re simple like this. Grids 4 lyfe.

After going through a couple times successfully- proving that it wasn’t just a fluke- I asked to be done a little early so we could end on a really good note. I needed a win after dealing with some stress at work lately, and Francis delivered. Because he is literally the best horse on the planet and if you disagree I will fight you in real life.

selfie
I have never related so hard in my life

I have to give a HUGE shoutout to Assistant Trainer here too. She’s been putting some pro rides on Frankie lately while I’ve taken a break from lessoning and it is seriously so noticeable. He always WANTS to give me the right answer, and she does such a great job of explaining to him what that right answer is. I’m incredibly grateful that I could take a month-long break from doing anything besides toodling, hop back on my horse, and have him more educated and fit than he was when we left off.

We didn’t do anything super crazy with this lesson- none of the jumps were very big at all- but it was the perfect way to knock some of the rust off. Frankie was happy, he jumped cute, I was less jiggly/loose in the tack than I anticipated I’d be, we worked up a good sweat, I loosened up some of the knots in my neck and back, and overall I count this as a successful therapy session. Bonus points that it was good training for both of us.

Make That Booty Werk

Oh man, guys. We are asking Francis to work his butt a little harder and it’s really really fun. It’s so noticeable how much these different exercises are encouraging him to use his body better and I’m pretty giddy about riding him and feeling him get better and better.

I headed to the barn on Monday planning on a pretty decent flatwork session, but didn’t have a big plan for what we would work on- my go-to right now is transitions since ours need sharpening for sure. But Assistant Trainer was there and set up a bunch of ground poles, so pole-day it was!

Plus side of Francis: poles do not bother him at all (I mean honestly, nothing bothers him let’s be real here), so I never worry about him trying to back off or speed through poles.

Minus side of Francis: poles do not bother him at all, so he’s not awfully concerned about keeping track of his feet.

So my role in this partnership as we trotted through was to keep my leg on to generate the impulsion, and then keep a steady hand for balance. The following pattern was set up in the ring, along with a few single poles on the diagonal that I didn’t include, so sue me:

feb_canter-poles

The poles along the long side were a simple exercise: forward and straight. The poles in the corner made it so you could stay out and put a few more steps in between the two, or stay closer in and push for fewer steps. We alternated a couple times between the two, trying to find the right balance of pressing up while keeping a consistent rhythm.

canter_poles
OH DEAR GOD FRANCIS TAKE THE WHEEL

And then it was time to canter the poles! We started with 3 in a row set to bounce them, then added more and more until we were bouncing through all six in a row. The corner exercise remained, where we could either put one full stride between the two, or stay in and bounce them around the turn.

So I don’t know about you guys, but I have a weird anxious energy about ground pole exercises. I would 100% rather put the jumps up to any height instead of having to canter poles on the ground. Luckily Frankie does not share this anxiety, and was really really good throughout these exercises in both directions.

I did have to take a bit firmer contact so that he didn’t try to get flat through the bounces- they were set a little shorter than he would’ve liked, which was FANTASTIC for sitting him down on his butt to push. And that corner exercise forced him to pay attention to where his hind feet were doing as he pushed out of the turn. It definitely helped force a little of that “explode out of the turn” feeling we’re always trying to develop.

After working through this a couple times each direction, I could feel Frankie pick himself up and soften onto my hand. It was a very very cool feeling to have that elastic energy under me to play with.

Then on Tuesday we had our lesson! Fairly basic warmup on the flat, then we did some more canter poles, set on the quarter line as a one stride-bounce-one stride exercise. We needed a lot more power from behind to have the energy for this- Trainer played Flight of the Bumblebees for me as I went through as a reminder to get that canter more active. In other news, I now demand a soundtrack for every exercise.

Trainer then slowly built up each element of the gymnastic until it looked like this:

feb_gymnastic

Placing pole, crossrail, one stride, crossrail bounce, one stride, oxer out.

