Who’s Your Trainer?

The timing on this works out great- Amanda was just talking about finding the right training program for her and Henny. With my own trainers gone to Ocala for a few weeks, I was ruminating on this myself.

First off, I LOVE being in a full training program. I lesson at least once a week- private lesson if it’s available- and will only cancel that lesson if I am too ill to breathe or something unavoidable gets in the way. My trainer is usually in the ring during most of my other rides during the week/on weekends, and will often give me pointers when she’s between lessons. We have her eyes on us pretty much non-stop.

cf_laugh
She’s out of frame but WATCHING

She’s also the property owner and barn manager where we board, so all of Frankie’s care is united there. She tracks his deworming, farrier schedule, vaccinations, feed, turnout, blanketing, training rides, lessons, hacks, trail rides, shows, EVERYTHING. She can give informed advice on preventative vet care because she knows every detail of his workload. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve texted her saying “Frankie threw a shoe” or “Frankie has a scrape” and gotten the response, “I know, already talked to the farrier and he’ll be out later today” or “Yes, we put some Corona on it this morning.” Caring for Frankie is so ridiculously simple: I have one single point of contact that handles everything.

All this is to say that my trainer is the integral core piece of Frankie’s life in every way and that I lean heavily on her for advice and guidance.

Which finally brings me around to the point I really want to talk about: having a trainer that I trust, with a training style that meshes with my learning style, is immensely important to me not only from the perspective of learning to to ride horses moar better, but also because I very much like this integrated-care approach.

I’ve talked quite a few times about how much I like my trainer’s teaching style- most notably here, where I talk about how hard on me my trainer is sometimes and why I LOVE it.

LB_sat_warmup
Please tell me how to be less bad at things

However, I hadn’t ridden with anyone else in a very long time. I’ve been with my barn since I got back in the saddle as an adult, so the only two trainers I’ve been with have been Trainer and Assistant Trainer (who have very complementary styles). I did one clinic on Addy back in the day that I loved but that was about it. So I didn’t really know if I liked other trainers’ styles because I hadn’t actually ridden with other trainers.

Until recently, when we had a guest trainer come in to teach lessons for two weeks. And it was great! I gave a brief recap of our first lesson with him (where I was a potato but it was def an educational experience), and I’ll just tell you now that our second lesson went better and also included some great exercises. I am very grateful to have had the chance to ride with him and learn from him and get his perspective on some of the persistent issues I have in the saddle.

But. It really confirmed for me just how much I mesh with Trainer and AT. That may be due at least in part to familiarity (2.5 years of coaching leads to us knowing each other pretty well) and knowing what we expect from each other, but it also gave me an appreciation for how motivated I feel after a lesson with my trainer.

In a nutshell, here’s a few things I really like to have during a lesson:

  • Warm me up. Please don’t tell me to warm myself up and then you’ll jump me around. I want you to critique my flatwork and help develop that. I can WTC around on my own time- give me some harder exercises that I need your help with. I can warm myself up on the flat at shows when we don’t have a full hour, but during lessons I expect full attention for the full hour I’m paying for.
  • Constant feedback. What did I do wrong? What did I do right? Please explain how these things led to my horse doing what he did. How can I change what I’m doing? During my walk breaks, please talk to me about why we’re working on what we’re doing today. As you’re setting jumps, please tell me why they’re placed where they are. I want to suck every teachable moment out of every lesson.
  • Tell me what to  change. If I biff a jump, I know I should go back and do something differently next time. I know what my options are. I can absolutely come up with something myself. But I’d really like your input on what you think the best option is.
  • Give me homework. If we struggled with an exercise, please tell me what I can work on between lessons to develop that skill. Help me be prepared so that we can continue progressing in our next lesson instead of re-treading ground.

What you’re thinking is true: I am a needy girlfriend in client form.

On top of all that, I also like my trainer to have an eye to the future. To believe in me. To suggest ways of stretching and growing and pushing comfort zones. When I say, “do you think someday I could do this?” to respond with, “dream bigger.” Who will help me figure out ways to pursue those big dreams.

nov_plank
I really like jumping big jumps, but I want to jump them BETTER and then BIGGER

So to recap, I want constant unceasing attention to every detail of my ride as well as an emotional and financial coach.

WOMP WOMP.

