Three Ring Francis

The Big Guy had his field trip last week! He and one of our lovely junior riders went out and competed in all three rings: they did the 0.85m and 0.95m jumpers, the 3′ equitation classes, and the 3′ children’s hunter division. CHECK THE CUTENESS:

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A REAL LIFE TAIL BRAID
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Nah it’s cool I’m not crying or anything
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When did he learn to jump so cute?!

I’m not comfortable sharing pics of a minor without their/their parent’s consent and I’m too lazy to edit more emoji faces into the pictures, but rest assured that I have lots and lots of pics of the Frankfurter being adorable.

Apparently he had a few rails in the hunter classes, because natural fill is a real snoozefest. But the videos I saw were really lovely- she rode him beautifully, very steady and consistent. And the two of them got 3rd in one of their 0.95m jumper classes- this maaaay have actually been her first foray into the jumper ring. So happy that Frankie could share his awesomeness ❤ Trainer said he was “wonderful” so I’m just bursting with pride at that.

Also never fear, I got plenty of nap pics of him. He certainly wasn’t worked up that I wasn’t there.

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Screenshot from a video of one of the girls snuggin’ on him. Tough life, dude.

I felt a bit like a parent who had a kid away at summer camp- it was odd to not go to the barn at all after work. I don’t plan to make a habit of that, but it was nice to have a break to catch up on things!

And getting to catch up on things while Frankie got to go play with a talented rider, in some new rings, under the trusted supervision of my trainers? It doesn’t get much better.

I can’t wait to go out and love on my 3-ring creature! A break was nice, but I miss my giant four-legged buddy.

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What’s My Discipline?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Chapter 5: A Triumphant Return to the Hunters

So when we last chatted, Addy and I had a fantastic lesson on Wednesday after her full week of vacation, and we had decided to tag along to the local hunter show over the weekend. I got the thumbs up from Owner Lady and started gathering my things.

I have a theory that something needs to go wrong before we head to the show, and this time I forgot my show shirt and coat. Oops! Thankfully D’Arcy had an extra shirt in her car, and my trainer keeps roughly 20 coats in the trailer dressing room. So I got to fulfill my dream of wearing a green coat, albeit one that didn’t fit exaaactly right. Beggars can’t be choosers.

This show started at 8am instead of 9am like the other civilized shows in the area, so we wanted to get there with plenty of time to school in the ring. Which means I was up at 4:30am, at the barn at 5:15am, we left the barn before 6am, and we were mounted and warming up before 7am. I’m writing this recap a day later and I’m still recovering!

On the bright side, we were the first ones there so we had the ring to ourselves. Trainer had us warm ourselves up on the flat first and then pop over all the jumps at least once. It was like a mini-lesson without any of the chaos you usually encounter in the warmup ring. Addy was feeling very soft and relaxed over everything in our warmup, so she popped back on the trailer while I got us registered.

We were in the first class of the day- a 2’6″ benefit hunter class. This class had a 2′ and a 2’6″ option so it was pretty popular, but I just wanted to do one of these as a warmup before the 3′ division.

I wish this had been 3′! This was one of the nicest flowy courses I’ve had with Addy to date. She was quiet, soft to the jumps, relaxed, and had her focus on me the whole time. I even had to leg her up a little in one of the lines! She really looked so hunter-y in this trip, I walked out of the ring beaming (was also beaming because as we walked by the judge’s stand she called out that she wanted to take Addy home with her! So glad someone else appreciated the Beastly Unicorn).

We decided not to do the other O/F or the flat class since Addy clearly didn’t need more work in the ring. But we won that first class out of 15ish which was enough to tie us for reserve champion in the division! We lost the coin toss to see who got the actual ribbon, but Pretty Girl will always be 2’6″ Benefit Hunter Reserve Champion in my heart.

Time for the 3′. Again, there are practically 0 people who do 3′ at these local shows, so it was just me and D’Arcy in the Working Hunters again. We had a sticky spot in the same line during both O/F classes where I put 4 in a 5 stride, but other than that our courses went well. I just didn’t sit up enough in that line to ask her to pat the ground for the 5. We did have a couple long approaches that went extremely well though, so I was glad we didn’t charge at any jumps! I was also glad that they measured the jumps- a lot of these local shows put the jumps slightly lower than advertised, but these were true 3′ with some nice sizable oxers. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of sailing over a spread with the DragonMare, she’s such a fun ride 🙂

Our flat class actually went quite well! We got a little quick during the canter and I had to keep a stronger feel on her mouth than is traditionally hunter-y, but she stayed soft and listened well the entire time. It probably wouldn’t seem like a success to someone on a different horse, but I was very very happy with how Pretty Girl did!

