Pretty Girl Photo Dump

The promised photos! All taken by an extremely talented junior at our barn- you should totally check out her Instagram @hgielloh, she posts awesome pics of her and her hunky gelding doing the big eq and super cool shows.

I know I should do what Lauren at She Moved to Texas does and use these photos in my blog posts….but I have absolutely no self control and must share them with you all at once.

loose_rein_walking
face wut
breeches_and_boots
oh wow such majestic
outdoor_rail_trotting
looking really not pleased about the whole “no-stirrup” thing
posting_rail
cute trot!
addy_trotting
are pics when you’re in the “up” of your positing trot always awkward, or is it just me?
sunset_rear
continued majesty.
draft_halfseat
holy crap she’s massive
draft_addy
seriously what a beefcake
cannter_circle_lean
oh wow leg looking SUPER effective here
canter_circle
gonna go sit on my horse couch for a little bit
addyface_side
ohmygosh her face is the cutest little pony face!!!!
addyface_front
just look at it!
canter_turning
by my expression, it seems that someone just told me that my mother died. y u in such pain, self?
canter_nostirrups
human derping at no stirrups. horse super photogenic.
rail_trotting
Pretty Girl being super Pretty.
outdoor_vertical_2
those floppy donkey ears!
outdoor_vertical_1
another sweet flop. lawlz elbowz.
loose_rein
taking a breather to admire how cute and relaxed and easy this pony is
dragon_swedish
LOLOLOLOL DRAGONMARE IS HERE HANG ON FOR DEAR LIFE

Talented photog had to run at this point, but I promise it got better from there. Read my lesson recap if you don’t believe me.

Hope you enjoyed seeing more of the majestic unicorn that is the DragonMare!

Who Are You and What Have You Done with My Pony

Hi guys! I pinky promise, my training is over at the end of this week and then I can return to my regularly scheduled programming of commenting “woohoo!” on all of your posts. Rest assured that I’m sending you mental “woohoo’s” at this very moment.

So I had a crazy horse lady moment at work yesterday- someone mentioned that sneakers can get expensive, over $100 and I basically had a stroke. How can people pay that much for shoes just to run in?!?! Says the girl eying the $800 field boots. Oops.

Anywho, on to the lesson! Due to the dust, we warmed up in the indoor arena last night. I don’t mind that- we had all the doors open so there was a nice crossbreeze, and Addy seems to be more comfortable on the footing in there. Some minor work without stirrups (D’arcy, if you’re reading this please know that if you start up a conversation with Trainer while we’re posting without stirrups again, I will burst into tears) and a bunch of circles and serpentines to get us loosened up and moving.

Onwards to the canter. And Addy was soft, and balanced, and responsive, and downright slow. What?! DragonMare loping around on a soft rein?? No need to constantly half-halt?? Collecting with little effort even after a lengthening?? It was so civilized!! She hadn’t been ridden since the show, so I’m not sure if it was the mini-vacation or the almost 24-hour turnout she’s been getting lately, but she was one happy camper. Whatever the reason is, she was an absolute pleasure to ride. We still giraffe-d around during our canter-trot transitions, but there was much less wrestling going on. Love it! I couldn’t believe this was the same sassy elephant that dragged me around the show ring on Saturday.

On to the jumping. Stick with me folks, because this one is a little confusing. We changed up our courses a couple times and approached almost every fence from both sides and I was at a bit of a loss on how best to label. I’ll do my best to explain as we go along.

april_rollbacks

First thing we warmed up over g-f: trotting in to the gray vertical slightly broken to the stone wall. Instead of galloping to try 3, Addy was very happy to sit and wait for the 4! I made sure to release very generously so she would know how happy I was about her softness.

Once we did that a couple times to get ourselves nice and straight on the approach, we built up our first course: c-B-A-C-D. Long approach up to the yellow plank, over the black vertical on the wall, then come back to trot during the rollback over the green rolltop, then the diagonal line in 3 strides.