But I guess that’s why I have such a love affair with my trainers: because I have found exactly that. My motivation and excitement for the future expands after every ride with either of them. They take that internal fire and stoke it into something even bigger (thank you Emma for that analogy).

So what about you? What do you look for in a trainer, and in a training program?

 

Do Hard Work

You’ve heard me say over and over lately that I’m on show hiatus. Very regrettably so, but my bank account is heaving a sigh of relief for the multiple-month reprieve in show spending.

But being on show hiatus doesn’t mean we aren’t working hard. On the contrary- we’re working harder than ever both in the saddle and out of it. And it’s really REALLY fun.

I’ve been out at the barn pretty much every day, even the days I’m not riding. I’ll have a glass of wine with a fellow ammy as we deep clean our tack and talk about our horses, or I’ll organize my trunk while shooting the breeze with another boarder.

My trainer will give me a session on nutrition- why exactly Frankie eats what he eats, when he eats it. And a conformation seminar to identify Frankie’s strengths and weaknesses. I watched Assistant Trainer clip her horse while she gave pointers, and then she showed me the best way to break in a new bridle quickly.

At this point I know just about every rider and their parents (if they’re a junior) that are at the barn, since I’m there just about every day. I get to say hi and chat and catch up with like-minded people. And when someone new shows up for a lesson, I can sometimes help show them where and how things go around here.

Frankie gets a good grooming every day as his dark winter coat comes in, and his hooves, while always in good shape, are looking even better. Don’t even get me started on his tail- it’s long and luxurious and absolutely gorgeous.

We have days where I ask him to work really hard, and then we have days where his only job is energy and straightness as I work on myself. He’s continuing to build muscle and fitness even though he’s no longer in full training.

The pieces, while not together yet, are steadily coming together. We’re eliminating a lot of the old mistakes and we’re making new mistakes. We’re moving into the realm of skills that we can’t master in a single lesson- we can just keep persistently building strength and ability over time.

October has been an amazing month for all of the little things adding up, all the steps carrying us further. There have not been any single major breakthroughs, just the consistency and hard work adding and adding and adding together until suddenly I look back and realize that our knowledge and skills have progressed.

It’s a calm, contented sort of progress rather than the adrenaline-rush progress I felt all show season. And while I am eager to get back into the show ring as soon as warmer weather rolls around, I’m satisfied for now to buckle down and do hard work.

Put aside idleness, grasp the nettle, and do some hard work. – St. Bernard of Clairvaux

Goals Take Work!

A lot has changed since I got back from Greece a week ago. Obviously we’re making plans which is all well and good, but the big change here is: we’re working HARD to get there. Even harder than before.

Because here’s the deal: I can get away with a decent amount of weakness at 1m. Francis is scopey enough and tall enough that he can get out of trouble with very little assistance from me at that height. Obviously it’s much smoother and cleaner when I ride strongly, but there is a decent margin for rider error.

I cannot get away with weakness at 1.10m and up. My leg MUST be there. My hand MUST be there. I MUST make decisions on course. I will still make mistakes and I will still miss, and Frankie will still be able to make it over, under, or through- but only if I am strong enough to help him out.

frankie_tail
Not relevant, I just really like his tail. It’s purty.

So this month of training is not just to kick-start Frankie’s fitness and ability at the higher heights, it’s also to kick-start my own. As my horse becomes better and better schooled and more responsive, I have to rise to the occasion and give him a ride that supports that training. Luckily, the best way to learn how to ride strongly is to….ride strongly!

So here’s what I’m thinking about:

At the walk- insist on a forward walk with poll high, on the contact. Frankie has a BEAUTIFUL swinging forward walk….when I’m not touching his mouth. As soon as I pick up his face he assumes he should either a) walk very slowly or b) start jigging/trotting. He needs to continue that forward swinging walk while accepting the bit.

At the trot- SHORTEN MY REINS. Gone is the era of a light contact. Now it’s time to feel my horse and have a much quicker way of communicating. Half-halt more strongly with my legs to get him up off his front end and rocking back and up into my hand. Push hard inside leg to straightening outside rein to get straightness and power. He will start out with his nose in the air- that’s ok. Once he realizes I mean it, he drops down and gets to work. Don’t give up the contact. Don’t give up the leg.

