Wordless Wednesday- Shadows

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Enjoying the sunny summer days with my gigantic Cookie Monster Lovebug Mare

PS- Work has really picked up lately, leading to some late nights and less free time. Hooray for promotions! But I pinky promise that I’ll be much more active once I’m over this hump. Missing all you lovely people, and can’t wait to catch up on all your recent adventures.

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Wordless Wednesday- Faces

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Y’all need more of our smiling faces in your Wednesday.

PS: Guys I’m on Twitter now and pretty confused about how it’s supposed to work. But if you want to see me fumble my way through a new social media channel, then find me @hellomylivia!

Wordless Wednesday- Mud Monster

mud_monster

I know, this looks super similar to last week’s post. We do live on these crossties.

But while my enthusiasm and yearning for spring knows no bounds, it is different when you’re responsible for a gray horse. Notice the mud stockings and mud neck adornment. It’ll be interesting when the blankets come off and she turns into a complete mud creature.

Lord give me strength.

PS- How cute is that face? I just want to squish her nose and give her kisses. Sweetest girl in the world.

Riding the Choo-Choo Train to Awesometown

Guys.

Hey, Guys.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Double Whammy

Brace yourself for a long post today, Dear Reader, because I had two lessons this week! Twice the sweat, twice the fun, twice the muscle aches, twice the word count!

Let’s start off with Tuesday’s lesson: pretty standard up until the very last minute. Addy was feeling extremely peppy on the flat because (a) I was pretty tired and gross on Monday so she didn’t get much exercise and (b) turnout has been sporadic due to the crappy weather. Lots of circles to get her listening and stop her careening around like a freight train. Once we were thoroughly warmed up on the flat and cantering in place (she was very happy to woah, just didn’t want to stop cantering. She was doing a three beat walk, it was as ridiculous as it sounds) we started going over some ground poles. She jumped them like they were 2’6″ a couple times, then realized that trotting over them like a normal pony would be fine. This was close enough to jumping that it settled her down- like I mentioned last week, she always quiets down to do her job when we start jumping even if she’s a snorty beast on the flat. We slowly built up the course and ended up with this:

february_twostride

Trot in an extended two-stride then collected two-stride, change direction over the green, same trot-in double two-stride on the other side, then another change of direction over the other middle jump. We kept the jumps quite low since we were focused on adjustability more than anything else.

This all went as expected- Addy wasn’t thrilled about the collected parts, but sat back and listened well. She liked the turns over the middle and we measured our striding correctly around the whole course. She was responsive and balanced and lovely. Hooray! At the very end of the lesson, things were going so well that I asked Trainer if I could give the 2-stride exercise a try with the jumps up.

Let this be a lesson to myself: if everything is going well, CALL IT A DAY.

Trainer did in fact put the jumps up REAL big (I swear it looked 3’6″ but I’ve been informed it was just barely 3′) and said to go for it! I trotted in quite happily, got the nice two stride to the second jump, desperately half-halted to get the collected two to the monster jump at the end, prepared for take-off, aaaaaand she ducked off to the left. We tried again, with my left leg pushing hard and all my body language saying “don’t go left!” She went left. And then did it again.

Wait, what?! My angel pony, ducking out of a jump and being lazy because she doesn’t like to collect? Doing something wrong?! Say it isn’t so!

At this point it was clear that I was just reinforcing bad habits, but I reverted to my weeny-mode and was scared to use my crop too much. In fact, this was the first time I’ve ever carried a crop with her and wasn’t quite sure what to do with it. Trainer lowered the last jump for us to drill through a few times, and then put it back up while we had the momentum. She had a rail on the left to funnel us in and was standing over there to encourage Addy to just jump the darn thing.

We jumped that thing so far over to the right I think we cleared the standard.

But we made it! It wasn’t pretty, but we made it over the jump! She got lots of pats and we celebrated that she jumped it even though she clearly didn’t want to.