This was tricky! The long approach was pretty comfortable since we sliced in between jumps D and F, but then we wanted to get a nice balanced distance to B. Then it was a bit of a struggle to come back to a trot over the rolltop, and we had to leg up out of the corner to approach the line, then half halt to fit the comfortable 3 in. We ended up doing the diagonal line again since we picked up a bit too much steam and I half-halted much too weakly in the middle. Then I tried just B-A again so I could get a more powerful packaged canter to the vertical and watch my track around to the rolltop.

Next course! C-D-F-c-a-b. I’m pretty sure I’m forgetting at least one fence at the beginning of this course or mixing something up here, but whatever. I could be making this whole thing up, there’s no video evidence to prove me wrong. Cue evil laugh.

So the comfortable diagonal line in three, then we had to balance hard around the turn to the stone wall. We ended up slicing this a bit so we could get a nice straight track to the yellow plank instead of bending out- it was tight and we had to woah pretty hard to fit in the strides, but I liked the more direct track for us. Then around the corner to the rolltop, but instead of going into the corner we turned almost down the center-line for the approach. Opening rein to roll back over the black vertical on the wall.

Yeah, we had to try that rollback again. I held way too much inside rein and inside leg, and we got the weirdest approach to that black- almost trotting on the approach because she was so confused about where we were heading. I wasn’t prepared for her to turn so tightly so we basically jumped into the wall. On our next try I held a much stronger outside leg and outside rein to keep her straight through the turn, and legged up HARD when we approached the vertical so she would have the power to hop over it.

Next course! E-D-F-G-C-D. Surprisingly good. Up the red outside vertical, rollback over the pink vertical, then canter in to the stone wall and trot out the gray vertical, ending on the diagonal line.

A couple odd questions here: tight rollback turn and then a canter-in-trot-out line! I was really happy with that rollback, she listened really well to where I placed her on that track. Then I sat up and packaged her up really hard so we had a teeny-tiny bouncy canter going into the line. When we landed, I sat down and asked for the trot, and Addy was so super confused. Trotting in the middle of a line?! There’s something in between cantering and halting??! She was not planning on jumping the vertical out since she thought I was asking her to stop, but I managed to keep a strong leg on and boot her off the ground. Then leg up around the corner and balance down the diagonal line, which rode the same.

Such a fun lesson!! Most of the jumps stayed pretty small, but jumps B D and E were probably around 2’9″ish. The entire time, Addy stayed soft and responsive and listened so well to my leg- I think doing these more technical courses gives her something to pay attention to. Those hunter courses are just boring to her 😉 There were only three of us in the lesson including Assistant Trainer and my lesson/show-buddy, so I felt like we were able to really dig in and work hard on what we need to fix. My auto release came in super handy around these tight rollbacks- I was able to open my inside hand while we were still in the air so we could land already turning. I’m glad that I’m finally holding my leg and core more tightly so I have more options on “talking” to Addy during our rides. I’m hoping that if I can stay soft and relaxed, Pretty Girl will give me rides like this all the time!

I also wore my awesome rust-ish breeches, so those look super cool. I’ve got a breeches review coming up once things slow down a bit, so stay tuned for that!

darcy_smiling
Post-lesson sweaty smiles

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go squeal over pictures of my niece. She gets more and more perfect every day.

In Which We Become an Eq Team

Another awesome lesson in the books! And even better, we were able to warm up outside.

I scooted over to the barn after work and had quite a bit of time to kill, so I obviously spent that time pestering Trainer about our next show. I’m an addict. Gotta scratch the itch. I had found one in the area on the 25th (same location as our last show), but we have a junior who needs to qualify for the Children’s Medal, so we needed to find a show that offered the eq.