At the canter- get in his way. No more half-seating around. Sit and drive with my seatbones and legs, and insist that he push from behind. Develop a more staccato, active canter behind. No overbending around the corners- that outside rein still needs to be there. Dropping down onto my hand does not equal roundness- get that poll higher and pushhhh up into the bridle. STOP WITH THE HALF SEAT. We ain’t doin’ the hunters. We are doing the jumpers and we have to ride like ze Germans. This is what works for Frankie.

Downwards transitions- he must stay light. If he tries to bear down and coast to a stop, we rein back and then try again.

Jumping- quick recovery off every jump. This means auto-release and maintaining a feel over the fence. This also means landing and immediately deciding whether to move up or woah for the add. Either will work as long as I ask ASAP. Get to the close spot- no leaving it out.

frankie_brushed
Also not relevant, he’s just super cute.And shiny. And did I mention cute?

And there you have it! We are upping the ante and putting both of us to work. Hence the muscle soreness. I love it.

My lesson this week was really tough since we are striving for more than we did before, but oh so insightful. When I got the right canter, I could actually hear the difference in his footfalls. When I got the right trot, I could extend and collect IMMEDIATELY. When I kept my leg on more strongly, I could adjust my striding in a line and get a much quicker reaction. His responsiveness and adjustability is improving in direct correlation with how strongly and actively I’m riding.

 

HUH WEIRD. IT’S ALMOST LIKE HORSES RESPOND BETTER TO BETTER RIDING. WHO WOULD’VE THOUGHT. MIND BLOWN.

What’s a time that you or your trainer decided to up the ante?

Triumphant Return

I’m baaaaack!!!!!

Didja miss me? (Just say yes. I don’t care if you’re lying). Because I gotta be honest, I missed all y’all. Two weeks was a long time.

But enough with the sappiness, let’s get into the good stuff. Greece was great blah blah blah you saw pictures and it was a magical once-in-a-lifetime type of trip and coming back home was only tolerable because my pony was waiting for me.

frankie_reunited
REUNITED AND IT FEELS SO GOOOOOOOD

So let’s talk about the pony.

I had a “meeting” with Assistant Trainer for her to hop on Frankie and show me what they’ve been working on while I was away, so that I can be sure to ride consistently and not undo all their hard work. And side note here- my trainers are awesome. Usually in this situation we would just discuss what’s been going on, but AT knows that I’m a very visual learner, so she hopped on to SHOW me instead of just telling me. I gotta tell ya, super grateful that she tailored her communication for me like that.

Also grateful that this training is very clearly tailored to how Frankie goes and what our competitive goals are. We discussed how Frankie will never be the fastest horse in the ring- he isn’t “spicy” like most jumpers. On the one hand, this is fantastic for me. I never worry about getting run away with, I trust him to jump the jumps, and overall he is Mister Reliable and this relaxed disposition makes him a pretty perfect horse for me. On the other hand, we need to generate more power. He currently gives zero f**ks about anything, and we need him to give a couple f**ks. Not like, a ton. Just a couple. (Pardon my French)

So with the knowledge that we cannot turn him into a fiery white-eyed jumper (and we don’t WANT to do that), we discussed how making efficient turns and jumping cleanly are going to be the key to success in the ring. We’ll be doing lots of gridwork and exercises to encourage him to use his body better over the jumps- currently he doesn’t really use his neck effectively, and is slow to pick up his feet. We’re also building lots of strength in that hind end to get him pushing instead of pulling, so those turns will be less barge-like.

Part of this process is asking him to carry himself higher than he has been. We’ve been doing lots of long and low which has been lovely, but now he’s at the point fitness-wise and experience-wise where we need him rounding up into the bridle and carrying himself from his hind end more. He’s naturally built fairly uphill, so this isn’t working against his conformation. Just retraining and building different muscles to get him rocking back and powering across the ground.

We also got some groundwork exercises that can help build muscle and train in some of that lateral responsiveness that will help our turns. We’re definitely upping the expectations in each ride- Frankie is past the point where he needs hand-holding and is ready to buckle down and work. It’ll be hard work for him for now, but this is going to make his job in the show ring SO much easier.

I was able to hop into a lesson later that day to apply what we talked about. And wow. It makes a huge difference. The quality of his gaits was majorly improved (hello suspension) and his responsiveness was noticeably better. Asking for collections and extensions was a much less “heavy” process, when he was traveling uphill like that we were able to get that adjustability SO much faster.