We did end up pinning 1st in both O/F and 2nd under saddle (continuing our streak of last place in flat classes, I’m weirdly proud of that), which got us champion in the division. I’m a little torn about this.

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Addy isn’t torn. She’s thrilled to have her ribbons.

On the one hand, this was the first show that I felt truly represented our abilities. I was able to ride the way I do at home and not have her zooming around like a roller coaster off its tracks. Not perfect by any stretch, but the mistakes I made are mistakes that I’m conscious of and actively working on. So that’s a really really good thing, since in general I’m pleased with how we do at home.

On the other hand, I’ve mentioned that very few people do the 3′ on our local circuit and that was the case here. D’Arcy and I as well as our horses are very closely matched in ability, so we just seem to take turns winning. She got champion last time and I got reserve, and this time we swapped. Whoever is having the better day wins. This is a nice low-pressure way to put miles on Addy, but both D’Arcy and I would love to have some more competitors. We want to see how we’re doing against other people, not just against the person we ride with several times a week. We already know how we compare to each other, we swap training woes all the time!

Regardless of who was or was not in any of our classes, I was so thrilled with Addy’s willingness to sit back and let me lead at this show. I think having the extra leverage from the pelham really helped keep her attention on me when she needed the reminder, and I was able to be soft with her mouth when she was giving me softness. Something else that made a huge difference was remembering to breathe. Every time I remembered to take a deep breath in and out on an approach, we got a beautiful distance. When I didn’t breathe consciously, we chipped or took a flyer. I think breathing also relaxed my body language, which in turn relaxed Addy.

It was a very relaxing confidence-building day overall for the Beast; she got tons of cookies and grazed for a couple hours while we waited for another rider, so she got to learn that showgrounds aren’t necessarily stressful places. It was fun to just sit in the grass and watch the ponies go around while my snuggly mare grazed next to me! She was having an especially affectionate day and kept standing right by me for scratches and ear rubs. We took leisurely walks around the grounds and even took a nap together on the trailer when we wanted some shade. I also think our relaxed warmup helped- she was able to ease into a new place without the distractions of other horses running her over.

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She was my puppy dog on a leash, just hangin’ out with me and mooching for treats.
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POV of my trailer nap. Shortly after this Addy drooped and took a little snooze with me.

I think that in general we are more suited to the jumpers, but I’m so glad we went back in the hunter ring! I learn something new during every excursion and I know that I can apply that to our next foray into the jumper ring. My goal for Addy and me is to build trust so that she will wait for me to tell her what we’re doing- jumpers, hunters, equitation, hacking out in a field, walking around bareback, you name it. She’s so smart, I think mixing things up and exposing her to different venues and styles will be very good for her and keep her entertained.

Now, I gotta start saving up for some rated shows so we can have a full 3′ division!

D’Arcy’s mom was lovely enough to get videos of 2 of our rounds as well as some pictures, so I should be able to share those tomorrow! Stay tuned to see the tamed DragonBeast.

Do you try out different disciplines with your horse? 

PS- I tried on tall boots, and I found a pair that fits me like custom! Does anyone have experience with the Mountain Horse Sovereign Field Boots? Or Mountain Horse in general? I tried these on a whim and they look like they were made for me. I did need to order to get the slim-tall in, but I’m so excited to pick them up!

A Warm Welcome Back to VA

UGH I LOVE THIS HORSE.

I may have mentioned it in passing once or twice or ninety kajillion times but seriously. She’s the bomb dot com (do people still say that? I vote yes.).

So I hadn’t ridden since my lesson last Wednesday because I jetted off to my home state of little Rhody. Three big things: bridal shower (elegant and gorgeous and classy and fantastic), bachelorette party (insanopants ridiculous fun and we’ll leave it at that), and MEETING MY NIECE!!!! She was such a perfect little bean, just wanted to snuggle and stare. Seriously, her eyes are gigantic and she’s a big one for prolonged eye contact. So curious about everything and happy and always hungry and loves her mom and dad so much. Basically she’s my mini-me. Leaving was incredibly hard, but at least I’ll be up in only 3 weeks for my brother’s wedding and I’ll see her then!