It was not one of our finer moments. In fact, this was the most trouble I’ve ever had on her- the only times she’s ducked out in the past have been because I getting in her way or miscommunicating. This time she was ducking out simply because it was a little out of her comfort zone. Because of that this ended up being an extremely valuable lesson: she learned that she has to trust me to get her to the jump and then she has to follow through, and I learned that my seat is far more developed than I thought it was. I could’ve easily tumbled off the side at any of those duck-outs, but I was able to stay solidly in the tack and handle her shenanigans. I didn’t particularly want to handle those shenanigans, but I have the muscle tone to go with the muscle memory to do what I need to do now.

Moving on to Wednesday:

Manfriend came! He dutifully fulfilled his role as photographer/videographer extraordinaire, so definitely check out my Instagram (@hellomylivia) ’cause I’m gonna be posting some highlights.

We warmed up with a decent amount of no-stirrup work (hence the soreness) and Addy was marginally less peppy. Still not thrilled about downwards transitions, but she had fewer ants in her pants than Tuesday so it was more civilized. The jumps were set up in the same configuration as Wednesday, so after warming up over some ground poles we got to it.

Trainer put the back jump up again and no duck-outs this time! It wasn’t quite as high as Tuesday so it was a little less intimidating for both of us, and she was more familiar with the combination this time around. All in all, she was a rockstar!

As we were wrapping up the lesson, we did try a slightly different course: jumps 5-6-7, serpentine over 4 to 8, then hairpin off the rail back over 1-2-3. I’ll wait here while you check out the diagram again. This one went so well! We had gotten the hang of the awkward striding in the combinations, and she’ll turn on a dime so all of those went well. I’m finally learning to sit nice and deep in the tack around those turns so I can help her balance, and she’s responding by pushing off more with her hind end. Better riding leads to better effort from the horse, who knew?!

Sadly manfriend had stepped out of the ring for a moment so he didn’t catch that last course on video. I though briefly about trying it again for the camera, but I learned my lesson on Tuesday: when there’s nothing to fix, don’t try to fix it. She was such a good girl for the entire lesson- even if she did still do that weird canter-walk hybrid from time to time- so she got to be done and get her carrots.

My angel pony came back to me. Confidence is back up and I can’t wait to get back on ASAP! For now though, I’m going to take some Advil and try to figure out how on earth I got so sore.

PS- Here’s a little highlights clip I put together! The jumps were nice and low so we could focus on other things, but look at how big she jumps them! I’ll be posting some stills on my Instagram so you can see how she tucks up and jumps so cute even over the little crossrails. I would love to get constructive criticism, so fire away!

(Apologies for the vertical filming, I know that makes for an awkward YouTube video. I swear it looks really cool on my phone)

How do you correct your horse when they duck out like that? What exercises do you use on the flat to work on your canter adjustability?

Hand-Gallop to the Finish

There’s no place like WEF. There’s no place like WEF. There’s no place like WEF.

Did it work?

Nope, still freezing our butts off here in VA. Addy must’ve thought I was extra cuddly because I was desperately trying to share her body heat. Turns out that trotting around while trying to hug your horse’s neck is “poor equitation” and you need to “actually sit up in your saddle.” Buzzkills.

Anyways, it was another fantastic lesson. I know I say this every time, but we genuinely have a blast every time. Even when things don’t go as smoothly as I’d hoped, I always walk away feeling like we accomplished something and had fun. Hooray for fun pony!

We warmed up with pretty standard flatwork- there were four horses in the ring which required a little bit of power steering, but everyone was advanced enough that we avoided any collisions. A little two-point, a little no-stirrup work, and some practice with transitions within gaits (something we really need to work on).

One exercise that was a little different was a canter serpentine: three loops with simple changes in the middle of each loop to stay on the correct lead the entire time. This was great to get the horses supple and listening to cues for change of bend. Of course Addy, being her usual snowplow self, figured that we were cantering, we should stay cantering, counter-canter was just fine with her, simple changes are for losers. Those downwards transitions are always what get us. After a few tries she finally listened to my desperate half-halts and begrudgingly agreed to do her simple changes.

And then jumping! Are you guys ready for another sick diagram? Hope you are, ’cause you’re totally getting one.

I'm a very visual learner, these diagrams seem helpful. Imma keep doin' them.
Amanda over at The Poor Amateur’s Almanac is using awesome diagrams too, so there must be something to this.

So professional. What we had was a long approach to an outside vertical, then woah-ing to trot in the crossrail and out the bending line in a forward three, stay left over the coop, hard left over the pink vertical, then circle around to roll back over the yellow planks.