Moving into the jumping, I could also tell a difference- clearly they’ve been schooling the close spot with him. A couple times I didn’t see a spot and kinda tried to launch from outer space and Frankie just said “NOPE I HAVE BEEN INSTRUCTED TO FIT IT IN AND I WILL BE ADDING THAT STRIDE YOU ARE WELCOME MOTHER” and it was like huh….that was actually a much better choice. Thank you horse.

newjumps
We have this fun new ivy-covered rolltop/barrel, and a coop set up too. Yay new jumps!

Overall I am SO PSYCHED for this month of training together. Even if we weren’t competing regularly I would be glad for this- we’re working together to get Frankie really fit and able to do his job well and I can’t see a downside to that. I came back after 16 days and hopped on my fit, shiny, healthy, happy horse and jumped around while he took care of me. Can’t complain about that!

Again, I’m thrilled to be back and checking in with all of you. Cheers!

liverpool
I swear if I don’t get to jump this liverpool ASAP I’m going to lose it. Formal request is to try it out this week in our lesson. I don’t know if you can tell from this angle, but its SUPER wide. I just wanna.

 

Lighting the Fire

You go in and put in a mediocre round. There were some decent moments, but overall it was not your best riding and it showed. You come out of the ring and debrief with your trainer:

Scenario One: “Good use of your corners and I liked your controlled release going into those tighter turns. Next time remember that outside leg and push a bit harder for the striding and things will click into place more.”

Scenario Two: “I need you to focus and be more present, because this is not the kind of work I expect from you. Get it together and go do better. Here’s how we’re going to do that…”

You’re kinda nervous about tackling a bigger oxer. You pop over it, but knock the front rail. You land with a big smile. You look at your trainer for feedback:

Scenario One: “Great job! We’ll polish it up as we go.”

Scenario Two: “Again, and this time wait with your shoulders so he doesn’t knock the rail.”

Which scenario would you prefer? I promise I’m not setting anyone up to look bad here, because I can honestly tell you that I very much prefer Scenario Two.

This is what works for me. I need the fire lit. I hate being told I did a good job if I know it wasn’t good work.

lb_listening
Listening intently. Tell me everything.

For example: one time when I was about 11 I went to a horse show with some of the girls at my summer camp. I went in for my crossrails round and broke to trot in places, missed my leads, and generally flopped around the ring. I came out and my counselor said, “Great job Olivia!” I promptly asked to switch lesson groups because I no longer trusted her as a trainer.

Even as a child, I had no patience for that crap. Tell me how to get better or GTFO.

My trainer has other clients that are more uncertain. They are the ones that she congratulates for making it around the ring- because that’s what they need. They need to know that they can get the job done before they start working the kinks out. They are still unsure, so adding too much pressure would make it even more intimidating. These are the clients for whom she emphasizes the good parts and endlessly encourages.

But over the last two years, she has learned that I can take a little bit of heat. She knows I need some pressure in order to perform. She will always be constructive with her feedback and discuss how to improve, but she also won’t sugarcoat anything. She knows I have big dreams and she knows that I’m going to have to work my ass off to achieve them, so she makes me work my ass off. Because she believes that I can get there and she’s going to do everything she can to help me there.

LB_sun_warmup down
Including but not limited to physical labor in the sun at every warmup ring

Because another piece of the puzzle is that she wants us to achieve our goals, whatever those may be. If someone’s goal is to make it around a 2′ course of 8 jumps without wanting to vomit from nerves, she builds confidence slowly and surely with tons of positive feedback and sets them up to achieve that goal. If someone’s goal is to make it to the 1.10m classes (hmmm wonder who I’m talking about), she is going to demand precision, because misses start getting dangerous at that height. And at the end of the day, horse and rider safety is paramount.

So from my musings I think these different training approaches come down to two main components:

  1. What coaching style the client responds best to
  2. What type of goal the client is trying to reach

In my case, I respond best to someone pushing me hard and I have admittedly “reachy” goals. For the safety of my horse and for my own safety, we need to demand accuracy above anything else- including my ego.

Frankie heads to the showgrounds today and I’ll follow tomorrow, and I absolutely can’t wait for another weekend of learning and improving under her guidance.