As an eq-lover, I immediately found a show on the 26th down the road. Aaaand they also have a 3′ Adult Medal! Apparently those classes rarely fill around here because no one cares about the eq (I live smack in the middle of Hunterland), so we’re solving that by bringing 3 adults. We’ll fill our own goshdarn classes. Goshdarnit. So if you’re in the area and want to come say hi at the Elmington Farm show out in Berryville on Sunday the 26th, we’ll be there with bright smiling faces!

I also got a special package from my awesomest ever lesson buddy; the Dover near us had a tent sale last week and I was out of town, so she was my enabler and texted me pics of everything. I am now the proud owner of 3 bottles of QuicSilver (can never have too much, amiright?) and a gorgeous pair of “Clay” TS breeches. They’re like a soft burnt orange and SO pretty. I may have also ordered a monogrammed saddle pad…they were so cheap I couldn’t resist! I got it in white with hunter green piping and a hunter green monogram, I can’t wait to try it on Pretty Girl.

All this before I even stepped in the barn!

Miss Addy was a delight to tack up as usual, and we hopped on in the outside ring. The last two times I’ve ridden out here Addy seemed a little short-stepped and this ride was no exception- the footing is quite different from the indoor and not as deep. She opened up just fine once she realized that the ground wasn’t going to hurt her tootsies. She’s been getting a ton of extra turnout lately and I could tell! Our canter-trot transitions were actually canter-trot transitions, with very little giraffing around. She was still quite peppy but also seemed more in tune with my aids, which is always a pleasure to ride.

Then we headed inside to jump! Side note- in a bizarre twist, our indoor is actually bigger than our outdoor, so we jump inside year-round. There are a couple jumps set up in the outdoor but there’s not enough room for a full course unless it’s 18″-2′. Side note over.

april_15_course

We warmed up over the crossrail (A) a couple times in both directions, then added the long approach up to B. We then built up the course to be: B-C-D-E-F-G. Short and sweet, but full of long approaches and a quarter line. Ouch.

The long approach to B was comfortable since we hadn’t built up full steam. Coming down towards home over the stone wall at C was a little more difficult since we were rolling by that point. I focused on swinging our path out a bit to the right so we could jump it at a slight angle right to left. This got us nice and deep in the corner so we could make the tight turn up the quarter line- even with Trainer’s warning we swung wide up the quarter line the first time through. The quarter line was a comfortable three with a little bit of a woah, and then the long approach down to the skinny green oxer. She did peek at that one a bit so I kept my leg on and kept her straight and we got a good distance right to the base. Then it was leg up the long approach to the red vertical.

After seeing my video last week I decided to focus really hard on sitting up straight to the jumps and getting rid of what Trainer calls “the Virginia Hunter Lean.” She explained to me that we go so much better when I sit deep and drive Addy to the base instead of “allowing” her up to it. She will absolutely carry me over no matter what, but when I sit and drive we get much more comfortable distances and are crazy-adjustable. She was absolutely right- I sat up straight and sat deep, and was actually able to have a much softer ride with Addy. I’ve always had the idea that if I stay light on  her back then I can soften with my hands, but it’s totally the opposite. Once I sat down and sat up, she lightened on her forehand, was more responsive to my leg, and didn’t hang on the bit. It was awesome!

Trainer also had us counter-bend around the corners, which made a super huge difference in our tracks. She told us to watch any show-jumping pair: they’re not bending through those rollbacks. They’re doing something that looks more like a turn on the haunches because they’re counter-bending through those tight turns. This was something else that clicked immediately with Addy! I stopped trying to curve her around my leg in the tight corners, and instead focused on keeping her very light on the forehand and straight in her body. She was much more balanced through the turns and it was a way more comfortable ride- no more digging out of corners.

To finish out, Trainer put the quarter line up to 2’9″-3’ish and had me do C-D-E-b-rollback out. Since I’m hoping to do the eq medal she wanted me to practice some of these tight turns.

So another long approach towards home to the stone wall which was very comfortable, then counter-bend around the corner up the quarter line (which was really fun with the jumps up!), and then collect and balance to the other stone wall, then rollback left to the rail and out.