Anywho, I got back Tuesday night after my flight had been delayed a couple times. Wednesday was super cool at work (got a promotion that I totally wasn’t expecting!!), and then confirmed with Owner Lady that both of us had been out of town and Addy had gotten a nice little vacation.

I geared up for a rodeo.

I knew I’d be fine since Pretty Girl never pulls any shenanigans that are unsafe, but I was ready for a wrestling match to get us on the same page.

Nope. Whether she was feeling mellow from the mental break or the heat or whatever reason, she was perfect. A little fast at times, but sat right down and waited for me as soon as I asked. It helped that I was trying out a different bit- jointed pelham with double reins. I relied mostly on the snaffle rein, but that little leverage when I needed it was super helpful! She didn’t fuss about it at all, I was just able to reinforce my requests a little more strongly. It meant that I had to keep my leg on especially strongly to back it up, but I try to do that anyways. It will take a little getting used to since I haven’t had to manage double reins in almost 10 years, but throw me in the deep end! We’re using this at the show this weekend. Learn by doing, right?

Anywho. After a great WTC warmup we started popping over a crossrail with a focus on waiting to the base and straightness after. This was very civilized. We then moved on to trotting in the crossrail in the other direction, and cantering out a broken line in either 3 or 4. I think you can guess what we got. I’m sure if I had wrestled we could’ve gotten the 4, but she was being nice and soft and not rushing through at all, so I didn’t feel the need to mess with her. It wasn’t a long or discombobulated 3 at all, so we were happy with it.

From there, we built up our course!

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As a special treat, I even managed to take a picture of the course in the ring so you can see what it actually looked like:

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So. We had warmed up A-B, and we built from there: A-B-C-D-E-F. Broken to outside vertical, back over the stone wall, bending to the brush jump, then up the outside oxer. Lots of bending lines and long approaches.

The first 3 rode well again, and the long approach to the outside vertical went well on my second try- just had to remember to package up and hold my reins instead of letting her pick the pace. She came around to the stone wall nicely, and the bending to the brush went well. I was overriding pretty defensively since I expected her to get wiggly/try to duck out of some of these new jumps, but she was perfect! I was able to back off and get some more natural distances. The approach up the wall to the oxer went better on our second try when I held her straighter with my legs instead of letting her worm her way to it.

Then we built up the course a little more! A-B-C-D-E-F-G-H. Same thing as before, just adding the brick wall and turn to the rolltop at the end. I shall take you on my virtual course walk:

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Trotting into the basic crossrail
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Out the pink gate in 3
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Up the single outside vertical
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Roll back over the stone wall
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Bend out in 5 over the brush (which was low in height but SUPER wide. I’m pretty sure that’s a whole tree under there)
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Up the single outside oxer
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Down the brick wall
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Rollback up the rolltop/barrels.

And let me tell you why I love this horse so much: she jumped all of these jumps like she had seen them a million times. Granted, she’s seen most of them a LOT, but the brush and barrels were both new to her. She stayed super straight to the brick and stone walls, even though there were no standards, and she came around the turns waiting for my cue. Once I figured out my reins I was able to have her sit and wait for me instead of running to a long spot, and it meant I was able to move her up when I needed to. Packaged pony = adjustable pony.

We had to do the bending stone wall-brush over again to get that more comfortable- I rode it like I was asking for 6 strides, which made the 5 nice and flowing instead of coming up too much on the brush. That’s right. I have to ask for an extra stride when I don’t want her to leave one out. Goofy, but such is life.

All in all, I was tickled pink with our work yesterday. It was one of those rides where it felt like we were really on the same page and working for the same things. I’m feeling much more confident about our show this weekend! It will be a hunter show (we’ll do the 3′ working hunters) which isn’t ideal, but my goal is to get her out at least once a month and this is our only chance in June. I think exposure to a show environment in any form is better than none, and she still needs show miles. I’m pretty sure she’s only been to 6 shows ever, including the 4 I’ve taken her to, so my broke pony is still kinda green in the show ring! Luckily nothing seems to bother her.

Including me putting a bit in her mouth upside down.

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My trainer spotted this before I could hop on, laughed her head off, then snapped a picture and told me I needed to share this on my blog. So supportive.