But like I said- this coaching approach doesn’t work for everyone! So tell me:

What type of coaching style do you respond best to?

Bootcamp for Francis

I’m heading to Greece for two weeks for a family vacation at the end of August and I can’t wait! Two weeks of lounging by the pool, playing with my niece, laughing with my brothers, sailing the Aegean with my parents, telling stories with my sisters. Two weeks of paradise.

greece_view
We’re heading back to the same villa we stayed at 5 years ago. It is not terrible
greece_siblings
Five years younger but we’re still all fresh to death. We get to bring another sister this time around!
greece_thumbsup
Accurate. Will be doing this in every picture.

BUT.

Two weeks away from my Francis.

Sadface. I hate not seeing him two days in a row, so to go two full WEEKS is going to be a major bummer. I’ll miss my sweet boy so much! Not to mention I’m going to lose all my muscle because I refuse to work out on vacation. I’m sorry but I just won’t do it.

For the first time, I’ve had to consider what to do with my horse when I can’t be there for a solid 16 days. I can ask buddies to hop on him once or twice if I’m gone for the weekend, but I like him to be ridden 5-6x a week and I simply can’t coordinate 10-12 rides for while I’m gone.

So after talking to my trainer and discussing the different options available, I’ve decided to put Francis into full training for the month of September. He will get ridden by a pro 5-6x a week including flatwork, gymnastic work, and conditioning rides. I’ll be having a chat with Trainer before I leave to discuss what we want to work on with him and formulate a plan to get there.

frankie_selfie_august
Priority numero uno: snuggle him tons while I’m gone because he needs his smooshes.

In an ideal world I would then compete at HITS Culpeper finals at the end of September, but it’s looking like the finances won’t be in place for that. Because I will have just paid for a month of training. So my wonderfully tuned up horse will just have to dazzle me at home. Womp womp.

Honestly though, this is going to set us up really well. Our first show at 1.0m this year was very manageable once I got over my stage fright, and I think with some hard work at home over the winter we can move up to the High Adults (1.10m) in the spring without too much fuss. This month of training will kick us into gear and get him ready to tackle some bigger fences in the fall and winter training season.

I’m dreaming pretty big with Frankie. It’s no secret that I want to make it to the 1.10m classes, but I do think he has the potential to take me even higher. I don’t think he’ll ever be the most traditional jumper- he doesn’t have that FIRE to attack the jumps like a lot of the top finishers I see at the shows- but I simply love competing and progressing on him. Despite the expense, I think putting him into professional training for the month is going to be fantastic for both of us as we pursue our goals!

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Clearly scope is not an issue for him

What arrangements do you make for your horse when you travel?

Horse First

I really liked Lauren’s post the other day about putting the horse first, and I’d like to chime in on that.

I’ve said several times how fortunate it is that I have a trainer/barn owner who is such a strong advocate for good horsemanship. But that’s not quite right. Calling it “fortunate” implies that I randomly picked a trainer and *phew* lucky me, they’re a good egg. It implies that good horsemanship is a nice perk rather than the reason I chose my trainer.

In reality, choosing my trainer was based almost entirely on her demonstrated dedication to the welfare of all horses in her barn. I certainly have competitive goals and am constantly striving to be the best rider I can be, but I knew that I wanted a trainer who puts her horses first every time.

It’s not just the basics: of course she makes sure all the horses have proper nutrition, and will adjust their feed based on workload, show schedule, turnout time, etc. She ensures they all have clean stalls, free access to water, plenty to eat, warm blankets, and gentle handling. She emphasizes proper grooming, cool downs, and tack fitting to her students.

More than that though, she has a stable full of happy horses who genuinely like their jobs. That’s no accident. That’s the result of careful, consistent training.

Under her guidance, we offer lots of praise when the horses offer good work. We take lots of breaks when horse and rider need a mental break. We gently but firmly correct bad behavior the first time so we don’t create bad habits. We push our abilities slowly and methodically, not rushing up the levels just to qualify for something. We focus on creating a good experience for the horse, THEN a good experience for the rider, and THEN getting the ribbons. We do lots of homework at home, so at the shows we’re not worried about schooling our horses.

Based on her guidance, we do not drug our horses. We do not punish them when they are confused or frightened. We do not overwork them into submission to make them too tired to misbehave. We do not use extreme bits or tack to substitute for gaps in training.