I wish someone had gotten this rollback on video, because it felt perfect. Because I kept her nice and straight through the corner approach and was sitting deep, we pitter-pattered right to the jump so quietly! Seriously, I think that might have been the most energetic collected bouncy canter I’ve ever gotten out of her. We jumped it a little over to the left which wasn’t ideal, but since we were so balanced coming in, the rollback was very easy. Again, we counter-bent through that and behold: no bulging out.

This was a relaxed lesson and the jumps stayed pretty low for most of it, but we don’t need to jump 3′ every single time. I learned so much about how to get the best ride possible out of Addy! It’s like a little recipe:

  • Sit deep and straight in the saddle
  • Add leg
  • Counter bend through the turns
  • Release generously with hands
  • Voila! You have a soft, adjustable, fancy pony!

I’m out of town again this weekend so I won’t be riding again until Monday, but I can’t wait to get back on and play around some more with my girl.

Does your horse prefer that you get off their back, or do they like you to sit deep and drive? What are your thoughts on using counter-bend like this?

What Does Trainer Say?

Recently I had a lengthy discussion with my trainer about horse care, and I was so happy to hear that we have very similar philosophies on how to keep horses happy and healthy. She also had some new perspectives for me, so here’s the rundown on what we talked about:

  • Memory foam saddle pads- Not a huge fan. She made an interesting point that when the rider is posting or landing from jumping, the foam doesn’t spring back that quickly, so it’s not truly absorbing much shock. She’s a big fan of the classic sheepskin pads, because those move with the horse and are more breathable. I’ve been lusting after an Ogilvy pad, but now I’m going to consider it more. Readers with a memory foam pad- I’d love to hear your perspective on this!
  • Turnout- horses need it. End of story. She talked about how she worked in a professional dressage barn for a while after college, and one top mare received absolutely no turnout because it would throw out her back. Read that: this horse was stalled indefinitely because they thought any movement not under saddle would hurt her, and they couldn’t risk her career. Horses are made to wander and move around all day, not stand and wait for their rider! I feel so very strongly about this. It’s one thing to stall your horse when injured to keep them from getting hurt further, but horses are simply not made to stand still all day. The more outside time, the better. Addy is a case in point: when she had very limited turnout, she was a devil pony. Now she is so level-headed. I attribute that almost entirely to increased turnout.
  • Bits- better a softer hand with a stronger bit than a heavy hand with a gentler bit. Even the mildest bit can deaden a horse’s mouth if it’s being pulled on non-stop. If the horse is not responding to the simple snaffle, try a french link. If they’re heavy on the french link, try a slow twist. My trainer’s philosophy is this: if the rider has independent hands and can be trusted to release more once the bit is changed, that’s probably the right way to go. That’s why we moved up to a slow-twist with Addy recently- I’m able to be lighter with my hands than I was with the french-link and she respects my aids more. If the rider is still going to cling to the mouth, do not make the bit harsher. It has to be a conversation.
  • Regular saddle pads- probably not causing your horse to go lame/move better. This may be a little controversial; I’ve read quite a few product reviews by fellow bloggers that feel very strongly that certain pads make their horse feel better, and I don’t want to step on any toes. Maybe I just haven’t found that magic pad yet. But I use different pads all the time with Addy, and it had never affected how she goes. Whether or not she had turnout that day, how cold it is, how hard the footing is, how floppy-potato I am, all these things definitely make a big difference. But swapping out one all-purpose pad for another hasn’t done a goshdarn thing. Trainer is in agreement- equipment absolutely changes how a horse moves, but it’s not at the top of the list of factors she checks for. The first is always the rider.
  • Showing up for work- we actually chatted about this for quite a long time, because it’s so nuanced. If a horse really hates his job, then it’s probably not the right fit. Addy loves jumping, so we jump. Some horses hate jumping, so they don’t. There’s always the give and take to figure out what a horse’s “calling” is- the discipline that allows them to shine and be happy in their work. But there are always going to moments/days/stretches when a horse does not want to do their job (humans have those moments. Dogs have those moments. Every creature has those moments where they say “won’t.”). Or they want to do their job, but they want to do it their own way instead of listening. Case example: Addy loves jumping. Addy occasionally ducks out of jumps that she finds scary. In these cases, it’s my job to give her support and encouragement that the jump won’t eat her, but in the end she is going over that jump whether she wants to or not. She knows her job quite well; she needs to show up and do it. This is a rather rambling bullet, but here’s the TL;DR version: the horse needs to like their job overall, but the rider needs to push the horse through those off days.
  • Expectations- horses will generally feed back to you what you expect. Whether that’s expecting and enforcing personal space on the ground or expecting a spook in the scary dark corner. By anticipating a spook, the horse senses that there’s something to be scared about. By not enforcing boundaries on the ground, the horse knows he can get away with being pushy. While not always the case, if we expect better from our horses then we often receive it.

