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.

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“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!

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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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Over the Moon

But, like, literally.

To those of you who haven’t seen this on Facebook or Instagram yet (find me on Instagram @hellomylivia! There’s lots of cute pics of Pretty Girl and my roommate’s adorable dog!), check out what we jumped yesterday.

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No seriously, we actually jumped over that! While 3’6″ might not be a big deal to a lot of people, this is the highest I’ve ever jumped in my entire life. Read: THIS IS A HUGE DEAL!!! I don’t usually jump on Mondays, but the assistant trainer (who is one of the best people on earth) had me pop through a small grid while she was there: cavaletti, crossrail, one stride, crossrail. Except every time through she cranked the back fence up a bit until we reached what you see there.

Pretty Girl was perfect! It was such a different sensation: when the jumps are smaller, her front feet are pretty much already on the ground by the time her back feet launch. With this height, there was so much hang time and she really had to crack her back over it. Which in turn cracked my back. I also tended to anticipate and try to jump for her, so I’m definitely going to have to work on that position.

But I did manage to use my automatic release, which made a lot more sense over this height. Now that I’ve started to actually use my muscles instead of flopping around like a salmon trying to spawn, I was able to follow with my hands instead of grabbing mane and reciting Our Father. I think Addy appreciated this: she practically dragged me towards the jumps when I would circle past them. Turns out she really likes the bigger heights! I’ve been boring her with this 2’6″ nonsense.

This was a lot less scary than I thought it would be- I’ve always had a sort of mental block about anything over 3′. Even 3′ seemed a bit overwhelming, and 2’6″ to 2’9″ has been my very comfortable comfort zone.

Now that I’ve seen how much fun she has over this height, there’s no stopping us. We’re still showing in the 2’9″ this weekend, but the move up to 3′ seems like a no-brainer now. And I’m begging and pleading our assistant trainer to come with me to some local jumper shows so I can start moving up there too.

After all, the lowest adult jumper classics I’ve been able to find in the area start at 1.10m (3’7″). And I reeeeally want to wear those white pants I grabbed, so we’ve got to start practicing.

Side note- We’ve picked out a show name for Pretty Girl! Jen from A Year in the Saddle, you’re brilliant. It turns out that your idea was one of the names on Owner Lady’s short list! She will be debuting this weekend as No Regrets.

Any suggestions for maintaining a good position and adjusting to these bigger heights?

Victory Gallops

WE GOT TO JUMP LAST NIGHT!!! For the first time in a couple weeks, the weather and my health cooperated and we got to hop over obstacles. Sure, it was only two weeks since we had jumped, but it felt longer! And Addy certainly let me know how happy she was to have some “real” work to do.

We warmed up with some nice stretchy walk and then trotted big circles and serpentines to encourage the horses to reach for the contact. Addy was pretty pokey- for her, this means that I wasn’t actively trying to slow her down. I still didn’t need to add leg. We worked on our half seats a bit, some sitting trot/extended trot transitions, and she was listening wonderfully.

We moved on to canter, and she definitely woke up! She still listened beautifully, but pokey pony was gone. We think that she wasn’t taking the ride seriously until we started moving. We did some collecting and lengthening in the canter, with our lengthenings looking much less like a wrestling match than the collectings.

Then it was time for jumps! We warmed up by trotting over a crossrail a couple times- my trot jump is feeling a lot better thanks to the advice I got from you guys!- and then over a broken line in 8ish. I say 8ish because the other horses put 9. But the 8 worked so nicely for us!

Now on to the course! Presenting this week’s professional diagram- jumps were 2’6″-2’9″:

feb25_lesson_course

How this course was meant to be ridden: 1 to 2 in a bending 8, balance around the corner for the Swedish oxer, balance around the corner for the bending 4 to 5 in 6 strides (my proportions on this diagram are clearly off, I swear that was the striding), balance around the corner to 6, then you’re done.

How we actually rode it: 1 to 2 in a bending 7 once the jumps were up. Careen around the corner to the oxer. EXTRA CAREEN around to 4, almost miss it and slice it straight to 5 in 5. CAREEN AROUND THE CORNER to 6. Ask for woah. Do not receive woah. Realize that this is Addy’s version of a happy dance for a course well done.

So we did a victory gallop.

While the turns were quite tight and we probably didn’t balance as well through them as we should have (hence the wild careening about the ring), this course ended up riding extremely smoothly. The bending 7 was very comfortable, and the oxer was in a sweet spot off the rail so we got a nice close distance to it. The tight turn meant that we had to slice 4, but that worked out for the best, since slicing that line straight to the end gave us more room to maneuver around the left turn to the last jump.

We also reversed the course: 4-5-6-1-2-3. Similar turns, similar careening. This time it was the 1-2 line that got sliced- the horses build a lot over 6 since it’s towards home and pretty big, so balancing around to 1 is HARD! But the slice ended up working beautifully again.

And when we ended the course, we did a victory gallop.