There is a reason that my trainer has my patronage. I trust her to always put Frankie’s needs first and to demand that same dedication from her staff and riders. This is not a fortunate benefit to riding and boarding with her, it is the REASON I ride and board with her.

So I’ll echo what Lauren said: there are plenty of shady characters out there, but my way of battling that is by choosing to give my business to the people who share the philosophy of “horse first.” Always.

The World’s Greatest Detective

Just call me Sherlock.

Because I am officially on the hunt for clues about Frankie’s past!

The problem: we bought Frankie through a sale barn, and they had only had him for about 4 weeks when we snatched him up. They had minimal info on his history- just enough to be able to tune him up and market him properly.

The solution: use every available resource to track down his past.

Progress: I found a sale ad for Frankie on VirginiaEquestrian.com from back in November and sent a note to the address in the ad. The gist of it:

“Hi I have your horse he’s doin’ great please tell me everything you know about him kthanksbye.”

And I actually got a fantastic response back! It turns out I had contacted his previous trainer (hereby referred to as PT), and she and his old owner had been wanting to track him down to check in on him. She was able to give me some great information, here’s what I learned:

  • He was started late- he wasn’t saddle broke until 5 or 6
  • When PT got him, she could tell he had a nice foundation over fences but did not know much dressage/flatwork, so they did a lot of schooling in that respect, but she noted he was “always so easy and brave to jump and could so easily jump the big fences.”
  • They had bought him to use as a foxhunting horse, but after taking him out a couple times they realized he was NOT a fan of the hounds.
  • When foxhunting didn’t work out, they took him to a horse trial and he had a blast. The owner wanted him to be happy but needed a foxhunter, so they put him up for sale. He had been in training with PT all of last year and only went to Phyllis in the winter because PT didn’t have a ring to keep him going in.
  • Even though he wasn’t the foxhunter they were looking for, PT and his owner “both absolutely enjoyed him” and thought he was a really good guy

I’m so so so excited to start putting the pieces together! My ultimate goal is to hopefully track his history all the way back to his breeder so I can put together a fairly complete picture of his life up to this point. I’m hoping she’ll be able to send me further back up the chain and I can take it from there.

Thoughts on what I’ve found out so far:

He was broke so late! I think this is such a wonderful thing- he’s so tall with such long legs, he needed that time to mature and finish growing. Someone loved him enough to let him grow up and get strong before asking him to jump. And now we know the reason my vet was able to say he had never seen a 10yo with such good legs!  This is also fantastic from a competition standpoint: so many show horses have to start slowing down in their early teens due to over-use, but Frankie has only been lightly used and has only jumped for a couple years. We should have many happy healthy years together doing the bigger jumps before we have to start stepping back.

I’m a little surprised that he was offended by the hounds when out hunting. He tends to LOVE other animals and isn’t overly concerned with chaos so I would’ve expected him to tolerate it fairly well. Though I do realize that foxhunting is a totally different animal.

It sounds like he really only has a solid year of intense flatwork schooling on him, which makes me love his brain even more. We’re not going to go win any dressage shows any time soon (especially with yours truly in the saddle), but he’s responsive, adjustable, and relaxed under saddle so I consider that a win. He’s had a series of trainers that have brought him along fantastically.

More updates as more information comes in! In the meantime, enjoy these two pics I tracked down of Francis going XC last year:

salead_frankiexc
SO DARK AND NON-SUN BLEACHED AND HANDSOME
salead_frankiejumping
I feel a sudden urge to braid my horse because he is the cutest creature in the world

 

2016 Goals

I’m a little late to this party, aren’t I? But better late than never!

Let’s start by taking a look at my 2015 goals:

  • Get comfortable schooling full courses at 3’3″. Yep! It’s rare that every single jump in our lessons is a full 3’3″, but I’ve been quite comfortable popping over whatever height is set.
  • Jump 3’6″ regularly. “Regularly” may be a strong word, but we’ve done this with varying levels of consistency and been very happy doing so.
  • Compete in the Adult Equitation Medal class at least once. Competed in the Dover and Ariat adult medals down in Ocala! I guess this was technically in 2016, not 2015, but whatever. This is my blog, I can bend the rules however I want. YOLO.
  • Try a jumper class. Lawlz yes I’ve done this lots.
  • Make it to an “A” horse show. Ocala FTW.
  • Learn how to braid manes and tails. I actually did some practicing! I wouldn’t hire me, but I definitely get the theory and can/should keep practicing.
  • Live through a lesson without stirrups. A full lesson? Ehhhhhh. But I can last as long as my trainer asks us to without dying, which feels like an eternity.
  • Go on at least one trail ride. We spent lots of time last summer/fall exploring off property, and I can’t wait to get back out once it warms up again!
  • Keep my confidence up. So far so good! Of course I’ll have some nervous moments, but I’ve been able to take a deep breath and give myself a little pep talk.