The rule was trot in then press out. This was tough for Frankie! As a not-super-fiery kinda dude, he really didn’t want to work hard through this, especially when the jumps were little. We had to play around with our pace coming in- I wanted to help him out by pressing forward in, but then he inevitably put in a canter step before takeoff. I had to be very conscious to get a nice short powerful trot in and then SQUEEZE through the rest of the exercise to get him going.

We then added a halt after the oxer, with the goal being to halt in a straight line. This took three tries! Frankie really was NOT expecting to have to stop so soon after opening up for that oxer. The goal with this was to be able to go from a short powerful trot, to bigger powerful canter, back to a halt very quickly: pushing the range of adjustability that we’re looking for. We love that Frankie is not a sensitive horse for so many reasons, but we do want him sensitive enough to react to my adjustments more quickly than he currently does.

This exercise actually went much more smoothly once the last oxer went up in height, forcing Frankie to pay attention. Once he realized he could go big jumpiez he perked right up and carried me through the grid with less work on my part.

And the last time through the grid felt SO good. I didn’t have to work to push him through because he had great up-and-down- energy to adjust himself. And that last oxer, OMG. He picked his back up and used his neck and rounded up and over the jump, and really jumped up to me instead of me having to presspresspress across it. I wish I had a pic of that jump because it honestly felt like one of the best efforts he’s ever given me. You should’ve seen the big fat grin on my face 😀

It was also cool to feel him develop that same elasticity over the course of the lesson- he really picked his poll up and sought the contact, and started asking me for forward instead of the other way around. I honestly think he likes his job a lot- he’s kinda a slug on the flat and when the jumps are little, but when we raise the expectations he starts getting excited about his work. Gawd he’s so cool.

As previously mentioned, the barn heads down to Florida this weekend! Luckily, Trainer has found someone to come in and teach lessons while she is gone- it’s been a long time since I trained with someone else, so I’m excited to see what new perspectives he’ll have for us. And of course, I’m excited to share with you.

Other random exciting news: Trainer is expanding the outdoor ring even more than she had originally planned, and the footing has been ordered. It looks like Memorial Day is the target completion date for the whole project and I am SO FREAKIN’ EXCITED. It’ll be totally amazeballs to have a nice big ring to set some nice big jumps in 😉 I’ll have to start taking some progress pics so you can see the transformation.

Do you have any go-to groundpole exercises?

Big Stretches

You know that post-show hangover? Yeah, that was Monday for me. So tired. So sore. Ded.

But then Tuesday dawned with that most wondrous of feelings: Second Day Sore. SDS. I was a decrepit little hobbit around the office all day, and I know my lesson that afternoon would be dicey.

Luckily, the the no-stirrup work and gymnastics we did actually stretched me out and helped my muscles recover that much faster- score!

Our private lessons have come to an end due to scheduling conflicts, so I’m getting back into the zone of semi-privates once more. Our flatwork was nothing crazy- lots of extensions and collections within gaits, making sure we got a prompt response to my cues and were controlling that shoulder around our turns (both his AND mine).

Frankie felt really great! Forward, working over his back as he warmed up, balanced. I think the rest day and the slightly warmer temperatures put him in his happy place because he was really a pleasure to ride (I mean….he always is….but yeah he was great).

We kept the exercises fairly straightforward for the jumping phase. For a while we just worked through a simple grid: trot in crossrail-one stride-vertical-one stride-oxer. It never got very high and it was more to allow me to focus on my own position through the exercise. Then we did a little gymnastic-y type course:

jan31_gymnastic

So gymnastic up the long side, cut across the middle, up the bending line red to skinny in a straightforward 4, down the one stride combo, then up the oxer to barrel bending out in 4 or 5.

My goal through the gymnastic was to stay still with my shoulders, keep my leg on while staying in a light seat, and focus on straightness through my entire body all the way through. Over the middle jump 2, we sliced it a little bit and then tried to hug jump 1A to give us plenty of space to make the turn to 3. The 4 stride was very steady- neither forward nor holding- and Frankie locked onto the skinny early on so no problems there. We had to cowboy up out of the corner a bit for the one stride, then balance around for the last bending line. The first two times we galloped out in four strides, then went back and shaped and held for the five.

