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.

Grids and Gallivanting

So much riding this week!

Sunday and Monday were homework days, and then Tuesday and Wednesday were both supposed to be lesson days (ended up just being Tuesday). Owner Lady is out of town this week and I’m leaving to visit home tonight, so Addy will get a nice rest for a few days.

In my homework rides I kept the focus on working hard, not working long. Some more trot poles, getting our sitting trot nice and powerful, and asking her to round to the bit a little more. Similar to last week, just reinforcing those lessons.

Tuesday’s lesson! There were just two of us in the ring (not my usual lesson buddy, but an adorable junior on her equally adorable greenie) so we got lots of attention. Plenty of no-stirrup work at the trot with big circles and lots of changes of rein. I was a little worried because the farrier had just been by and Addy’s left hind was slightly stocked up- which it does on occasion- but she didn’t take a single step wrong. Sturdy Girl is sturdy.

I focused really hard on pushing my inside leg to outside rein, and Addy responded by giving me that beautiful roundness and bend through her body. She’s started to build the muscles to carry herself in better balance, so I’m going to ask for that self-carriage more often. Her little nose sticking out is very cute, but I can get a much more sensitive response if I have her really tuned up on the bit. Also, medal classes.

Our canter work was nice and calm- I’ve started to have the tendency to collapse my right side a little no matter what direction I’m going, so I tried to sit up really straight and evenly. The consistent work lately meant that Pretty Pony was very happy to lope around and collect when asked. We even got some canter-trot transitions that weren’t super giraffe-like! She’s starting to realize that slowing down isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

For jumping, we did gymnastics again (yay!!). Started off with a little one-stride, then built it to a one-stride-one-stride, then added a bounce at the end. The second one-stride was a little short so we had to woah slightly through, but that’s nothing new for us. Addy was great about staying nice and straight through the whole thing, and staying straight to the end afterwards. We kept the jumps fairly low for the greenie, and my assignment was to work on keeping my shoulders straight and tall.

I did go through without stirrups again, and then my sneaky trainer set the oxer close to 3′ for the next time I went through. So now I can say I jumped 3′ without stirrups! Addy got lots of pats for taking care of me and staying between me and the ground.

addy_stretching
Then she got a nice bath and mooched a ton of treats. Such a sweet little mooch.

We had a great conversation about bits also, and I’ll share what she told me. I told her that our first course at shows usually requires a lot of leg as she’s peeking at the new jumps, but after that I lose my brakes. It doesn’t feel dangerous, but any adjustability goes right out the window. I can’t do a darn thing about her stride so it doesn’t even matter if I see a distance. We agreed that a harsher bit wasn’t the answer, because we don’t want her backing off the bit at all. Instead we’re going to try a couple different types of leverage bits. That way things can continue as usual until I need the extra strength, and then I can engage the second rein and get her attention. We’re also going to give the figure-8 bridle a try and see how that changes how she responds.

On to Wednesday! (Yes I am pretty tired from riding 4 days in a row. Addy is still going strong like the beast that she is.) Our barn is at the Loudoun Benefit Show at the Upperville show grounds all week, and yesterday ended up being super long for them. Instead of a lesson, D’Arcy and I took the girls out for a little trail ride around one of the bridle paths nearby.

Yes, I voluntarily went on a trail ride!

This was a really fun mental break for us to get out of the ring and mosey about. She’s been giving me such a good effort during the last few days and I don’t want her to get stale at all. We trotted and cantered a little bit, but it was mostly walked around on a loose rein and enjoyed the breeze. I asked her to round up a bit at the walk a couple times to keep her muscles engaged and she gave that to me very softly.

It was so funny, both of the mares really wanted to be in front. Addy is bigger than Gracie and naturally has a bigger step, so we tended to be walking faster, but then Gracie would come trotting up as if she was saying “wait for me!!” I’m glad that they’re horsey BFFs since it meant D’Arcy and I could ride right next to each other without worrying about the girls.

Sadly that was my last ride until next Wednesday. I’m flying home to RI tonight to go to my almost-sister’s bridal shower and bachelorette party, meet my beautiful niece, celebrate my brother’s birthday, and spend time with family. I’m ridiculously excited!

I’m hopefully going to finish up a post to share while I’m gone, but may be too distracted by pink fruity drinks and baby snuggles (not at the same time, obvi) to get that done. If that’s the case, I’ll touch base with you all next week! Hope you have an absolutely fantastic weekend!

What do you and your horse like to do for a mental break? Any thoughts on our bit experiments?

Bro Do You Even Gymnastic?

I love gymnastics. I seriously could not love them more. I want to do gymnastics all the time.

No seriously, think about it for a minute. If the striding is set up correctly, you only have to find one distance: to the first jump. After that, as long as you stay straight and keep your leg on (or in my case, leg on and half halt every 0.3 seconds), you’re set up for the rest of the exercise. And that lets you forget about steering, remembering courses, counting down to a distance, any of it.

You can just straight up work on your position. And get into all the oogly details. And I love that.

Let me take a step back to the start of our lesson. After finding a tick on Addy, removing a tick from Addy (aka someone else removing a tick from Addy because EW), and tacking up with lots of nose smooshes, we hopped on under a beautiful rainbow. We warmed up with some no-stirrup work, half-seat, transitions, etc. with lots of walk breaks to catch our breath in the heat. I think my no-stirrup work lately is starting to pay off- I still feel the burn, but I can manage a lot more than I used to.