Not too shabby, amiright??? Time to come up with some ideas for the next year! Here goes:

  • Buy a horse. This is an obvious one that I’ve talked about a couple times so far, so I won’t belabor the point. I would love to have a magical unicorn to call my very own.
  • Improve my lower leg. I have decent eq in general, but I’ve noticed that my lower leg stability doesn’t have the level of consistency that I’d like. Some days it’s great, other days it looks like a turd sandwich.
  • Learn how to ride a variety of horses. I’ve been lucky enough to ride horses that I get along with really well, and of course the DragonMare has been a blast. But I don’t just want to be good at riding Addy, I want to be good at riding horses. If anyone in northern VA needs their horse exercised, let me know! I probably won’t be able to make them better, but I’m 80% sure I won’t completely ruin them. Probably.
  • Show in a jumper class at 1m. This depends on a variety of things, mainly what horse I’ll be riding. If I end up with a show-ready horse, this could happen rather soon. But if we decide to take on a younger horse, we will be taking our time to slowly build up experience.
  • Go double clear 60% of the time. I’d obviously like to shoot for 100% of the time, but lets be realistic here. I’m an ammy and I make silly mistakes. If I can go clear more often than not, I’ll be happy.
  • Learn more about training green horses. I find the process of teaching a young horse fascinating. We have a couple RRP horses at our barn that are coming along nicely and I’d like to observe, and I plan to ask tons and tons and tons of questions/do lots of reading on this topic. Readers: I’d love any insight you have in this area, I know lots of you have brought along your own green horses!

I think that covers the big ones for now. Any suggestions for other goals to put on the list?

I also have a question for you, that I’d love to put together into a blog post. I’ll also be asking this on Twitter/Instagram, so feel free to answer there!

When you bought your first horse, what were some surprise purchases you had to make? We all know that we need a bridle, girth, etc., but what did you end up needing that wasn’t on your list?

Bro Do You Even Gymnastic?

I love gymnastics. I seriously could not love them more. I want to do gymnastics all the time.

No seriously, think about it for a minute. If the striding is set up correctly, you only have to find one distance: to the first jump. After that, as long as you stay straight and keep your leg on (or in my case, leg on and half halt every 0.3 seconds), you’re set up for the rest of the exercise. And that lets you forget about steering, remembering courses, counting down to a distance, any of it.

You can just straight up work on your position. And get into all the oogly details. And I love that.

Let me take a step back to the start of our lesson. After finding a tick on Addy, removing a tick from Addy (aka someone else removing a tick from Addy because EW), and tacking up with lots of nose smooshes, we hopped on under a beautiful rainbow. We warmed up with some no-stirrup work, half-seat, transitions, etc. with lots of walk breaks to catch our breath in the heat. I think my no-stirrup work lately is starting to pay off- I still feel the burn, but I can manage a lot more than I used to.

We moved on to extended-collected canter transitions with a few canter-trot transitions thrown in there. Hello lovely giraffe, so nice to see you. Yes we are trotting, no we are not cantering, and yes I promise to let you know when that changes.

We also schooled walking a little bit. I know, sounds silly. But if I’m walking on a loose rein and start to gather them up, Addy will move off into a nice canter. For those of you who ride horses that require a lot of leg, this may sound awesome. And to an extent it is. But Addy reeeeally needs to learn how to walk on a contact instead of assuming she knows what’s going on. She got very wiggly and jiggy when I asked her to just walk, so that’s something I’m going to work on with her. Contact does not necessarily equal moving out. It equals listening to me.

And then it was jumping time! We had the choice of trying out a new course that Trainer set up or doing a gymnastic and I immediately called out “GYMNASTIC DEFINITELY” with an apologetic look back at my lesson buddy. She assured me that was totally cool with her.