Readers, please share your perspectives on any and all of these topics! We all have different approaches to horsemanship and I’d love to hear yours!

No Big Deal

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

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

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

april_hunter_course

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

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

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

Down the outside single.

rear_outside_vertical
Very civilized to start.

Up the outside line.

hunter_duck
LAWLZ HUNTER DUCK
side_oxer
Flowy oxer out. Release 4 dayz.

Down the diagonal oxer.

rear_diagonal_oxer
She hit the rails on this once. Never again.

Up the outside vertical.

front_outside_vertical
RAWR DRAGON PONY ATTACK

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

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

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

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

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

So my homework:

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

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

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

Just Roll with It

The horse show bug has bitten me, hard. So much so that when my trainer asked if I was interested in joining for a local show on Sunday, I only hesitated long enough to get the thumbs-up from Owner Lady before enthusiastically saying yes!

The plan is to do the 2’9″ Benefit Hunter division as our warmup (apparently 2’9″ is the magical “benefit” height around here), and then do the 3′ Working Hunters! Just two weeks ago, 2’9″ was the highest I’d ever jumped at a show, and now it’s going to be my warmup (internal squeal). I know that 3′ is still baby stuff for Addy, but I’m definitely nervous-excited to finally get to show at that height. It’ll be one step closer to our goals! If someone had told me in September that I’d be gearing up to show at 3′ in March, I wouldn’t have believed them. #blessed

But because of the fairly late notice (I got the text asking about the show Wednesday afternoon), it means that I have no prep time. I had already packed my show breeches and tall boots to lesson in, so I tried to keep those as clean as possible (no dice, I still have to do laundry). Owner Lady is lessoning on Saturday, so she’ll get nice and schooled then. We’re not worrying about bathtime this time- they can judge me for poop stains when they have their own gray to keep clean (insert disgruntled muttering here).

Anyways, I keep telling myself to just roll with it, and not to get all crazy about getting ready for such a small local show (EVEN THOUGH IT’S OUTSIDE AND ADDY HASN’T DONE AN OUTSIDE SHOW AND OH GOD WE’RE GOING TO DIE AND MY TACK IS SO DIRTY). It’s a work in progress.

On to my lesson. You may remember that last week Addy was a little off behind, so she’s been in very light work this week- she’s still a little stocked up but it doesn’t seem to be tender. I had Trainer watch us move for a while and Pretty Girl seemed to be 100% sound, so we decided to keep an eye on it throughout the lesson and pay attention to what she was telling us.

We were worried for nothing, Miss Priss was absolutely fine. My prancing pony was very happy to have serious work to do. Our flatwork focused on getting the horses nice and stretchy with big circles, lots of changes in direction, no-stirrup work, and canter-trot transitions. I’m learning that I absolutely can not be gentle with those transitions, because she will blow right through them back up to canter. This is not a balance or pain issue, this is her wanting to run around and be freeeeee. So those half-halts getting her to slow down are much more assertive than in the past, and we’re slowly transforming from a giraffe back into a horse.