Overall nothing crazy! The jumps stayed low and none of the striding was tricky. Much more focus on my own equitation and playing with our tracks to see how different tracks affect our overall course. It was honestly pretty relaxing! Happy horse, straightforward exercises, stretching my tired muscles and his.

We’ll have one more lesson next week before the barn heads down to Florida, then we’ll be on a mini-vacation. Trainer mentioned that she maaaaay get someone to come teach while she’s gone, so we’ll see if our flatwork sessions will have a lesson thrown in there. As much as I wish I could go down the Florida with them, it will be nice to have a quieter ring to work in- it’s tough to do as much lateral work and pole work as I’d like with all the lesson kids sharing the indoor this time of year.

The outdoor ring is currently under expansion and should be GORGEOUS with brand new footing later in the spring- I really can’t wait for the weather to turn so we can ride outside more!!! Also so I can consistently feel my toes and not feel like a marshmallow in 10,000 layers. But also to ride outside.

Much Needed

As you could likely tell from my post the other day, I wasn’t in the best spot mentally. I also hadn’t ridden my horse in three days. HMMM I WONDER IF THERE WAS A CONNECTION THERE.

I showed up to my lesson this week and warned Trainer: “I’m probs rockin’ a low grade fever, and I may start crying for no reason. Just a quick heads up.” Being used to my various mental gymnastics, Trainer just rolled with it and said she would give me other things to focus on. She’s the best ever.

I was actually a little curious about what Frankie would be like when I pulled him out- he hadn’t been ridden in three days, hadn’t been turned out in two, was body clipped over the weekend, and the temperature had dropped by a lot. Kinda  perfect recipe for freshness. I knew he wouldn’t be wild because that’s not in his wheelhouse, but I expected a few small shenanigans.

 

25
THE FACE OF A NATURAL BORN KILLER

And he offered such big misbehavior: he walked off from the mounting block as I was getting my stirrups, before I told him to walk off. WOAH THERE WILD PONY, CALM YOURSELF. No seriously though, he was absolutely perfectly behaved the whole time. Love love LOVE my steady Eddie.

We’ve been playing a lot with different lateral movements lately and how to adjust our contact depending on our needs, and we continued that work. Lots of shifting the contact from indirect/direct outside and inside reins around smaller circles, and how we can use that to encourage the bend through his whole body. Weirdly enough, when I managed a more correct, steady contact, he instantly rounded onto the bit and stepped under. Strange how that works, right??

We then started playing around with canter half-passes. And I say playing around because they were nowhere near an actual half-pass. But sucking at something is the first step at not sucking at something! We ended up taking a step back from this to work on our haunches-in at the canter on a small circle to develop that type of motion- lots of balancing on the outside rein, getting that outside leg back to push his bum over. Not perfect by any stretch, but we had our moments and I could really feel it when we got it. I think as I learn how to ask more accurately this will come together, because Frankie was really listening and trying to figure out what I wanted.

All this lateral work has been FANTASTIC for us. Honestly this wasn’t even on my radar, but Trainer has been pushing us and introducing these movements and it’s really noticeable in our jumping work- turns come up more balanced and I’m much more able to place his body exactly where I want it.

Next step, canter pirouettes, amiright? Seriously though, we’re getting some really nice dressage buttons installed on him and he’s been super trainable for all of it. Hooray for versatile pony!

On to the jumping work! We kept the jumps low and worked on a gymnastic type exercise, as seen here:

nov_gymnastic

We started by trotting in-cantering out each bending line in 6 strides (1-2 and 1-3). Then trotting in-cantering out each way in 5 strides by moving up to the base.

Then we did this exercise in 5 strides cantering in both ways for the add step: 1-2-3-1, and 1-3-2-1. Like a teardrop pattern.  Then cantering in and doing all lines in 6. Hear that? We totally did the double add!! And it actually looked like we did it on purpose instead of landing and two strides later saying OH CRAP and hauling back and breaking to trot and then almost stopping and then lumping over the jump. Because, you know, that’s totally never happened or anything.