While this looks like a pretty simple course, it had a couple changes of pace that made it tricky. The long approach to the vertical made it easy to build up steam, but then the short end comes up quickly along with the trot jump. Lots of leg upon landing to make the forward three, then balancing through the turns to the coop and the pink vertical. Then the horse thinks they’re done, so leg on and balance through the roll back to the yellow plank which comes up very quickly off that turn.

This course was so much fun because despite a couple of tight turns, it really invited a big open stride. I mentioned last week that we both feel more comfortable with a bigger stride, and that was definitely the case over this course. Distances came up better, I felt more balanced, and I was better able to stay with her motion even when we got a bit long. It’s definitely a pattern from last week- my automatic release was so much easier when we’re carrying that pace.

While she’s willing to collect and get more bouncy when I ask, big open strides are definitely Addy’s happy place. She feels more responsive when we’ve got a bit of speed going and I can feel her being super careful over the jumps. I know that we’re going to need to practice collecting to get more comfortable with those shorter strides, but this was a nice change of pace (pun absolutely intended).

We talked about the possibility of doing a jumper class in the spring (which is one of my New Year’s Resolutions, so booyah!) and confirmed that once that first show is under our belt we can move up to 3′. Trainer assigned our homework for the week: take our work on transitions to the next level. Shorten stride, lengthen stride, hand-gallop to halt, collected canter to extended trot, anything that will pose a challenge and get her attention, with a hard focus on getting our canter stride more adjustable. Addy and I may be very happy with a big stride, but there will inevitably be a turn or a test that requires a little more finesse.

Also some fantastic news- Owner Lady is out of town all next week, so Addy is all mine for a solid 9 days! Manfriend sure will be (not) surprised when I’m there 6 days out of 7. I’m not that much of a cruel taskmistress, she does get at least one day off.

There you have it- we got to gallop around and jump big, and the two of us once again had the most fun of anyone in the ring.

Not to mention she's the cutest creature on the planet!
Not to mention she’s the cutest creature on the planet!

Any tips for working on adjustability within the canter? How about our downwards transitions? What helps reinforce your half-halt?

The gift of confidence

I have a confession to make. I, Olivia, was a total weenie.

I cried my way through horse shows, refused to jump anything higher than 2’6″ because I was convinced my (incredibly well-trained and quiet) horse might spook at it, and generally was the most frustrating client ever. My poor trainer.

When I started up lessons again, I planned on taking things very slowly- I would maybe trot a little in my first lesson, work our way up to cantering a few weeks later, and then a couple months down the road we could maybe tackle a crossrail. After all, I knew what a weenie I was.

But somehow, I jumped a full 2’6″ course in that first lesson. And in the lessons since, I’ve been asking my new trainer to put the jumps higher. I’ve been asking if I can try that course again. My pulse has been racing not because I’m terrified, but because I’m so excited to challenge myself.

3’3″ oxer? Bring it on! Rollback to a rolltop? Sounds like a party!

What on earth has changed? I have a few theories.

  1. Mom and Dad aren’t paying for this anymore. I’m a fairly practical person, and we all know that this sport don’t come cheap. It’s hard to justify taking time out of my lesson to be scared when I can see my bank account draining. Cynical? Maybe. True? Definitely.
  2. I’m a grown-up now (what?!). I have a lot more sympathy for my trainer now than I did when I was a kid, simply because I understand more how much hard work she puts into teaching. I shouldn’t expect her to be my therapist as well as my riding instructor.
  3. The pressure is off. I’m planning on showing soon, but I’m not worried about chasing points, or qualifying for a medal, or winning. I’m doing this because despite my weenie-ness this has always been my passion, and I’d rather be at the barn than any other place on earth.
  4. I trust myself more. I know how to sit a buck and control a galloping horse. At some point I will not, and I will fall off, and that will be OK. But I have the tools and the technique to handle a lot. I’ve learned to trust those skills to carry me through a ride safely.

I think all of these play a part, but there’s always that X-factor that I’ve never been able to articulate to my non-horsey friends. How do you explain that feeling when you and your horse just “click” and you can fly around that course? How do you describe the smell of snuffly nose kisses? Whatever that X-factor is, it is something that I need. And no matter why or how or where this confidence came from, I’m just glad to be back in the saddle.

