Tuesday, 2 December 2014

The November 10


1. Have you ever owned a horse? Yup, quite a few!

2. What is your favorite aspect of your discipline? I love the technical aspect of it and the course design. I enjoy thinking about ways of jumping the course the most efficiently, what I need to do for my horse, and what will set us up for the most success. I enjoy that the sport is never easy, and that it continues challenging me every day.

3. What pet peeves do you have concerning your discipline? The money aspect of it.  The horses keep getting more and more and more expensive, and it's pricing people out. It's not even a middle class opportunity anymore, at the higher levels anyway - the cost is just too high. I think that really sucks, because you have talented and motivated people who just don't have the big $$$ to put into it, and you eventually lose them because they're depressed af or they go do another discipline or they just stay at the lower levels forever. 

4. Do you do barn chores? I'll help out if I'm around. Sweeping and feeding and helping with turnout and stuff. Nothing too intense! I also take care of the horses I ride, and maintain them a bit with mane/tail/whisker trims and bathing and leg washing and such. I enjoy it.

5. What is your least favorite barn chore? That I actually do? Leg washing. I just don't like doing it for some reason! In general though I am not a huge fan of mucking stalls. I think I did too much of it in a previous life!

6. What do you consider the worst vice in a horse? Rearing tops the list.

7. What saddle brand is your favorite? Butet. I own one and have never loved a saddle more!

8. Do you ride with a quarter sheet in the winter? I usually start my ride with one, and wander around at the walk, but take it off before we start working.  My barn is very warm and the arena is heated so it just isn't necessary. If we go outside, I'll put it on and leave it!

9. Does your horse wear boots? What kind? He does, every ride because I'm paranoid! For schooling he wears fuzzy front Eskadrons and fuzzy Valena hind boots. Occasionally cheapy bell boots too. When we show he wears Equifit T-boots in front and behind. I think I may upgrade to Veredus for the next horse though, since Trainer hates the Equifit boots. (wah.)

10. Full seat or knee patch breeches? Knee patch! I'm a jumper, after all. The one time I tried on a pair of full seat they felt quite interesting! I would think the stick is much better.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

I Believe I Can Fly

I know I have been quiet of late, but that's only really because the Royal Winter Fair was on, and I was busy doing the following:

a) watching amazing international jumpers (hi Beezie!!! hi McLain!!! hi Darragh!!! hi Philippaerts!!)
b) partying debaucherously with (some of) the above
c) partying debaucherously with everyone else
d) stuffing myself silly with amazing Royal food
e) watching all other manner of horse everythings
f) recovering from hangovers.

Yes folks, the A Circuit Party Scene is alive and well.  I can personally attest. Ha ha.

I may or may not be in this photo somewhere.

Putting all that aside, in combination with the Royal, I gave Riley some time off (on purpose, I swear!) He had been acting a little tired, due to the intense flatwork and jumping sessions we've been having lately and I wanted to give him some time to regenerate.  Same thing for most of the horses in the barn - they (and we!) have all been working like crazy.  To be honest, I didn't really realize I was carrying some level of sore-all-the-time on my own person until I had a few days in a row off from riding altogether.

But toward the end of last week, I started doing light flats with Riley and some of the others I ride, and they all came out of it feeling absolutely better for the short break.  I fully expected psycho horses and bucking and wildness and they were all very ho-hum about it - cheerful, but certainly manageable once we started back.  

This led into the past week, where we got Trainer back from Doha (where he was VERY successful, YAY!!!) and had him all to ourselves for an entire week. New Assistant was trying horses in Germany, so he took over all the lessons. 


Tuesday was easy - we had a light flat session, and I flatted a little with Barn Owner who is a few weeks back into it after having most of the summer off.  It wasn't the most challenging lesson I've ever had but a great opportunity to review basics and work on a few fiddly little things, like my left hand apparently having a mind of its own.  We did a few exercises with rollback turns at a good canter after Barn Owner retired, and ended really well, working with a more direct rein instead of the opening rein that Trainer started us all out with.  ("Eet is more definite, more precise, you ready to use both at same time when necessary, we play with zis, see here you need more direct and here you need more open, yes good!")

