Beast Mare Don’t Care

I learned several things in this week’s lesson:

Addy is bigger and stronger than me.
Addy is getting too much food.
Riding correctly doesn’t get a huge response from the Beast.
Sometimes, even though she’s been charging at the jumps all night, she’ll decide to just nope.
I don’t even care, I love this mare.

Let’s dive right in, shall we?

We started off with a really lovely flat warmup- the Unicorn was giving me some very nice softness around the corners and was balancing around our turns. Considering that our circles and corners usually involve at least a passing thought that we might fall over, this was a big deal. We did a decent amount of no-stirrup work with my trainer shouting gleefully, “I EAT NO STIRRUP WORK FOR BREAKFAST.” You may be seeing a pattern here. Trainer loves to gloat as we post around in pain.

I was very happy with the quality of our canter too! Last week we talked about ways to break up the tension and encourage softness in her jaw, but I didn’t really need to do much of that at all this week. My half-halts, while still a regular part of our vocabulary, actually had an effect on balancing her and picking her up. Success!

Something I haven’t mentioned in a while: walking on a contact. I’ve been working on this a lot lately. Walking on a loose rein, picking up the contact WHILE REMAINING AT A WALK, dropping the contact, picking it up again and NOPE WE’RE STILL NOT TROTTING, dropping it again and WOAH PSYCH WE’RE TROTTING ON A LOOSE REIN NOW. Basically trying to break that connection in her mind that contact = go faster and loose rein = break time. I really do think this is improving! In our lesson she was much better about waiting for my cue even when I had a shorter contact. At least, she was good about it until we started jumping. But we’ll get into that shortly.

We warmed up over fences with an interesting exercise of “go trot every jump in the ring. Also don’t run into each other.” Basically recreating the chaos of a warmup ring! Luckily there were only two of us in the lesson and we managed to trot everything. One little plot twist: we had to trot everything. No cantering. And we had to do every jump. So each jump of the one-stride had to be sliced so we didn’t do both. And then we were ready to start stringing our course together!

From what I heard, this one is based on the Florida regional Maclay. But I might be making that up. Can anyone confirm?

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Anywho, we started off with 1 rollback to 2. This wasn’t an insanely tight rollback- we went around the skinny red to get to the stone wall. Unless you’re a giant white barge and your rider stares at the ground. Or if you’re a big albino gazelle that lands 14 feet out from the jump because that vertical miiiight be 8′ wide. Then it’s a pretty tough turn. It rode a lot smoother once Potato von StaresAlot picked her eyes up and actually looked in the direction we wanted to go.

The next piece we schooled was 3 to 4. We had the option of adding the green rolltop at the end to make an S turn if we liked our track. I did not take that option. The bending line wasn’t too bad at all- we had to press out to bend our track to make the striding, but what else is new?

Then was 5-6a-6b. White gate, four strides to the hay bale one-stride. FOUR STRIDES. This was very tough. The reason this was so tough: Addy had really hit her stride at this point and was running me at the jumps. I know what you’re thinking: “But Olivia, doesn’t DragonBeast usually run you at the jumps??” Why yes, Dear Reader, she does tend to carry a pace to the colored sticks. But this was straight up ignoring me. It didn’t matter if I saw a distance because homegirl just got fast and flat and blew right through it. That is not a fun ride. I don’t mind some wrestling to get us on the same page. I do mind being ignored. My trainer even told me that I was asking correctly and making the right moves, she was just not listening.

From this I learned several things: her grain is getting reduced because she’s been getting hotter over the last couple weeks. Also fatter when she doesn’t need to be fatter. My big white humpback whale. We are also bumping up to a Pelham again when jumping. I’ve been sticking with the slow twist lately and that just isn’t doing the trick. My trainer said that she is fairly adamantly anti-bitting up BUT in this case it might be necessary short term. Our hope is by cutting her feed a bit, her energy levels will return to their usual high-but-manageable-levels.

Pardon the brief interlude. We kept going! Just because Beastly was being a pig didn’t give her (or me) the excuse to get out of work. We did manage to fit the four in, and the one stride was nice and easy. The hay bales must’ve been very inviting- both horses hit the rails almost every time through.