What has your horse surprised you with lately? Do you have a showing “game plan?”

Chapter 3: In Which Someone Cut Our Brake Lines

I’m dashing off this show recap as quickly as possible, so I’m gonna stick with the key points (the madness is almost over! Only one more week of this infernal training).

  • Showing with a friend is actually the best thing ever. When I slept through my alarm and panicked, she made sure my horse was fed and free lunged her for a bit so we wouldn’t be late. We were able to compare notes on how best to ride the course, which we learned together. We clapped and cheered for each other, laughed about our goofs (mostly my goofs, she was an absolute flippin’ rockstar), and were able to be crazy horse girls in peace. Once we were done, we got comfy with some cider and chatted while watching some other divisions run. So much fun!
  • The outdoor ring was super huge, but all the jumps were set up kinda in the middle, so there would be a four stride outside line and then A HALF MILE AROUND THE END to a single diagonal and then THREE AND ONE QUARTER LEAGUES to the end of the ring before coming back up a different line. It was kinda ridiculous.
  • You know the song “Wide Open Spaces” by the Dixie Chicks? Pretty sure that was Addy’s theme song as she trucked around that ring. Or maybe “Born to Run” by Bruce Springsteen. There was more than one occasion where I considered using any means necessary to pull up and exit the ring, because I had zero control of our speed. I ended up steering towards the jumps to use them as speedbumps so we finished all of our courses, but it was a bit insane. I didn’t feel unsafe at all, just mildly curious if she would actually jump out of the ring and never stop. Like, ever.
  • When I voiced my concerns to Assistant Trainer, she gave me the best pep talk ever. It was along the lines of, “Olivia, you’re not weak. You have muscles, I’ve seen them. Stop forgetting you have muscles and use them. Stop forgetting that you know how to ride and actually ride.” Somehow that was exactly what I needed to hear, and the rest of our rounds went much more smoothly.
  • We knocked down ALL OF THE RAILS. I was super confused since Addy almost never touches the rails, especially at shows, but we weren’t the only ones. The only clear rounds came from the ex-jumper who has a deathly allergy to knocking rails. The rest of us were bonking things out of the standards left and right.
  • Our flat class was a big ol’ LOL. It was actually going quite well until we picked up the wrong lead not once, not twice, but three times and Addy was like “WOMAN LET ME DO THIS GET OUT MY FACE” and I was like “GURL YOU GIVE ME THE RIGHT LEAD AND THEN WE CAN TALK” and she was like “FINE” and about three strides later the announcer said “Trot please, all trot” and Addy was like “NOPE LET ME SHOW YOU MY CANTER” and then we got last place. Gotta giggle at that. I only did the flat class for our 3′ division to try and get points towards a tricolor, didn’t even bother with the 2’9″ division.
  • While I was definitely not happy with my riding, I was very happy with how we ended the day. I kicked my own butt into gear and actually muscled her around instead of perching on top like a pretty little eq princess. We certainly didn’t look like hunters at that point, but I felt much more effective and confident with how she was listening to me. Seriously, we need to be in the jumpers where we can be effective without worrying about being pretty.
  • Manfriend and his brother came to watch my rounds, so enjoy their commentary in the video here. I think it’s absolutely adorable how manfriend so matter-of-factly explains things to his bro. Heads up- he is my filthy-mouthed Marine, so there are a few minor swears in there.

If you want to skip to certain spots, here’s the breakdown:

0:00 1st round 2’9″ Benefit Hunters. We had a glorious refusal right off the bat, and if you look closely around 1:01 you can see where our brake lines are cut and I lose any semblance of control. Somehow we managed 4th out of 5 entries for that class (I’m guessing the person in 5th must have refused All Of The Jumps).

1:35 2nd round 2’9″ Benefit Hunters. I was much happier with this one. Still pounding the ground like an elephant, but I felt like I had much more control here. This got us 2nd out of 5.

3:27 Working Hunters Under Saddle. Highlights at 3:56 when a dog leaped out at us and Addy could not make herself care, and at 4:45 when we went full-sassdragon. 3rd out of 3 duhhh.

6:01 1st round 3′ Working Hunters. Waiting for everyone to be out of the ring is for rated shows, this is the local circuit SON. Rail down at 6:25. Really cute chip and fence-destruction at 6:57. Brakes stop working again around 7:02. This got us 2nd out of 3.