Wednesday we moved into jumping a little. We started out over a single vertical on, set in the exact middle of the ring, facing down the long side - so you would canter down the long side, say on the left lead, turn left down the middle of the ring (C for dressage people, I think?) and jump the jump after a long enough approach, then turn left or right depending on your preference.

Trainer started the jump around 3ft for my first warm-up fence, which I mentally noted and wondered if we would in fact be jumping a bit higher today.  We warmed up well and then the jump went up hole by hole.  

At around 3'6" I started to do stupid things - kick a bit too much or pull a bit too much, lock my leg on the last three strides, and try really, really hard to manufacture a distance out of thin air.  The purpose of the exercise, of course, was to get and maintain medium canter, come through the turn, not press your horse too hard or take back too much, and keep that nice medium canter and adjust only if necessary.  

But can I just say how HARD that is to do? OK, at 3ft, or 1m, or whatever it is all fine and dandy, even if you throw in a bigger fence in the middle of a course.  But when it's a single off a sharp enough turn and THEN a long approach (so you are messing with your rhythm on the turn, then giving your mind and your eye a million years to second guess on the way to the jump) you really, really want to be DOING SOMETHING.  This goes back to my last post, where we practiced the Art of Doing Nothing, and the exact same thing applied here.  

I managed to figure it out well enough at 3'6" and the hole above it, but once the jump hit 1.20m I kind of stopped being able to do very much right.  The first time I pulled to the base and got a frog jump, then I galloped, and then I just kept seeing the REALLY short one over and over (and over.) Trainer put the fence back down to 1.10m (which of course looked teeny tiny by then!) and had me jump it; no issues and a lovely distance, then cranked it back up again right away and had me think about and replicate the same feeling.  This method worked absurdly well and suddenly I could ride again.  We jumped the 1.20m vertical 3x in a row in a lovely fashion, I was happy, he was happy, Riley was happy.  Then we had a great talk about the open water and how horses read 1.60m jumps and how to ride Grand Prix and actually it was a great night, the insight is incredible. Have I mentioned ever how lucky I am?!

Friday Night Pony Frands

I gave Riley Thursday off, then flatted Friday. I had a few horses to do, so I ended up on Riley last and just rode bareback. (I know you're all shocked by now.) It was definitely my best bareback ride to date; we trot and cantered and did a normal flat then courses upon courses over poles where I just worked super hard on keeping a nice, medium canter and letting the pole come to me instead of trying to find it perfectly.  My poor little bean was quite sweaty by the end - time for another clip - and took about ten years to dry under the heaters.

Then Saturday happened.

Once again, silence on the flat warmup - and then we began to jump. We warmed up over the same vertical in the middle, set this time (as a WARM UP JUMP NOT FUNNY) at 1.0m (3'3") which looks plenty large for your first fence of the day.  After maybe four quite perfect jumps, Trainer had me hop off Riley and go walk a couple of lines that he had set.  I walked the first line, a vertical to vertical, in a quiet-ish four, then the second line, a bending oxer to vertical in a going five.  Trainer was all, OK hop on and show me how to ride them.  So I made up a course including the lines and got the numbers but had to work for them a little, meaning I was under pace.  I repeated the exercise after Trainer's instruction ("think about what you did, I'm not gonna tell you, now you fix and we talk about it after") and we were both very pleased with the result. I got more pace right away, actually hit my first jump too forward, but then melted back (but not too much!) and settled beautifully for the lines.  We practiced the course once or twice more making the bending five into a quieter and less direct six. Both the five and the six were pretty easy for me and Riley; his adjustability has really grown by leaps and bounds and settling back for the six was no problem and neither was assertively going for the five.

Trainer decided, after this, that it was going to be High Jump Saturday - a little bit of a repeat of Wednesday.  I personally love High Jump Saturday and was excited to improve my riding from Wednesday.  