We then put a full course together! 1-2-3-4-5-6a-6b-7-8-9. Outside vertical rollback to the stone wall, black bending up to pink stone wall, white gate to the hay one-stride, outside vertical, around to the skinny red oxer, then ending on the yellow end jump.

Honestly? This went so much better than expected. Nowhere near perfect and TONS of room for TONS of improvement, but so much better than each of those individual pieces were. The rollback continued to be tricky but manageable, the bending line was straightforward, and we fit in the four strides between the gate and the hay (with lots and lots of wrestling). Even though Addy usually hates airy verticals, she carried me right up to a beautiful distance to the next outside vertical. The turn to the red skinny was very sharp and we ended up swinging wide. But Hotpants McGee was in the zone and carried me right over! Then the turn to the end jump was nice and easy and we ended on a good note.

Sure, I could’ve worked that first rollback better or asked for the 4 strides sooner or balanced around my turn to the red skinny more. But I’m going to focus on the positives: my horse listened to me, she was eager to jump every jump, and she felt like she was having a blast.

Then PLOT TWIST! We did the whole course backwards. 9-8-7-6b-6a-5-4-3-2-1. End jump up to skinny, around to outside vertical, up the one stride to the 4 stride, bending pink to black, up the diagonal stone wall and rollback to the red vertical on the rail.

This was reasonable. Landing from the one-stride and getting the four proved to be extremely difficult and we never quite accomplished it. Everything else rode pretty much the same. I did bungle the last rollback- Beastly saw the whole wide ring open to her and instead of saying “maybe I should turn,” instead said “WANNA GO FAST LET’S GO.” We took the long way around. Setting up our track differently would have made a big difference here.

We did go back and school the one-stride to the four strides to the gate. Or at least, we tried to. Beast Creature had spent so much energy in over-jumping and galloping around that she was getting tired by this point. So when I pointed her at the one-stride, she noped. No big deal, I wasn’t really looking where I was going and wasn’t giving her clear signals. So we tried again. Nope. OK, that time I was doing the right thing, what gives. Third try I forgot to steer because sometimes I haz the dum. Fourth time she got a solid smack on the shoulder and we went through it no problemo. Still couldn’t quite fit in the four, but little victories! (Side note: I don’t usually carry a crop when I’m riding since Beastly doesn’t really need encouragement to go, so we have to stop and have Trainer hand me a crop when Beastly DOES need that encouragement).

We called it a day at this point. And while it may come across that this wasn’t a great lesson, I was actually really happy with it! It was a great workout for both of us and I learned a ton. I honestly think Addy is exactly the horse I need to be on right now- I never feel unsafe on her (even when she gets fast, because I know that’s the worst she’ll do and I can handle fast), but she challenges me to adjust my riding with every stride. I’ve got decent eq and the muscle memory to keep my eq even when I’m focusing on other things- I know how to sit pretty. Heels down, shoulders back, the whole shebang.

What I need to work on is throwing away the pretty and riding HARD. Sitting pretty like that will work wonderfully on a horse that is perfectly schooled and trained to respond to classical equitation. BUT. I will likely never be able to afford a schoolmaster on my budget. So I need to learn how to ride through the difficulties and adjust so that I can get the best possible ride no matter what horse I’m on. I don’t need a horse that lets me focus on myself, I need a horse that forces me to focus every second on the horse.

So thank heavens for Big White Elephants that teach me with every ride and keep me safe while we’re doing it!

PS- we miiiiight be doing a jumper show on Sunday. But only if it’s not raining. To heck with that, I’m not chasing points for anything. Ain’t nobody want to stand outside in the rain all day.

PPS- In super exciting news, my trainer has set up a clinic with Kip Rosenthal at my barn at the end of November!!!!!! It’s going to be 2 days over a weekend, complete with a sports psychology session. Those of you in the northern VA/Maryland/DC area: let me know if you’d be interested in joining! I think registration will be open October 10. Owner Lady has given her blessing for me to do both days and I’m ridiculously excited.

PPPS- I may have some exciting show news for the upcoming months….stay tuned and I’ll share as soon as I have some details!

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Ready for the Maclay?

Huzzah! An actual lesson review!

I saw the course setup earlier in the week and was totally drooling over it- it’s a slightly simplified version of one of the Maclay regional courses (I think from Florida, but I could be wrong). Trainer tends to get medal-happy this time of year and loves to replicate the fun courses and we LOVE it. So of course I was super pumped to play around this week.