7:20 2nd round 3′ Working Hunters. LADY GET OUT OF MY RING. A delicate knocking of a rail at 7:53. A dainty mess at 8:06. Then we did that 8-stride in a very comfortable 7-stride-GALLOP. Also 2nd out of 3. This clinched our Reserve Champion in the division, we love tricolors!

A parting thought- I realized after I got home that none of my nerves were related to the height. It didn’t even register as a concern. Apparently I’m even more comfortable at 3′ than I thought! Also, show friends are best friends.

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In exponentially more important news, I have a niece!!!! She was born this morning and everyone is healthy and happy and overjoyed to share the world with this precious little girl. She’s so perfect, there are no words. I know that my brother and his wife (who is my sister in every sense and my best friend) are going to be incredible parents and I can’t wait to spoil her rotten! I’ll be waiting on permission from the new Mom and Dad before sharing pics, but I will tell you straight up that she is the cutest baby I’ve ever seen.

Twice the Lessons, Twice the Fun

Hey gang!

I want to start out by apologizing to all of you- I’m stuck in all-day training this week and next (meaning no breaks or lunch breaks), and have had some late nights taking care of things, so I’m woefully behind on catching up with what’s going on in all y’alls lives. Don’t be surprised in two weeks when you get 14 comments from me at once. I miss you guys.

But despite the soul crusher that is 8 solid hours of training, I managed to fit in two lessons this week! I think that’s why I’m still sane. I am not made for sitting for 8 hours.

Tuesday’s lesson was at 6pm and I didn’t get released from training until 5:35, so I raced over there knowing I would be late. My barn buddy is the best human ever and groomed Addy for me so all I had to do  was throw her saddle on and vault into the tack! Seriously she has such value as a human. We had a very relaxed warmup in the outdoor ring, popped over a crossrail a couple times, then headed inside. By this point I had finally relaxed from the angst of running late and we were having a good time.

Tuesday’s course!

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Hokay. I’m having a little trouble remembering back to Tuesday since I’m writing this directly after my Wednesday lesson, but I’ll try. From what I can recall, the main course we worked on was 3-4-5-2b-6a. So: we start off away from home with the long approach to the brick wall. Then we come down the quarter line in a bright three, balance up the long approach to the outside vertical, and finish down the stone wall.

I won’t spend too much time on this because honestly I don’t remember the details. Oops. I do remember that we bumped the jumps up to 2’9″-3′-ish and that Addy was her usual rockstar self. I focused on sitting up straighter and deeper to the jumpers, and she was superbly adjustable. Trainer was very happy with our ride and said it was a good schooling.

Flash forward to today, which my shoddy memory has actually managed to hold on to. Trainer is out of town to attend Rolex (so lucky!), so Assistant Trainer stepped in. I’ve mentioned her in the past- I absolutely adore her. She’s no nonsense and doesn’t let anyone (horse or rider) make excuses, but is always incredibly supportive and focuses just as much on what went well as what needs fixing. So while I love my trainer, I ain’t even mad that her assistant stepped in.

Our warmup was pretty interesting- there were a whole bunch of horses in the ring so it was a bit hectic. Combined with the cooler temperatures today and gusty winds, there were a few behavior issues. Not from Addy, obviously.

One of the horses in the ring truly hates Addy, and when we got a little too close in his bubble while we were passing he proceeded to throw a hissy fit of epic proportions. That dude really holds a grudge. I felt awful that we were what set him off; I had no idea we were close enough to bug him. Turns out he hates other gray horses! AT (Assistant Trainer) hopped on him to give him a good school, and then his mom took him out of the ring. We finished warming up and started jumping!

The course was set the same as the previous day, so please refer to the same diagram for your convenience. Our first course was: 1-2a-3-4-5-6b. Up the red skinny, down the outside, up the brick wall, down the quarter line in three, up the stone wall.

What we needed to work on here was power, not speed. Addy was happy to sit back and wait to the jumps, but we needed to maintain the power as we slowed our pace so she could work with whatever distance came up. The quarter line in particular came up with some difficulty- it’s a very short turn out of the corner and the striding was a little odd. We warmed up trotting into that line in four, so it was a big open three. Or in Addy’s case, a three where we only needed to woah slightly. We used our new counter-bending tip around the corner up the stone wall and nailed it!