Well... where do I start? The jump started at 1.10m, grew very quickly to 1.20m, and I was still having no problems and sailing right along feeling great.  I hit my distances well - sometimes they were a squidge short, or I would have to lightly put my leg on - but it was never abrupt or yanking or particularly disturbing to the lovely medium rhythm. Mostly, I did what I was supposed to by just SITTING THERE, supporting with my leg and feeling lightly with my hand, my horse in a lovely package and my position in the right place.  It's truly astonishing how very little there is to do if you've done your preparation, are secure in the saddle, have a balanced horse and the right canter.

We did the 1.20m vertical off both leads, from short and long approaches, and then the jump just kept going up.  I started wondering if Riley was going to just stop or jump through the fence, but he just kept on trying his adorable little heart out.  Once the jump hit 1.30m he was a little bit surprised, over jumped it by a bit and stumbled slightly on landing.  Then he really started to concentrate! I couldn't believe myself, readers - instead of getting nervous or worried, I was excited, and confident, and my only thoughts were concentrating on my canter and Trainer's voice.  My position was, dare I say it, as close to flawless as it's ever been; I was never once out of balance, falling on Riley's neck or getting left behind, my leg was under me at all times, and our take-off spots were as close to ideal as they can be.  And so the jump just kept rising and rising.  By the end, where we eventually stopped, it was the smallest of hairs below 1.40m.  And guess which super cute little horse didn't even touch the rail a single time?

This is not me, but this is a horse jumping 1.40m.

We jumped the 1.40m jump (can I just say how much typing that BOGGLES MY MIND?!) three times in a row in truly lovely form before stopping.  Once we reached that height I could feel Riley doing different things; he was studying the jump a bit more as we came to it, and I could feel him really summon himself up, almost crouch and then sort of explode off the ground to clear it.  It's definitely a different feeling than the ~la la la smoooooth~ feel we get most of the time when jumping smaller. 

Also not me, also 1.40m.

And can I say? That was officially the coolest thing ever.  EVER.  The adrenaline junkie in my person craves more. All I want to do now is jump that big again and revisit the memory in my mind over and over.  I am so happy and so proud of both myself - I've never jumped that big - and my horse - who has also never jumped that big! 

Still not me, still 1.40m.

Trainer was also, how shall we say this? acting like a proud parent? He made me take a picture next to the jump, he is in the photo as well grinning like crazy, and spent most of the afternoon bragging to anyone who showed up about how big we'd jumped.  Of course I was setting jumps for him after and he did high jump for himself (on one of the 8 year olds who has more scope than should be allowed) and cleared 1.55m sort of casually. So cool to watch.

Saturday definitely comes toward the top of the list in terms of the best days I've had in my entire life, and of course one of the best horse related days.  Any motivation that may have trickled sadly away at the dire thoughts of never ever selling my dressage horse and never moving up in the jumping world has definitely been renewed with vigor.  As trainer said, "you have entered a new phase in your riding!" and I fully intend to first stay there and then move forward and that the universe is not in fact conspiring against me and that somehow it's all just going to be okay. I feel like I end blog posts like this a lot lately but... it's coming together. I can feel it, the proof is now actually tangible and I am so ridiculously hopeful and excited for the future. Big things are coming.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Doing less to get more

Trainer has an interesting philosophy in riding life.  Do what you have to do, when you have to do it, and no more.  That means there are times when you just sit there.  He likes to snicker and tell us he's a lazy person, but too, that the hardest thing we all have to learn is to do nothing when the time calls for it.

This is at direct odds from our previous instruction, where we were forever doing something. If nothing was going on, that was a very bad thing indeed.  There was always a list of tasks to accomplish: in the corner, take back, then come lightly forward through the turn. Steady after the jump. Half halt on the approach. You can't just canter along and enjoy the ride, for heaven's sake, you are riding! Do something!

But with Trainer the approach is different.  Let the horse find his own balance, stop trying to help him so much, let him fall flat on his face a few times until he figures out where his legs are - it will make him, and you, better in the long run.  Don't take back in the corner. Just stay on your rhythm, relax your elbow, let the flow happen.  There is no need to interrupt the rhythm on the approach unless you actually see that you need to adjust your distance.  Accept whatever distance you've gotten yourself to in the last stride.  Once you've jumped the jump, decide then, and only then if you need to steady, if you need to go, or if you just need to sit there.