Then our favorite part: jumping! I’ve labelled with letters instead of numbers because we switched the course up a couple times and I’d like to share the good ones with you.

march_hunter_course
“Home” is right. “Away” is left.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “Olivia, that looks like a simple hunter course. That’s not the usual for you guys.” And you’d be absolutely right! Compared to twisty turny courses of lessons past, this was very straightforward (my lesson buddy and I joked that for once we weren’t scared of flying off the side around turns!). This was a chance to practice going as a hunter.

We warmed up over A as a small trot jump going both away and home, and once we had done that a couple times, we added the diagonal line (B-C). Nothing to report here except that our trot jumps are getting much straighter and more civilized- even though we had a long way to the end of the ring after A, we managed to stay nice and straight before bending through the turn.

Our next exercise was quite interesting: H-F. We trotted over H, bent left around G to jump the stone wall towards home. I had to remember to hold my outside leg hard so she didn’t bulge out here.

Then for our first hunter trip at 2’6″ish: A-B-C-F-E-D. So that’s away on the red outside, down the diagonal line in three, up the stone wall, then down the outside line in three. This was the course that really drove it home to me: I need to keep my leg on. When I forgot to keep my leg on, we missed our distances. When I remembered to keep a strong supportive leg, we got them. There was a 100% correlation here! If Addy feels that strong support, she’s very willing to sit back and let me find the distance for her, but if I don’t then she doesn’t have any confidence in me. No confidence in me = pony taking a flier or chipping in. Both of the lines were three strides, but the outside was just a hair tighter and we didn’t box up enough for it- because I didn’t hold enough leg.

Then we put the jumps up! Our next trip was a very similar hunter course: A-B-C-D-E-F. Away on the red, down the diagonal in three, up the outside line in three, then home over the stone wall.

Oh. Em. Gee. That course felt like butter. I focused hard on (a) keeping my leg ON and (b) releasing generously over the fences. We nailed our spot to A and flowed over, then legged up out of the corner to get a good spot heading into the diagonal line. We sat back a little to fit the three in nicely, and she literally hit herself in the jaw jumping over the pink oxer out. No joke. She jumped that so hard she smacked herself (all the horses jumped that oxer super huge, it was adorable). Coming around the turn to the outside line, you can bet I giddy-upped to that. This was the short approach out of the corner that gave us such headaches last time we tried it- she ducked out a bunch until I could finally get her over it. I was not about to let that happen this time, so I pressed hard to keep her straight and she jumped right in! In this direction the three was a little more of a push, but of course Addy always opens up. We stayed nice and straight and kept my outside leg through the approach down to the stone wall, and finished out.

This was when my trainer informed me that the jumps were, in fact, set to 3′. Wait, whaaaat? I just jumped a 3′ course without freaking out and we did it without meeting distaster? I’m still absolutely giddy about this! This was the confidence boost I needed to feel completely ready for the show on Sunday- we got this!

Like a paranoid horse mom I felt her legs all over for any sign of injury after hopping off, but it looks like moving around did the trick because any swelling was gone. No heat in her legs and no ouchy spots, even after poking and prodding hard. Which is about as expected, because she didn’t take a single tender step the entire lesson, but you guys know how it is. You hafta check to be sure.

I’ve got a happy sound horse and we are going to absolutely nail it on Sunday. Wish us luck! I’ll come back with a full report on how it goes.

PS- Sorry about the lack of pictures 😦 Sadly manfriend is not always able to come and be my photographer. If you’d like to get your horse-pic fix, find me on Instagram @hellomylivia! I post pics of Addy there almost every day, and they’re super cute. I’m biased. But seriously she’s the cutest horse to ever exist. In the world. Ever.

Any tips for showing at 3′? Any big differences once the height goes up? Any more horse show advice in general? I absolutely loved your tips last time!