This time when I mashed him together, he actually came up rounder and gave some real collection of his stride without losing impulsion. And it made him jump more carefully, even over the smaller jumps. As Trainer says- he doesn’t care about the small jumps because they’re not hard, so we have to make him care by creating the impulsion and pushing him up to the base.

We’re working on adjustability no matter how we get into the line- it might not be the perfect distance in, but I have to keep my leg on and believe in the base and mash him together for the stride length I’m asking for. A common theme lately: recover faster after every jump. Still in progress, but it’s definitely improved from a few weeks ago.

I’m pretty sure that next week we’ll be schooling the liverpool for the first time in case we run into it at the show- here’s to hoping that isn’t the one thing that bothers Frankie! I’ll try to get media too, it’s totally a bucket list thing for me to jump that liverpool (Trainer’s is M-A-S-S-I-V-E).

Any tips as we work to install the half-pass?

Bounce on Bounce on Bounce

Short lesson recap!

We decided to move my lesson to Tuesday so Frankie could have a couple days to not jump before the show. Actually, starting next week I’ll be lessoning on Tuesdays in my new private spot! But this week there were two of us there.

I hopped on and actually had a moment where I thought Frankie might be sore or NQR. And then I realized that he was just being lazy and slow. And the reason I thought something was wrong is because I don’t think I’ve ever had him be lazy and slow before.

Legit my horse slows down a bit and I’m like DID HE BREAK?! Spoiler alert: no. The shift in temperature combined with his high workload made him tired. Kinda funny that 6 months in, this is pretty much the first time he’s been slow.

But he felt great once we got moving a bit more. I’m asking more and more for him to keep that poll high and come onto the bit, and it’s coming together. A better rider than I could definitely develop that more quickly, but Frankie doesn’t have a better rider as a mother. He has me. So we’ll get there when we get there.

You don’t get a diagram today, because it was gymnastic day so my rich vocabulary and vivid descriptions should serve you just fine.

vocabulary

We started out warming up over a crossrail and some canter poles. And then more poles started getting lifted up off the ground and I’ll save you the progression but what we ended up with was a gymnastic on the outside- one stride x-rail to vertical, one stride out over oxer- and then four jumps on the quarter line set to be fairly tight bounces.

That’s right folks, we made the Amazing Leaping Alpaca do three bounces in a row. I am the meanest mom in the world and made him pIcK uP hIs FeEt WhY1??!11/1? He was such a good boy about it though! Required TONS of leg to get through it and it definitely wasn’t his favorite exercise, but was very game every time.

alpaca
Literally exactly like this

We ran into the exact situation my trainer warned me about- we’ve been working SO hard on packaging and collecting with our flatwork, but once the jumps go up we need to get that spicy forward motion back. That delicate balance between packaged and energetic. I don’t want to run Francis at the jumps, but I can’t be holding him together the whole time either. We need to get the energy up and get him tuned into my aids so that we can package or extend as the need arises, and don’t get stuck exclusively packaging (which is what happened in our lesson).

moose
HEY MOOSE YOU’RE REAL CUTE BUT THERE IS ZERO IMPULSION IN THAT LITTLE HIPPITY HOP YOU GOT GOIN’ ON

Trainer ended the lesson the way she likes to end most gymnastic lessons- going to a larger single jump set on a long approach. I think Frankie was quite happy to open his stride out after all those bounces and very obligingly brightened up to it. It was a nice physical and mental decompression from the grid work we had been doing, and the bigger height made him actually stretch a little bit.

goat

Bonus: I’ve started to get better about not changing my ride based on the height. I used to run my horse at bigger fences which was SUPER counter-productive, but I’m getting much more comfortable waiting to see the spot and then riding to the spot. You know, like you’re supposed to do. Doiii.

Really though, that bounce exercise was SO good for Frankie. I plan to incorporate raised cavaletti/pole work often over the winter so we can have a low-impact way to practice PICKING OUR FEET UP ALL THE WAY, HORSE.

elk
ALL the way up.

Frankie is already at the showgrounds this afternoon and I’ll be there tomorrow morning bright and early! Planning to follow pretty much the same schedule as last time- tomorrow is a 0.90m to get us warmed up and thinking, and then our first Low class will be an hour or so after that. Updates as events warrant!