This has been the focus of my lessons over the past couple of weeks.  Where everyone else is flatting, I'm constantly jumping.  Trainer has said I know enough about what he's working on with everyone else, so we're working on something else.  I guess this is complimentary, and the jumping is definitely something I need work on.  And oh, it is hard.  I'm a control loving perfectionist.  I love my perfect distances, my perfect rhythm and the perfect ride.  Trainer has made it his goal to get me over that and just allow things to happen, to stop chasing the fence and the distance, to stop anxiously looking so hard for it and just letting the pace and rhythm dictate everything.  His big thing, which he isn't wrong about (when is he ever wrong?!), is that I block with my elbow coming through the turn.

Curious Pony roaming free in the barn aisle...

Of course, this hearkens back to the way I learned to come at a jump, which is to collect through the turn and come forward out of it.  It's ingrained, seriously.  So guess what I get to do all the time now? Jump singles off the turn on a forward rhythm that isn't too forward but isn't blocking.  This has involved me feeling like I'm flapping my elbows around like a chicken and letting Riley fall on his face a few times.  He didn't like that much, and doesn't do it so often now.  It's actually improved his jumping a lot - and mine, too.  I don't start messing with the canter so much, and just let whatever happens, happen.  Oddly enough, with the tiniest of adjustments, it works out to be The Perfect Distance about 95% of the time.

In slightly amusing things that I'd like to remember for awhile, at the end of a lesson the other day I was chatting with Trainer, and asked if he thought if I could be a 1.20m rider next year.  To which he said, "you already ARE a 1.20m rider, look at ze other riders at the show doing 1.20. You have ze education and ability to do beyond zat already. Do not mistake your abilities with ze abilities of your 'orse." To which we discussed Riley's tendency to say no to bigger jumps if they are not met with complete and perfect accuracy. But that's another story, I suppose.

I also enjoy? torture myself with? keep an eye on the market...? by looking at cute horses for sale approximately every day of my life, particularly ones that I think would possibly be suitable for myself.  Mostly, I get depressed when I see their price tags. Obviously I can't make a move toward buying one just yet, what with still owning Tigger, and my entire budget tied up there.  There are some horses I've fallen across that I've liked and watched their videos a few times and even asked about price on one or two.  

But the other day I fell across one that I completely cannot stop thinking about.  He's in the Netherlands, he's young but apparently super straightforward and brave, and scopey scopey scopey. He ticks all my boxes - he's fancy, he's small(ish... I like the 16-16.2 ones!), he's quick and blooded but not crazy looking, he's super super cute, beautifully bred, and apparently very sweet and kind and jumps from anywhere.  He's shown up to 1.15 and has very obvious scope for a lot more.  I inquired about him, somewhat seriously. In an interesting twist of fate he is listed for the exact price that I'm trying to sell Tigger for, including import costs.

The chances of this horse being around by the time Tigger sells are small.  He's a really nice horse listed with a busy sales agent and I suspect he will fly off the shelf. But you never know.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

One of these things is not like the other

Though it's something I don't really mention too terribly often here (or ever, really) I do have another horse, one whom I actually *own*, named Tigger.

Tigger is an interesting fellow. He's a beautifully bred Warmblood gelding by Indoctro out of a Darco mare who jumped 1.40m herself.  I purchased Tigger almost exactly two years ago as my move-up jumper. When I bought him, he was a seven year old pleasantly fancy jumper who had competed to 1.15m and was expected to max out around 1.35m or 1.40m. I searched for some time for him and was absolutely delighted when I found him. The jumping world was my oyster.

The day I first tried him

Hindsight being 20/20, I should have listened to the little voice that said, "Irene, this horse is a bit spooky, and a bit nervous, and sucked back a little when you jumped that liverpool. Do you really want to deal with this every day?" But I liked the horse SO much, and had SUCH a fun time riding him, and he was my type and adorable and scopey and perhaps most importantly, all that was in my price range.  So I bought him with bells on.