Then AT put the jumps up all around. Cue maniacal laughter. Our next course was: 2b-6a-3-4-5. Short and sweet. 2b was the same old vertical on the wall that we’ve done a thousand times, nothing new to see there. We held a nice comfortable pace down to the stone wall, which had been converted into a 2’9″ oxer. Then maintaining a nice steady pace up the long approach to the 3′ brick wall, and balancing out of the turn for the yellow plank to the pink oxer, which had been set somewhere between 3’3″ and 3’6″.

The last three jumps were where we ran into difficulty and had to try again. Addy tends to laser-lock on her next jump and charge it, so we tried really hard to maintain a nice steady beat up to the base of the brick wall. Then that difficult corner around to the quarter line. We did get a bit of a gappy distance to the yellow in, so I had to sit deep and hold her together so the three would be comfortable even with the oxer set high. Our second time through, we nailed it! Pretty Girl absolutely flew, it was barely a stretch for her. This is our first time jumping higher than 3′ outside of a gymnastic and it went so well!

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Ohmahgah it looks so huge from this angle

Addy got lots of carrots as a reward for packing my butt around the ring and keeping such a good attitude about it. All the mares in the barn are in season, but she’s such a tank I would’ve never noticed if someone didn’t tell me. I’m the biggest fan of non-marish-mares. Love my sweet girl!

To add to the amazingness, I came home to this:

saddle_pad_monogram
Pure bliss.

Dover was having a big sale online in addition to their tent sale, so when I saw these suckers for a steal I couldn’t say no. I’m finally a proud owner of my very own monogrammed saddle pad! The trim and monogram are both in hunter green (my favorite color on Pretty Girl) and I’m seriously SO EXCITED to give it a try. #obsessed

Also in show news: …we moved it back to Saturday. After figuring out scheduling, we’re heading back to the same place we went at the end of April to do an outdoor show. We’ll warm up over a 2’9″ course and then do the 3′ division. My lesson buddy is showing too and I can’t even describe how happy I am to have a friend there to cheer on and share our successes and defeats. And manfriend is indeed on camera duty, so I should have some cool videos to share next week 🙂 A little bummed that we aren’t going to a show offering the Medal, but there’s always next time! It’s shaping up to be another fantastic weekend.

That wraps up the end of my long winded speech. Can’t wait to reconnect with all of you once this training is over and life slows down a bit!

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?

Chiming Back In with a Goals Review

Hi gang! Sorry for the radio silence over the last week- between some all-day trainings at work and a pileup of chores, I ended up taking a mini blog vacation. I’ve been reading through some posts and definitely want to catch up with my commenting; some of you guys had really fantastic weeks!

Anywho. Brief horse-life update: Trainer and Assistant Trainer were both out of town with a bunch of our riders at the Maryland National show last week (everyone did really well!) so Pretty Girl and I did not have a lesson. We just popped over a couple crossrails with a buddy and called it a day. All the swelling in Addy’s leg is completely gone and she has shown zero tenderness or heat in the area. We think that the weather evening out, more consistent work, and lots of turnout on firm ground is what she needed. Very glad it turned out to be so minor!

What I wanted to do today was chime in with a lot of folks that are doing a quarterly review of their horse-goals for the year. So looking back to my resolutions for the year, here goes!

  • Get comfortable schooling 3′. Done! Not only do we school 3′ comfortably, but we’ve even shown at that height! This was a huge breakthrough for me and I’m so so so thrilled to finally get over that mental hitch.
  • Make it to a horse show. We’ve made it to two so far this year! They’re tiny little local shows, but that’s perfect for where we are right now. Beautiful facilities, low-key atmosphere, and good sportsmanship.
  • Try a jumper class. Still on the list. I’m hoping to convince my trainer and some of the other riders to try out a local jumper show at the end of April, so fingers crossed that happens!
  • Live through a lesson with no stirrups. Hah. That’s funny. I’ve been terrible about this lately and really need to jump back on the wagon. These legs aren’t going to strengthen themselves!
  • Keep up my confidence. Done, and not done. I’ve stayed brave and positive, and have pushed myself through some bouts of anxiety with great results. But I’ll never be “done” with this; I’m not a naturally brave rider and this will be an ongoing effort!