We moved on to extended-collected canter transitions with a few canter-trot transitions thrown in there. Hello lovely giraffe, so nice to see you. Yes we are trotting, no we are not cantering, and yes I promise to let you know when that changes.

We also schooled walking a little bit. I know, sounds silly. But if I’m walking on a loose rein and start to gather them up, Addy will move off into a nice canter. For those of you who ride horses that require a lot of leg, this may sound awesome. And to an extent it is. But Addy reeeeally needs to learn how to walk on a contact instead of assuming she knows what’s going on. She got very wiggly and jiggy when I asked her to just walk, so that’s something I’m going to work on with her. Contact does not necessarily equal moving out. It equals listening to me.

And then it was jumping time! We had the choice of trying out a new course that Trainer set up or doing a gymnastic and I immediately called out “GYMNASTIC DEFINITELY” with an apologetic look back at my lesson buddy. She assured me that was totally cool with her.

So we trotted over a crossrail a couple times. Addy got a little crooked coming in- for some reason she was very look-y about everything yesterday. But we popped over it and then built it to a one-stride. It was a nice short one stride, so we had to package up and balance coming in. Addy ran through flat a couple times, so my focus was on getting her to the base so that she would jump up and around instead of just across.

Trainer then added a third jump that made it a one stride to a bounce. This was only the second time I’ve ever done bounces, but Beastly Unicorn said NBD. I practiced my auto release through there, which was weirdly hard. I seem to get more off balance over the smaller jumps even though I don’t have a problem with it over bigger jumps. I’m thinking that’s a sign that I need to work on my stability and rely less on Pretty Pony to keep my balance.

Then the last jump went up so that it was crossrail, one stride, vertical, bounce, crossrail, one stride, vertical. Woohoo! No joke, I literally “woohoo”-ed after going through that because GYMNASTICS ARE THE BEST EVARRRR.

Turns out you should never “woohoo” in front of your trainer during a lesson, because then she thinks you’re having too much fun and tells you to do it without stirrups. I asked her if she was joking because it sounded kinda like a joke, but she responded with, “If the exercise is too easy for you, then we have to make it harder. You’re not learning anything if it’s too easy.” Touche.

It wasn’t as much of a hot mess as I anticipated! The combination of no stirrups and auto release proved to be a bit too much for me- no feet AND no mane to grab?!- so I moved back to a crest release for this. That’s another homework point: work on half-seat with no stirrups to develop that leg and core strength so I can have truly independent hands.

After doing that a couple times, I made another mistake of telling Trainer that she has ruined my ability to judge fence heights by (1) lying like a dog about what height a jump is and (2) making me less scared so 3′ doesn’t look that big anymore. Seriously, she’ll tell me something is 2’9″ when it’s actually closer to 3’3″ (and she darn well knows it!). She took that to mean that the last jump was too low at 2’6″, so she bumped it up a couple holes and had me jump it sans-stirrups one more time.

nostirrups_vertical
I am the Queen of Crappy Screenshots. This is before we bumped that vertical up a couple holes.

You’re waiting for a disaster here but there wasn’t one. It felt pretty much the same, just a hair more hang time. Sorry to disappoint. It was pretty cool to know that I can hang on decently over a fairly substantial height though!

While I was working on no-stirrups and auto-releasing, my lesson buddy had a very interesting exercise. Trainer actually duct-taped her stirrups to her girth to force her leg into position. She told me she felt like a floppy fish out of water, but it actually looked great! My old trainer used to do that exercise with me to re-train my leg into place. If it doesn’t feel weird then it’s not making a change, right?

It’s often just the two of us in our lesson “group” and I absolutely love that. The two of us are pretty closely matched in terms of riding ability and what we’re brave enough to do (so far, everything they’ve asked), and our mounts are pretty similar in athletic ability. We get to do lots of fun and challenging exercises instead of waiting for another person to play catch-up, and we both get tons of personal attention to fix our individual problem-zones. It’s fantastic. 7pm-Wednesday-Lesson-Besties 4ever.

Even though Pretty Girl was blowing pretty hard and sweating a TON by the end, she had so much pep in her step and just wanted to keep going. Seriously, the work ethic in this mare is incredible! We walked around outside for a while to cool them off before a nice cold hosing and throwing them outside.

I’m SUPER super wicked excited for June, because my lesson buddy/show buddy/bestie is starting a partial-lease on the horse she rides in our lessons! Which just so happens to be Addy’s best friend- aka the only horse she doesn’t make ugly mare faces at. Addy loooves Gracie. I’m so ridiculously pumped to get to hack around and have fun with our ponies together! We’re totally starting the amateur-adult-half-leasing-please-can-we-do-the-jumpers club. It’s just us at the moment, but give it time.

I was about to say that I’m surprisingly not that sore, but I don’t want to eat my words when the muscle aches start later today. I will instead end this here: I am so extremely grateful for a trainer that cares about the little details and pushes us to get better, and I am so extremely grateful for a horse that gets just as excited to play around as I do.

PS- I posted a video of us going through the grid without stirrups on my Instagram page, so check it out if you haven’t seen it yet!

How do you feel about gymnastics? Any tips on improving stability without stirrups?

Mirror Images

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

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

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

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

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

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

march_grid_course_diagram

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

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

Things that went really well in this lesson:

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

What we need to work on:

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

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

PSA- FLATWORK IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING EVER.

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

Time to talk show prep.

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

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

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