So we trotted over a crossrail a couple times. Addy got a little crooked coming in- for some reason she was very look-y about everything yesterday. But we popped over it and then built it to a one-stride. It was a nice short one stride, so we had to package up and balance coming in. Addy ran through flat a couple times, so my focus was on getting her to the base so that she would jump up and around instead of just across.

Trainer then added a third jump that made it a one stride to a bounce. This was only the second time I’ve ever done bounces, but Beastly Unicorn said NBD. I practiced my auto release through there, which was weirdly hard. I seem to get more off balance over the smaller jumps even though I don’t have a problem with it over bigger jumps. I’m thinking that’s a sign that I need to work on my stability and rely less on Pretty Pony to keep my balance.

Then the last jump went up so that it was crossrail, one stride, vertical, bounce, crossrail, one stride, vertical. Woohoo! No joke, I literally “woohoo”-ed after going through that because GYMNASTICS ARE THE BEST EVARRRR.

Turns out you should never “woohoo” in front of your trainer during a lesson, because then she thinks you’re having too much fun and tells you to do it without stirrups. I asked her if she was joking because it sounded kinda like a joke, but she responded with, “If the exercise is too easy for you, then we have to make it harder. You’re not learning anything if it’s too easy.” Touche.

It wasn’t as much of a hot mess as I anticipated! The combination of no stirrups and auto release proved to be a bit too much for me- no feet AND no mane to grab?!- so I moved back to a crest release for this. That’s another homework point: work on half-seat with no stirrups to develop that leg and core strength so I can have truly independent hands.

After doing that a couple times, I made another mistake of telling Trainer that she has ruined my ability to judge fence heights by (1) lying like a dog about what height a jump is and (2) making me less scared so 3′ doesn’t look that big anymore. Seriously, she’ll tell me something is 2’9″ when it’s actually closer to 3’3″ (and she darn well knows it!). She took that to mean that the last jump was too low at 2’6″, so she bumped it up a couple holes and had me jump it sans-stirrups one more time.

nostirrups_vertical
I am the Queen of Crappy Screenshots. This is before we bumped that vertical up a couple holes.

You’re waiting for a disaster here but there wasn’t one. It felt pretty much the same, just a hair more hang time. Sorry to disappoint. It was pretty cool to know that I can hang on decently over a fairly substantial height though!

While I was working on no-stirrups and auto-releasing, my lesson buddy had a very interesting exercise. Trainer actually duct-taped her stirrups to her girth to force her leg into position. She told me she felt like a floppy fish out of water, but it actually looked great! My old trainer used to do that exercise with me to re-train my leg into place. If it doesn’t feel weird then it’s not making a change, right?

It’s often just the two of us in our lesson “group” and I absolutely love that. The two of us are pretty closely matched in terms of riding ability and what we’re brave enough to do (so far, everything they’ve asked), and our mounts are pretty similar in athletic ability. We get to do lots of fun and challenging exercises instead of waiting for another person to play catch-up, and we both get tons of personal attention to fix our individual problem-zones. It’s fantastic. 7pm-Wednesday-Lesson-Besties 4ever.

Even though Pretty Girl was blowing pretty hard and sweating a TON by the end, she had so much pep in her step and just wanted to keep going. Seriously, the work ethic in this mare is incredible! We walked around outside for a while to cool them off before a nice cold hosing and throwing them outside.

I’m SUPER super wicked excited for June, because my lesson buddy/show buddy/bestie is starting a partial-lease on the horse she rides in our lessons! Which just so happens to be Addy’s best friend- aka the only horse she doesn’t make ugly mare faces at. Addy loooves Gracie. I’m so ridiculously pumped to get to hack around and have fun with our ponies together! We’re totally starting the amateur-adult-half-leasing-please-can-we-do-the-jumpers club. It’s just us at the moment, but give it time.

I was about to say that I’m surprisingly not that sore, but I don’t want to eat my words when the muscle aches start later today. I will instead end this here: I am so extremely grateful for a trainer that cares about the little details and pushes us to get better, and I am so extremely grateful for a horse that gets just as excited to play around as I do.

PS- I posted a video of us going through the grid without stirrups on my Instagram page, so check it out if you haven’t seen it yet!

How do you feel about gymnastics? Any tips on improving stability without stirrups?