What kinds of grids do you like to use? Have you found bounces to be helpful to get your own pet llama to pick their feet up?

Curing the Achies

Trainer is at Lexington with some riders all week, so Assistant Trainer took over teaching. I’m not sure if you’ve noticed a pattern, but AT kicks my butt HARD. I love her, but ouch. So I’m always excited when she teaches!

Frankie started out pretty stiff, which is quite new for him. Putting the stiffness together with the myriad scrapes and cuts I found on him, we deduced that he was playing and rough-housing with his buddy all night. Awesome. Once he got moving he opened up a bit, but he was definitely lazy.

frankie_aug_lead
“Ugh. must I?”

Lazy for him does not mean slow. It does not mean that I have to boot him up constantly. What it DOES mean is that he has absolutely no desire to hold himself up. This isn’t as apparent at the trot, but as soon as we stepped up into the canter he basically said, “Mahhhm, I’m tired, please carry me around the ring.” OK BUDDY THIS AIN’T WORKIN’ FOR ME. As much as he is my baby and I will do anything for him, I am not physically able to drag his ass around the way he wanted me to.

frankie_aug_canter
These ears are at half-mast because I am the wORST MOM EVAR and am making him hold up his own gigantic head.

Those half-halts were getting CREATIVE, let me tell you. Like, they started out very soft and subtle and got zero response, and it eventually escalated to me bumping him HARD in the mouth with my outside rein to get him to just GETTHEFRICKOFFMYHANDJESUSCHRISTISWEARTOGOD. He got with the program and tried a bit harder once we had one or two of those come-to-Momma moments.

It did get better. And I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again- I love this horse’s brain. There were 4 of us in there and some of the lesson kids got rather close and he didn’t blink. Just kept truckin’ around.

It was pretty stupid hot and none of us had the brain power to remember courses, so we made it a gymnastics day. We had a pretty wide variety of rider and horse abilities in the lesson and I think gymnastics are perfect for these- you can very easily adjust them to be suitable for anyone.

It was set as a short one stride to a longer one stride- the first was tough for Francis to get bouncy through, but he loved opening up through the second part. Predictable.

The take-aways: I need to just keep my leg on for support and let Frankie do his job. I tried to manage that short step a bit too much and he simply didn’t need my help. I was also getting too forward with my shoulders and trying to jump for him- I need to wait and let him jump up to me. He’s gonna jump the jump. I don’t need to do it for him.

Lastly, I really need to work on that auto-release. I know that I don’t hit him in the mouth, but looking at some slo-mo videos it definitely doesn’t have that smooth quality I’d like; it looks like I’m pulling back on take-off before releasing. I think part of this is the way Frankie jumps, but a much bigger piece is that I need to strengthen my core and get my hands truly independent.

frankie_aug_jump
Knees are slowly making their way up when he has to start trying a little. 3’6″ seems to be where he starts putting in an effort.

I was really happy with this lesson though! My leg is slowly getting better and less slippy on Francis, and he was totally game even as the jump went up. AT sticked the last oxer at 3’6″ by the last time through and I was having a blast. It’s still a novelty for me to do those bigger jumps, but I feel so confident with Francis! He doesn’t blink and just does his job.

I’m also glad we made him stretch a little bit over the bigger jumps- he was moving out sooo much better by the end and I think getting to move those muscles made him feel tons better. No more stiffness.

I also have a short cautionary story to share: I turned Frankie out once he was done getting a bath and cooled down. As he often does post-bath, he immediately searched out a spot to roll. This time, he chose RIGHT next to the round bale. Like, he bumped into the bale going down.

And as you can probably guess, he eventually got stuck as he rolled around. The round bale was between his front and hind legs and the ground was mucky enough that he couldn’t get purchase to roll away from it. I’m just glad that he’s not a panicky horse by nature- after trying to get up a couple times, he just lay still for a moment and then looked back at me. “Mahm. Help?”

Of course I was already running to him to get that bale away from my precious boy. Manfriend was luckily there to help (he is SO MUCH STRONGER THAN ME) and Francis was able to quickly stand up and shake off.