2.5/5 isn’t too bad! But I’m going to cheat a little and rewrite these. I figure if I’ve already achieved 2 goals and it’s only the first quarter, then I was aiming too low. Now that I have a few show miles under my belt and have a better idea of where we are in our training, here’s my new list of goals:

  • Get comfortable schooling full courses at 3’3″. Why stop at 3′? Pretty Girl and I can both go higher and I know she loves the additional challenge.
  • Jump 3’6″ regularly. Even if it’s just the “out” in a gymnastic, I want to start getting used to the different feel of bigger jumps. Addy seems to clear 3’6″ with no problem, but I’ll be paying close attention to see if this is something she wants to do with me. I’ll need to continuously work on improving my position to make her job as easy as possible.
  • Compete in the Adult Equitation Medal class at least once. Now that I’m OK at 3′, I want to start refining our technique a bit more so I can re-join the eq world. I’ve always enjoyed the technicality of the equitation and I think Addy would really love the chance to show off her moves.
  • Try a jumper class. This is still on there and I still mean it.
  • Make it to an “A” horse show. This is a very tentative goal, and depends on a lot of outside factors. I would need Owner Lady to go as well so we could share expenses- I simply don’t have the spare cash to afford something like this myself. Also between my brother getting married and my other brother welcoming a new baby, there may not be a free weekend for me that lines up with one of the nearby shows. So this is a very tentative goal, but a goal nonetheless!
  • Learn how to braid manes and tails. This kinda ties into making it to an “A” show; if I could save some money by braiding my own horse then it might be a little more feasible. I could potentially even make a few dollars by helping out barnmates. I’ve always been a good braider of human hair, so hopefully I’ll be a quick study!
  • Live through a lesson without stirrups. I will accomplish this! I’m going to the barn today and by golly I am going to push myself on this one.
  • Go on at least one trail ride. For those of you that hack out all the time, I know this is no biggie. But I’ve always gotten very nervous without a ring to contain me! We’ve got some beautiful trails running by the barn and I’d like to get out of my own head and enjoy those with Addy- she’s got such a good brain and I have no doubt she would take great care of me out there.
  • Keep my confidence up. This will never not be a goal.

I’ll check back in on these in a couple months!

What do you guys think of these goals? Any advice on how to go about accomplishing them?

Chapter 2: In Which my Horse is a Fire-Breathing Dragon from Planet Unicorn

Show number two is under our belts!! Those of you who I’ve connected with on Instagram already know how it went, but don’t spoil it for the rest of the gang. Suspense is always fun.

Anywho, I had a really bad feeling about this show. Addy has been stocked up in her left hind for a couple days, and even though she’s been perfectly sound, I’m a paranoid horse mom (or aunt or nanny or whatever). I rode her yesterday briefly and she felt A-OK and both Trainer and Assistant Trainer gave the thumbs up, so when my alarm went off at 5:45am on Sunday, I figured we may as well give it a try.

Well, that lasted until I got to the barn. After eating her breakfast I noticed that her leg was still pretty puffy, but she still didn’t mind me poking and prodding around it. Trainer said we should toss her on the lunge line for a bit and see how she was moving and if the swelling would go down.

OH THANK GOODNESS WE DID THAT. Oh my word. Pretty Girl just ran in circles, threw bucks, snorted, pranced, and was generally full of beans. So glad we got her moving around like that BEFORE anyone got on.

Once she had tired herself out a little we checked and saw the swelling had already started to go down. She hadn’t taken a single ouchie step, so it was time to load onto the trailer! At this point I was feeling SO nervous- the stress of worrying about her leg for the past couple days, wondering if today was the day she became a bucking bronco pony, worrying about the fact that I didn’t have any buddies with me so who was going to hold my horse if I had to pee?! and just general show nerves. But I’ve been a weenie in the past, and I was determined to at least make it to the show and put in an effort.

We made it there, and Beastly over here came off the trailer with nostrils flared and tail pricked. Showoff. I asked Trainer to hop on her first to take her around, which turned out to be unneeded. It was like Addy remembered her job and instantly relaxed once someone was on her back. She went around the warmup ring with absolutely no problems, both with Trainer and with myself.

She went back on the trailer just long enough for me to get my number and sign up for my classes, then it was back on! My first round at 2’9″ was, um, interesting. I’d like to think of it as a warmup round. We chipped, we took fliers, we had one memorable oxer where we stuck a 5 in a bending line where a lot of horses were putting 7. Ah well. Such is life. We needed to box it in a lot harder- I thought that because she was relaxed in the warmup she would be relaxed on course, but that was not the case. She seems to know when it’s showtime and transforms into the racehorse half of her heritage.