Our warmup was pretty standard- we did lots of extending-collecting trot transitions to try and create that adjustability, and did the same thing in the canter. This all went very smoothly to the left (Addy’s better direction) and Addy was balanced and relaxed. The right was a little bit stickier at the canter- this is traditionally Addy’s less balanced lead and it showed a lot last night. There was a lot of tension, bracing, and heaviness going on as we careened around. Trainer reminded me that on a short-necked horse like Beastly, I’m going to have to ask harder for something to break up the tension; over bend and release, squeeze up into the bridle and release, change the bend and release, anything to get her focusing on me and increasing that suppleness.

Then on to jumping! We warmed up over a crossrail a couple times and TrainWreck McJohnson jumped it like it was 3 feet tall. Weeee! I don’t mind that kind of enthusiasm at all, I’d rather her get excited about her job and carry me over.

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Then we started practicing pieces of our overall course before piecing it together. First was the crossrail bending to the stonewall in 6 (1 to 2). Not 5. Six. So naturally the first time it was a god-awful five. But then we swung our track a little wider and Human McPassengerPants actually took the wheel and asked properly for the step for the six. Success!

One thing my trainer had me work on here was trotting in quietly. Key word: quietly. Addy loves her job so much that she really just wants to gallop at every jump in the ring once she gets going, and when she laser locks on a jump it can be tough to keep her at a trot. (I honestly don’t know what I would do with a horse that needs a boot off the ground, btw). I don’t want to be hanging on her face to slow her down since she’ll just lean on my hand- homegirl does not have a sensitive mouth and is happy to lean all day long- so we practiced asking for the half-halt and releasing back. We want to have the give and take, but I had to take enough so that I could ease up and give back to her. This would be a very different process on a more sensitive horse, but Addy needs a bigger reminder to come back so then I can allow her forward to the jump.

We then added the rollback to the other stone wall in the corner (1 to 2 to 3). This was a really tricky turn- the trick that helped a lot was holding my right rein over the bending out, so that she didn’t fall in and we could use our space to make the turn a bit wider. When I remembered to do that: fantastic. When I didn’t remember: technically we did make it over the jump but it ain’t pretty.

Next we tried the corner, bending to the hay-bale line (3 to 4 to 5). Trainer insisted that the stone to the first hay was at least a four, never a three, so I bargained my way into trotting in. That set us up for a very nice balanced bending 4, then a lovely two stride hay bale line. I absolutely loved this line- it was set for a flowing stride so it fit Addy perfectly! There was no wrestling to shorter her step at all!

After that we trotted into the end jump, then rolled back to the other end jump (6 to 7). This went surprisingly well, believe it or not. We had to remember to use our space to create a wide enough turn for ourselves. We then added a bending to the skinny rolltop out (6 to 7 to 8). The trick to that was (again) holding my right rein so that we could move our track out and approach the rolltop in a straighter line.

Here have this again as a reminder.
Here have this again as a reminder.

Then it was time for our full course! Which went: canter in outside vertical (1) bending out over the stone wall (2) in five; roll back to the corner stone wall (3), bending in four to the hay bale line (4 to 5) in 2; skip the end jump and just come around to the pink flowers (7); bending left out over the skinny rolltop (8) in 6; ending with a rollback right over the white gate (9).

So maybe we did the bending stonewall-hay in three…and maybe Addy tripped and almost fell on her face around the first rollback…but we totally went back and fixed those things! A couple parts that went really well:

  1. The rollback at the end of the ring to the pink flowers. Even though she came out of the haybale line rolling like a semi down a iced-over steep hill, she listened beautifully to my half-halt and balanced around to a nice comfortable distance.
  2. The bending out over the skinny rolltop. The conservative flower jump set us up for a quiet bending line with a straight approach.

We kept the jumps pretty teeny tiny since we were working more on adjustability and staying balanced through turns, but this definitely wasn’t an easy lesson! The course and Addy and my trainer all made me think about every single stride. And of course I ended with the same thing I say to my trainer at the end of every lesson.

“Hey can I tell you something? I love this horse so much.”

Do you like to “copycat” fun courses? When you design your own, what are your favorite elements to include?