And get this- shaky and bug-eyed, he just walked over for kisses. I swear he was so nervous and needed his Momma for a minute. After some much-needed snuggles, homeboy quickly calmed down and was back to munching his hay peacefully and no worse for the wear.

So I’m not sure what we could have done to prevent this (seriously horse you have a solid couple acres to roll, why did it have to be right there???) but just a tale of caution in case you’ve been living under a rock and haven’t figured this out yet: horses will try to injure themselves on literally everything. EVERYTHING.

Two questions today:

  1. What do you do when your half-halts aren’t making a difference?
  2. What’s the weirdest thing your horse has tried to maim themself on?

Deep Breaths and Big Smiles

The DragonMare is SO GOOD. Srsly she’s the  bomb dot com.

Our lesson yesterday did not involve any tight turns or crazy difficult exercises- we worked on a grid and then a couple single diagonal jumps. Our main focus with this lesson was getting Addy to come in quietly so I could leg up to the jumps instead of holding her to the base. She has a tendency to run at jumps a bit and I end up having to holdholdhold or we’ll run through the distance, and we’d really rather not have me hauling on her face in front of an oxer.

Addy was such a good girl about this! We came through the grid a couple times and she got better each time- coming in nice and quietly so that the one-strides were soft and flowing, with the oxer out looking like a million bucks.

Once we had the grid in a good place, we added two single diagonal jumps. The goal here was to land off the grid and get a nice short bouncy canter back before coming down a swedish oxer. Then we wanted to get that nice short stride back again before going up a stone wall on the diagonal.

The first few times through, I chose to circle before heading to the single jumps. I tend to tense up a bit when heading down to a single, which leads to Addy getting tense, which leads to freight train mode, which leads to holding her face, which leads to no bueno for anyone involved. So instead of heading straight down the diagonal to the jump, we circled and made sure we were on the same page and breathing. And whatdya know, we got a wonderful relaxed stride up and over the oxer! Then I used the short side to get our little stride back and *GASP* I actually legged up to the stone wall jump!!!

Seriously, OMG. I know this is a pretty normal thing, but legging up to the base has not been something I’ve done with the Beastly Unicorn on a regular basis. It felt SO good to have that adjustability to see the spot and place her exactly where I wanted her. Even when the jumps went up to 3′ (ish? Maybe 3’3″? She jumped it like it was 16′ so I have no idea where the rails were set) we were able to get a bouncy powerful canter to round over the jump. My main instruction from the lesson: “Replicate this ride every time.”

So how am I going to do that? By remembering these main steps:

  1. Ask big, ask early, and then soften. Do my homework setting the pace and stride as soon as possible, so I’m not fussing on the approach. Ask as hard as I need to in order to get a response, and then soften and allow her to maintain. Ask again if needed, but every time, give her the opportunity to develop that self-carriage we’re looking for.
  2. Believe in the spot. If I lean up her neck every time we get a short spot in, she will decide that the short one STINKS and we’ll go back to taking fliers every time. Shoulders back and wait for her to come up to me.
  3. Breathe and smile! Jumping is just flatwork with a few big steps thrown in. And we love to fly. I’ve gotten much better about breathing and relaxing on course lately and I’ve noticed a HUGE difference in the quality of our rides.

I wish I had gotten this on camera, but when I voiced that to my trainer, she just said that I can get this ride every time now and film it next time. I appreciate her foolish faith in me.

This weekend is going to be SUPER awesome- Jenn from Stories from the Saddle is coming to visit!!!  She’s going to come meet the DragonMare, she’ll come with me to try out a couple horses with my trainer, we’ll go to some wineries and brunch and it’s going to be SO MUCH FUN!! She’s promised to write a guest post about the Beastly Unicorn, so get pumped to see that 🙂

Hope you all have as good of a weekend and Jenn and I will ❤

Cojones

So last Wednesday, Addy and I had our first lesson together since I got back from Florida! It was a very interesting mix of “GRRR SO STRONG AND BETTER RIDER DO ALL THE THINGS” and “CRIPPLING BACK PAIN CANNOT POST OR SIT MUST STAND IN STIRRUPS.”