Now, let’s see how high Addy and I can go…

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On the subject of focus

Yesterday was a busy day at the barn. And I say that as an understatement. We were joined in the ring by two other horses, and then a third on a longe line down one end. No big deal, the three of us that were mounted could share the other end of the ring without too many near-collisions.

But then people started opening and closing the doors to the arena, the wind started rattling things, wheelbarrows were bumping by, a couple dogs ducked in and out of the ring, the horse on the longe line was plunging and rearing, and one of the horses being ridden took off on his rider. In short, it was chaos.

So I sank a little deeper in my heels, sat deeper in my saddle, took a firm contact, and prepared for the inevitable spook. Backwards, forwards, or sideways, I was ready for whatever Addy threw at me.

She didn’t even blink.

Oh sure, she flicked an ear at the horse taking off when he got a little too close, and she definitely took a good look at the wheelbarrows going by (those could have hay, you know), but she re-focused immediately and did her job like a champ. And while that was awesome in a “my horse takes such good care of me” kind of way, it was also the perfect way to start the week.

It was a reminder that no matter what distractions are going on, you can always choose to focus on your task. There’s no need to ignore what’s going on around you, but neither do you need to react to everything.

So, my goal for this week is to be like Addy- calm, focused, and ready to do what I need to do with a smile.

What lessons have you learned from your horse lately?

The Majestic Steed

No self-respecting horse girl can not talk about her horse, so here’s my beautiful girl Addy.

Who can resist this face?!
Who can resist this face?!

While I wish I owned this magnificent creature, I’m half-leasing her from a totally awesome woman at my barn, and together we keep her working hard and full of carrots. The stars definitely aligned on this one: I rode Addy in a lesson, jokingly asked if she was up for lease, and my trainer talked to her owner and made it happen. Owner was looking for someone to spend time with Addy when she couldn’t get to the barn, and I was looking for a mount to learn on. Such a win-win situation.

The specs: she is a 10 year old, 16.2 Thoroughbred-Percheron cross who definitely leans more towards the Percheron side. I’ve always been a warmblood gal, and I like to say she’s an “original” warmblood.

While she may be massive, she’ll jump anything at any height with the cutest tucked knees, and she absolutely loves her job. For someone just getting back into the swing of things she’s the perfect teacher and confidence boost!

Some things we’re working on:

  • Not turning into a snowplow. Addy’s draft horse heritage means she has practically no neck, so she really tends to get super heavy on the forehand and plow around. We’re working on maintaining impulsion and getting more uphill, and she’s getting better every day.
  • Fitting the extra stride in. Addy will go for the long spot. Every. Single. Time. I’ll be casually sitting there 2 strides out, and she’ll decide that’s a good place to take off. With practice, she’s trusting me to get her to the base before launch. This means her already tucked knees are getting even more and more square and tucked. Adorbs.
  • Balance. Every horse has their sticky side, and Addy is no different. She will turn on a dime and leg yield for days, but doing circles to the right sometimes feels like tilt-a-whirl. Lots and lots of flatwork, bending exercises, and lateral work have made this a thousand times better, but there’s still a ways to go.

Some things that we’re fantastic at (thanks to her!):

  • Pace. Granted it’s a fast pace, but I never worry about her being sluggish and behind my leg, and she always sits back and woahs when I ask her to. I’ll never get stronger legs with her, since she requires such light aids. I’ve never even carried a crop!
  • Working on the bit. Once I had ridden her a few times I decided to ask her to drop into a frame, and it was like she was waiting for me to ask. That big beautiful Percheron neck looks awful purty all arched up like that. She’ll collect and balance with the best of them when she’s working like this.
  • Having the best time of anyone in the ring. Every single time I’ve ridden this horse I’ve had the biggest smile on my face. We “woohoo!” over every course, and snort through every hack. She loves her job and it makes riding her so much fun every single time.

So, now you know a little bit about my girl and what we’re up to currently! Together we’re learning and getting in shape and having a blast doing it. I could talk about her for ages, but I’ll have to save the rest for future posts 😉