Instead of getting tired as the lesson progressed, she got more excited about what she was doing and our victory laps got longer. She wasn’t trying to take off or be bratty, so I let her express herself. There’s nothing quite like being on a horse that is telling you so clearly, “I’M HAVING SO MUCH FUN RIGHT NOW!!”

A couple things I noticed and was really happy about:

  1. I’ve been trying to focus on my release more and I felt that it paid off yesterday. Addy has such a big powerful jump, and I never want to discourage her by knocking her in the mouth. I don’t want to exaggerate my release by any stretch; I want to be conscious of staying out of her way so she can use herself. She responded yesterday by giving me a tremendous effort over every single jump!
  2. While the corners were tight and we did a bit of barrel racing turns to get around them, I was able to sit deep in the tack and keep a feel on her mouth. I’ve struggled in the past with getting popped out of the tack around hard turns; this time I felt more secure and comfortable, even if we were listing to port.
  3. Our distances were very deliberate. As I’ve been getting my eye back, I’ve admittedly had a couple “Jesus take the wheel” moments. Or more accurately, “Addy please get me out of this mess” moments (or even more accurately, a little of both). There was none of that yesterday. I saw my spots and either moved up or collected to reach the spot that I chose. I even asked her for a couple close spots and she didn’t get nearly as upset about it as she usually does- either she was happy to be jumping, or she finally thought that I was there to support her. Progress!
  4. I could feel her hesitating a lot and getting wiggly to jump 5- this was a very simple vertical with no filler. For some reason, this is Addy’s least favorite type of jump- she will go over any flower box, stone wall, gate, or any type of filler without blinking, but give her a plain vertical with no filler and she gets very wary. But this time instead of letting her call the shots and duck out, I closed my leg and rode more actively to the base. Once we made it over once she didn’t look at it again. I think she needed to get the reassurance that I wasn’t going to let her go it alone- I was there to help her out.

The pattern here was that this was a much more active ride than I’ve been doing lately. My requests to Addy felt deliberate and I was able to support her to the base of every jump, then get out of her way. I know we have homework to do- our downwards transitions are still sticky and getting those will  be the key to balancing around those tough corners- but this lesson felt like such progress! I finally felt that our success was due at least in part to my riding and not just Addy’s ability.

I also found out about our new plan for a first show! There’s a VHSA show about 20 minutes away on March 14th, and we’re planning on being there! They have some 2’6″ hunter classes we can do, and if things go well we may enter the 2’9″ benefit hunters. Trainer asked if I’d want to try out the 3′, but I’d like to stick to our original plan and see how Addy behaves at shows before getting to the top of my comfort zone. I’m so excited!! Anyone in the area planning on going to River Chase on the 14th?

Have you had an “aha” moment where you realized you were taking control of your ride? How do you handle tough turns in your course- do you ride them a certain way, or are there flatwork exercises that help you prepare?

Dusty Troxels, Internet Fame, and Horse Show Plans

This past weekend was chock full of awesomeness on the horse front! After a bit of a roller coaster last week, I’m so excited to share the awesomeness with you.

  • Addy and I had a bareback day. This may sound super minor to most of you, but I haven’t had a “goof-off” day since I owned my own horse in high school. There just isn’t the time to do that when you’re lessoning once a week on a school horse. Getting to hop on and bump around the farm a bit was so relaxing and made me feel like a “real” horse person again! I rode in street clothes and a dusty old Troxel (the dead bug was removed from the helmet before I used it) and got absolutely covered in hair, but it was totally therapeutic.
  • I’m on the internet! I submitted a picture from a recent lesson to Judge My Ride and I got a really quick response from Rob Gage! He didn’t really tell me anything I didn’t expect- I know Addy has perfect form, I was pretty happy with my upper body, and my legs desperately need strengthening- but it was awesome to get that feedback from him. Check out my post on their website here, or see it on Pinterest! Having my picture in two places totally makes me internet famous, right??

  • We have scheduled our first horse show!!! We’ll be attending the LTD show at Morven Park in Leesburg, VA on February 21. The plan now is to do the 2’6″ Schooling Hunter division, but that’s still under discussion. It’s right down the road from our barn and a fairly small show, so I think it’ll be a perfect low-key low-pressure way to enter the show ring. A little nervous and a whole lot excited.

Lots of good things, but as always in the horse world, something had to go wonky. Owner Lady said that Addy was a bit of a nut on Saturday, so Sunday I showed up (crop in hand) ready to WORK. She clearly had excess energy and I was going to flatwork that right into the ground. I was ready to go, and I felt that I needed a grueling ride to get my mental focus back- so of course I went to pick out Addy’s feet to get her ready to rumble. And she was missing a shoe.

Argh! The farrier will be there this week so we won’t lose too much time, but I have a feeling that these days off are going to make her even more energetic. I did stay on Sunday and groom her for a solid hour, so I still got my horse therapy that day and Addy got her scratches and treats.

Not the best wrap-up to the weekend, but lots to look forward to! Wish me luck when I do get back on…

Who else has a post on Judge My Ride to share? When’s your first show of the season? Anyone heading to Morven Park on the 21st??