Because as we all know, what do you do when you have crippling back pain? That’s right, folks, you hop on a horse and try to aggravate that back pain. Right? No? That’s not recommended? I must’ve missed that memo.

Anywhosicle, flat work was uneventful. I powered through the pain using a combination of weird perching two-point and grimacing while posting. I managed to sit a few strides of canter once I had warmed up a bit- progress! Whether she was being kind because she sensed my pain, or she was fat and lazy from me being gone, Addy gave me the sweetest hunter-y canter around. Considering I was perched like a T-Rex 90% of the time (heels up, legs back, shoulders hunched, arms scrunched, reins longer than the Amazon) and had absolutely zero leverage to package her up, I was super grateful that she took pity and gave me her beginner-safe canter.

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Like this, but with worse eq.

On to the fun stuff! We worked on more gymnastic-y type exercises, none of the jumps was bigger than 2’6″ (I think…..I’m notoriously bad at judging jump height. I’ll think 2’3″ is 3″ and I’ll think 3’3″ is 2’9″….I honestly have no idea anymore).

After warming up, our main exercise was as follows: bending line, up the single diagonal, halt. Then trot-in-canter-out the center line in four. And when I say four, I mean a teeny tiny little four. A four that a pony got comfortably. And we were instructed to also put four. On Addy.

You can see where we’re going with this.

PSYCH! We got the four every time! Once the adrenaline from jumping was flowing, I totally forgot that my back hurt, and sat down and asked hard for the striding. Addy was a super good girl- she likes it so much better when I’m present and communicating every step of the way. We got a nice conservative bouncy step in the bending, rode up out of the corner to the single diagonal, had a (moderately) civilized halt, and then pitter pattered through the center line. Success!

Cherry on top of a good ride? My trainer saying, “Wow, you must’ve grown some cojones down in Ocala!” Woot woot! I definitely felt like I learned a ton down in Ocala, so I was absolutely tickled pink to hear that the progress is visible.

And I believe I promised you exciting news. I told you that Ocala was pretty life-changing, right? Well, after catching the show-bug, a conversation with my trainer, and a close inspection of my bank account….

We are hunting for a unicorn to call my very own.

unicorn
Actually not gray though please

I don’t plan to share too many details about the hunt out of respect for other people’s privacy, but I’d love any good vibes you could send my way! And at some point in the *hopefully* not-too-distant future, I should have a new fuzzy face to introduce you to.

Not to worry, my love for the DragonMare is still strong. She has taught me so much and given me so much and I don’t plan to ever stop loving on her and stuffing her face with treats (and hopping on for the occasional ride if Owner Lady is ok with it) ❤

DragonMare Attacks

I’m baaaack!

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

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

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

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

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

july_grid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Physical Therapy

What’s the best possible thing to do when you have a strained hip flexor?

Obviously, the answer is to definitely ride. And you should probably wear brand new tall boots too.

I managed to tweak my hip the other day because I was dumb and forgot to stretch after spending 3 hours in the saddle, and I’ve spent the last couple days limping around like Igor in Young Frankenstein (Walk this way. No, THIS way). I was not about to let that get in the way of my lesson though, so I warned Trainer that I might be a bit crippled and got Beastly prepped for our lesson.

Side note- Jenn from Stories from the Saddle is seriously an amazing person who is my tack guru/enabler/sista from another mista and sent us this present!!! Isn’t it beautiful?! I’m still absolutely speechless at her generosity and thoughtfulness, it’s perfect!!

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You can’t see Addy’s face, but she loved it too

So, once we were decked out like absolute freakin’ ballers, it was time to hop on in the new boots. I had hacked around for 15-20 minutes on Monday in them and even managed to hang on when Addy took off (for all of 3 strides before she remembered I was there and tried to apologize by giving me a gorgeous round collected canter. Apology accepted, that was fancy as hell), but this was my first “official” ride in them.