Ground Manners

I’ve talked a ton about Addy and our journey together under saddle. It’s by no means linear improvement, but we’ve been working hard to click together and achieve our goals. She can be a little complicated at times but she throws her whole heart into it, and our training journey has been fun every single step of the way.

But training under saddle is only part of it. A horse that goes beautifully under saddle is useless if he’s unsafe to handle on the ground! Lot’s of you fellow bloggers out there have discussed groundwork, and I’m going to chime in here.

I’m not going to mention Addy in the rest of this post for one simple reason: she has absolutely perfect ground manners. Seriously, I’ve never met a horse who so completely epitomizes the phrase “no vices.” She even keeps her ears pricked up and gives kisses as I’m tightening the girth. Who does that?!

So she came pre-trained on groundwork. Lucky lucky me- she’s a total puppy dog on the ground and I would trust a 4-year-old with her without hesitation. Gentle giant.

You know who did not come pre-trained? My boy Star. Here’s our story:

My trainer at the time brought him to the barn for every client of his to try- he absolutely loved this horse and wanted him in his barn SO badly. I, however, did not go near him. I had my 20-year-old free-lease that I was doing the short stirrup on, and Star was a big medal horse. No need for that. He also tried to bite me while I was blanketing him one day, three girls fell off him in one week, and he needed a chain over his nose to go outside for turnout. I was terrified of him.

Flash forward a few months- I had won a Short Stirrup finals and realized it was time to move up. My parents had realized how serious I was about riding and agreed that we would look at horses to potentially buy so I could keep progressing.

Of course, the first horse I tried was the horse my trainer wanted all along: Star. My stomach dropped when he revealed that I’d be trying him that day. But once I was on we clicked PERFECTLY. I hopped on one other horse briefly, but hopped right back off. Star was my boy and I had to have him. Riding him just made sense to me.

So we took him home for a trial. He was a bit snotty, but we chalked that up to limited turnout and the stress of a new barn. He even got loose as my mom was signing the sale papers. He just went sailing right past her as his previous owner snickered and said, “he’s yours now.”

An auspicious start.

We did go on to do the mini-medals and win all over the place. On good days it felt like we were one creature. He was my best friend in the whole entire world, certainly more so than the teenagers I went to high school with. I also fell off him more times than I can count, but goshdarnit I learned how to sit deep in the saddle. That type of shenanigan hasn’t been able to unseat me since.

But like I said before: he did not come with nice ground manners. He did not lead well, he bit often, and was- as my Dad likes to say- a juvenile delinquent. He wasn’t gelded ’til he was 4, so he also had a studdish love for the ladies. Such a handsome flirt.

Pair up a 16.2 studdish beefcake of a horse with a 110 lb scrawny 13-year-old, and you’re going to run into trouble. At least, at first.

I made it my mission to make this horse LOVE me as much as I loved him, but I knew that for a horse respect needed to come first.

So we started with the biting. Those bruises were getting real old. So every single time he bit, he got bit. Right on his soft pink nose. With teeth. Hard. Call me a weirdo all you want, but he stopped biting within the week and the behavior never came back. He would nip at clothes when he wanted scratches, but would be so so so careful not to get skin.

Then we worked on leading. We kept the chain over his nose, and we spiraled. Every time he wanted to trot, we did the tiniest possible circle. Because he always wanted to trot, we always circled- our tracks were one long spiral. But he figured out that he was supposed to walk, and later would actually turn himself in a circle on occasion.

We tackled each one of his vices like that, and by the end of my time with him we had the sweetest moose who would give kisses on demand (best trick ever!). His ground manners finally matched his manners under saddle (though he never lost his mischievous streak).

If you’re wondering, we sold him when my schoolwork and nerves made showing too much of a commitment for me. He took another kid up to 2’6″-3′, and then another, and at last check is destroying the college circuit as a dressage horse at Dartmouth.