Second round was a little bit better- still not one of our best rides, but a definite improvement. Nothing too noticeable here, except for the fact that we did manage the comfortable 6 in the bending line.

We won both classes! I think we were the only person in one class and there was only one other person in the other…but hey. A win is a win. I’ll take it.

Then it was flat class time. Note to self: we do not do well in flat classes. Addy gets very confused why we’re not jumping any of the pretty jumps and wants to run and be freeee and feel the wind in her mane and is having none of my “please trot you beastly little dragon.” She was an absolute fire-breathing dragon. Manfriend was giggling at the video I showed him- and that was the direction that she was behaving decently in. We cantered when they said walk. We cantered when they said trot. We hand-galloped when they said canter. I ran her into a wall when they said walk and line up. It was all very exciting. I think if they could’ve given me lower than second place they would have, but alas there were only two of us in the class. Bright side: my trainer saw me struggling and called out that I should forget about trying to make her hunter-y and just make her listen. So this flat class ended up being a very useful schooling session where she ended up listening, even if she was framed up like a dressage horse instead of on the buckle.

This did end up being enough for me to get champion in my division out of two people, but like I said- a win is a win! And now we have a big pretty champion ribbon hanging on her door!

Our 3′ division was canceled since no one else signed up, but my trainer convinced them to offer a 3′ option in the Child/Adult Hunters (which was listed at 2’6″). Warmup for that was uneventful, but she was definitely charging around with me a bit. We bumped her up to a slow twist recently, but I think she may need something stronger for shows because she was blowing right through my hand.

But we went in for our first 3′ round!!!! And it felt amazing. We got packaged up, got nice distances, she jumped sooo cute, and it flowed smoothly. I walked out of the ring with the absolute biggest grin on my face. I wasn’t surprised when we won that class, and I don’t mean to sound cocky there. But you know that feeling when you just click with your horse and it feels so good and you just know that you rocked it? It was that feeling.

Second round was ehhhhhh not great. We didn’t package up nearly as well, and it was a bit of a hot mess. By this point Addy was a little tired and less inclined to collect when asked. Also for some reason, I did not see a single distance in this round. For the life of me, I could not see anything. It was like my eye had gone out the window. All I could do was close my leg and hope for the best. Addy, of course, is the best pony to exist in the whole wide world and carried my butt through the whole course very good-naturedly. This was enough to get us 3rd!

Second flat class- we went into this one with a schooling mentality so it was less eventful. I literally said the words to her: “Do not be a dragon. You are not a unicorn. You are a horse. Please act like a horse. This is a horse show for horses.” I think some rando got that on the video they were recording of their buddy in the class and I’d love to get a copy of me giving Pretty Girl a pep talk. We were still much too “up” and had some breaking-into-canter moments because oh man trotting is boring IS THAT A JUMP CAN I DO IT PLEASE. But overall it was less fire-breathing. We still got 5th out of 5, but that’s as expected. Seriously. Flat classes are not our friend (though I think we could do well in eq flat classes where there’s a little more to distract her with, she loves dressage-y movements and going in a frame).

For your viewing pleasure, a selection of our trips! I’m trying to figure out how to edit together all the funny parts from our flat class, so hopefully I can share that later in the week.

  • First 2’9″ trip at 0:00 (obviously)
  • Second 2’9″ trip at 1:13 (this is truncated for some reason, and a little fuzzy)
  • First 3′ trip at 1:34- if you’re going to watch anything, just watch this one. It’s the good one.
  • Second 3′ trip at 2:45. You can ignore this one (please).

We did the 3′!!! And we even managed to win one of our classes at that height!! I am so so so unbelievably proud of my girl, who has handled this transition to being a show pony with her usual sweetness and dependability. She gets Monday off to play outside with her friends all day, and then it will be business as usual in our lesson on Wednesday. Can’t wait to keep progressing with her!

PS- regarding Addy’s leg, we think the stocking up is probably due to some crazy weather changes, inconsistent turnout, and a changing riding schedule. By the end of the show, the swelling was almost completely gone and she was still completely sound. We’re tracking it closely and taking some steps to make sure she’s not ouchie in any way, but so far she’s been perfectly fine. I’ll keep you posted!

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!