The boots were fantastic! Trainer commented that she definitely likes the look of them much better than my old boots, and she was very impressed that I was able to get my heels down already. Man I was forcing them down HARD, but the ankle fits super well and the leather is soft, so it wasn’t too terrible. I’ll save you the suspense and just tell you that these boots are amazing, comfortable enough that I wore them to turn Addy out and run errands after the barn, and nary a blister to be found. I’m in love.

Back to the riding. I skipped out on the no-stirrups part of our warmup because I’m a lazy asshole I didn’t want to push my hip too hard, but we got some nice WTC, extended and collected canters. Addy got a bit snorty and prancy when I asked for the collected canter, but gave me some great work.

We then warmed up trotting over a crossrail, which Addy launched over like it was 3′ tall. I focused on holding her straight and steady to the base, and she slowly realized that she has jumped this same jump roughly 817 times and it has never once changed height WHILE she was jumping it.

Then we moved on to a super cool gymnastic exercise with some cavaletti, set up as follows:

jul1_cavaletti

To start out with, we did ABC. Trot in over the cavaletti, bend left over the crossrail, then bend left over the last cavaletti and continue going left. It was set for a quiet 4-5 strides from A to B and a quiet 3-4 B to C.

So of course on our first trip through I did a raging 4ish from A to B and missed C completely because pshhh why would I steer with my leg??

The 4 from A to B was quieter on our second try, but Beastly leaped the crossrail super big again and that ate up our 3 strides to the cavaletti. We went through it once more to get the 4 and 3, and then took a breather. We also did it the other way and even managed to get 4 from C to B once, so I was quite happy that she was settling into our work a little better.

Addy was puffing pretty hard, and trainer remarked that my girth looked super tight. We loosened it a little and I took Addy for a walk to catch her breath while the other riders went through the exercise. Is Addy getting fat? I mean, Carol Dean-Porter did just call her “well-fed“….

Anywho, we caught our breath and came back in for the next exercise: ABC, down the diagonal D, halt in the corner if needed, then back down CBA, and up the diagonal at E to halt in the corner.

Addy had totally gotten the measure of this exercise and went through ABC beautifully, and then we got a really nice quiet pace to the base of D. I chose not to halt after this because she was being so soft and quiet through, so we cantered in CBA. She did rush a little through this, so I balanced up to get a quieter distance up to E and halted in the corner. I may have used the wall to help us halt, but why not use all the props you have?! Addy was very good about listening and waiting for the closer distance for me, I was very happy with it.

We ended by doing D-E-F-G to test how the gymnastic had helped our adjustability. We took a bit of a flyer to D but nothing terrible, I ended up legging up a little to a distance at E, and then came in quietly for a beautiful flowing 3 strides F-G. Fun fact: every other horse in the lesson did that in 4 strides. I came in quietly and half-halted, and that was a really nice quiet 3 for us. Beastly just eats up those lines! D’Arcy has a theory that because Pretty Girl jumps so powerfully, she lands further from the base and that eats up some of our line before we even take a stride. I think that makes sense.

I was very happy with how Addy listened and rocked back when I asked her to throughout this whole lesson- she wasn’t having a quiet and lazy day, but she still behaved like an absolute lady. She got a nice cool bath to get rid of some of the dirt, fly-sprayed all over, and turned out to play with her buddies all night. Where she promptly rolled and covered herself back up with dirt. I finally managed to get this on video though! I’ll post it on my Instagram so you can see this gigantic creature kicking her heels up.

I then insisted that D’Arcy document my #rootd for posterity because I thought I looked cool: new boots, burgundy Pipers, $5 tshirt from Target, and my beloved Pony Farm hat.

july_rootd
Boots half-unzipped because my calves like to breathe on occasion.

Getting pumped for this weekend- I’ve got a pool party and a Foo Fighters festival I’m going to, and it should be totally awesome. What are all y’alls 4th of July plans??

What’s your favorite way to use cavaletti? Do you have any favorite exercises to get your horses adjustable and listening?

PS- in case you haven’t wandered over yet, D’Arcy now has her own blog! She’ll be doing some lesson recaps as well (including yesterday’s), so you can totally call me out when we tell different versions of the same lesson. It should be pretty cool.