That’s my ground manners journey, and I’m just as proud of that as I am of moving up from 18″ to 2’6″ with him. It brought us so much closer than we would be if I hadn’t spent the time and effort to bring out his sweet side. But I certainly don’t mind that Addy shows no inclination to nip at me. Traveling that journey once is fine for now.

How were your horse’s ground manners when they came into your life? What “odd” techniques have you used to make a horse behave?

That Crazy Horse Girl

Sadly, Addy is a little off in her right hind, so we did not have a lesson yesterday. We think it was a combination of pulling a shoe, getting said shoe put back on, showing the new mares in the herd who’s boss, and playing in the mud with her best buddy. She’s getting some bute and some time off and she’ll be right as rain in no time! In the meantime, here’s another angle of what went down last weekend.

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Poor manfriend.

He didn’t see this coming. He had absolutely no idea.

He was just trying to be supportive and encourage me to pursue my passion. It was all so innocent. When we met, I wasn’t even riding- he just knew that I had in the past and that I liked ponies. But what girl doesn’t?

He had no idea.

He even encouraged me to find a trainer, came for lessons once I found a barn, and listened to me gush about my “homework” rides. He patiently nodded along as I avowed that Addy has to be the cutest horse in the world, and let me explain in excruciating detail exactly why she was better than every single other horse in the country. All of this was endured with good cheer and understanding (he has his own encompassing hobby, so he gets it).

But then he came to a horse show, and he saw me in all my glory: 11 full hours of non-stop horse talk.

He saw me sweet-talk my girl onto the trailer at 7am. He heard me baby-talk at her after she was SO good in the warmup ring at 8am. He was strong-armed into kissing her nose because don’t you even realize how soft it is?! at 9am. He watched with wide eyes as I cooed and babbled and adored my pretty pony all day long. And then he dragged his feet into the barn when we returned home so I could wipe down tack and groom Addy with special attention to her itchy spots. Was he done? Nope. I spent the remaining hours until bedtime repeating just how proud of my girl I was and dissecting every step of our courses that day.

That’s when he turned to me in the car and revealed to me: he knew that horse-crazy girls existed, but never thought that he would be romantically involved with someone that clearly insane. He had absolutely no idea that he would end up with The Crazy Horse Girl.

You know the one- there’s one in every high school class. If you’re reading this, take a good hard look at yourself, because it was probably you. We were the ones covered in horse hair no matter how clean we tried to get our clothes. The ones who could never hang out after school because we were going to work at the barn/ride our horse/watch someone else ride/stand next to a pony/can I please give him a treat? Who protested every weekend family trip because Mooooom I have a horse show that weekend!

I am The Crazy Horse Girl, but all grown up (The Crazy Horse Lady?). And manfriend has just figured this out after a solid year together.

There will be more that he’ll figure out: he’s going to figure out that so many weekends will be spent with him acting as a saddle rack, hitching post, videographer, cheerleader, bucket-fetcher, mounting block, and boot-wiper. That yes, we have to be at the barn before the sun, and no, we will not be taking a break until my classes are over. That not only is all this hoopla and expense voluntary, but it gives me such immense joy that it bubbles over into the rest of my life.

So when he turned to me in the car and so solemnly pronounced me The Crazy Horse Girl and announced that he did not see foresee this, I had a moment of worry. He has just been blindsided into being The Horse Show Boyfriend- no easy task.

I sheepishly looked up at him and asked, “If you had known that encouraging me to start riding again would lead to this, would you still have done it?” I was genuinely curious- he thought he was giving me a little push back to a hobby I enjoyed, not tipping me back into this consuming passion.

But he looked back over at me with an incredulous face, and replied with a tender, “Of course, idiot.”

He didn’t even flinch much when I mentioned how excited I am for the next show.

Great Success!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Cute knees!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Mirror Images

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Things that went really well in this lesson:

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

What we need to work on:

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

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

PSA- FLATWORK IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING EVER.

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

Time to talk show prep.

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

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

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