Fast forwarding a little, things went from okay to bad to worse to done.  He started to consider the fact that he didn't want to do things - even little things, like cantering poles. Poles couldn't have been more terrifying to him.  To be fair, he was a green horse; despite the fact that he was seven, his actual experience and pro saddle time had him more in the five year old range.  He got really spooky and started to say no to some jumps. I was bewildered and hadn't ever dealt with something like that - bearing in mind he was more or less my second jumping horse ever and I'd been jumping for all of two years at that point with a season off.  So I didn't handle it as well as I could, which is something I fully admit.  But even with pro help, things declined. It all kind of came to a head when he tossed my trainer at the time into a jump and broke her arm the day before the first show of the season.  At that point, he got labeled a "problem", I was taken off him and he went to be ridden by a local pro who had a deep love for tricky horses and could stick anything. To make a long story short, we spent the summer trying to fix him, and I finally had enough when I tried to jump him myself and ended up on the other side of an oxer, alone, for no good reason.  So he went up for sale.

We spent awhile trying to sell him as a jumper. Through a trainer switch and more horse shows this ended up not panning out very well. By the time January 2014 rolled around, he was stopping every time someone tried to jump him.  It wasn't that he couldn't jump well. God knows he was scopey. But he was done. He had decided.

This prompted some redirection, and in April I sent him off to a local dressage trainer who had shown to Grand Prix and had a lively sales program.  When she got her hands on him, she thought he might be a first level horse we could sell for $10-15k.  (Note: I paid significantly more than that for him in the first place.) But as time went on she started to call me really excitedly and tell me how talented she was discovering he was.  First, it was that he could do second level, and then the realization that his changes were very good put him at a third level prospect. As the months have rolled on, however, my little jumper reject has blossomed into a shining star in dressage land.  And today he is schooling Prix St. Georges and his trainer expects he will move up to Grand Prix in a few years.  My jumper reject, a Grand Prix horse - just not in the discipline we originally anticipated!

I'm happy for him, that he's found a discipline that suits him and where he excels and shows real talent. He's not perfect, and there's still a lot of work to do, and he's never going to be a particularly easy horse. He does make you work for what he gives you, but when you work he works just as hard.

In which I try to ride dressage for the first time ever

The problem is, I'm not a dressage rider.  I've taken lessons on him, even a clinic with an international Grand Prix rider which I thought might shake things up in the right direction, but it's not my thing. I tried to make it my thing. I wanted it to be my thing. Because it's not exactly every day you just suddenly have a Grand Prix anything, much less an accidental one. But it's not my thing. And so Tigger is still very much for sale, with his price very much increasing as the days pass, which bodes mildly well for the next horse purchase but makes my checking account really sad in the meantime.

Tigger and I have been through the emotional ringer together. I was on cloud nine when I bought him and spent every spare moment obsessively watching videos of him. I was so happy that I found him. And then that slowly transformed to fear... which transformed into terror and hurt and anger. I spent a long time being terrified of even getting on his back, which rationally didn't make a whole lot of sense since it wasn't like he did anything bad while I flatted him, it was only ever jumping.  I spent a lot of time feeling hurt and angry and upset and sad about the situation. Today was the first time I've been able to go back and watch the videos we took, and that I put together with such love and enthusiasm, from the days I trialed him, without wanting to pulverize something or cry.

Because he is a good horse. He's a wonderful horse, actually. He's sweet. He's kind. He loves to be curried and cuddled. He's a bit mischievous and funny, but he's comfortable and safe (as long as you don't point him toward a jump!) and a hell of a lot of fun to ride. He loves to hack and will plod out on a loose rein.  He's going to make someone really, really happy.

But I need that to happen... sooner than later. I've felt like I just wanted to move on for a long time, but that there was some lesson that needed learning first.  After almost two years I finally feel like I learned it. Had an epiphany, maybe. I finally feel safe, and okay, and serene about moving from him, instead of just wanting him OUT OF MY LIFE RIGHT NOW.

So... universe, if you're listening? It's time. Bring Tigger his new person. It's just time.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

October's 10 Q

The past few days have been... ugh, a tornado from hell, let's say, starting with a terrible lesson where I even managed to get my saintly horse to stop and dump me into a jump and only proving to get worse with some heavy personal stuff that I won't go into. Result, I'm feeling completely terrible. But there's nothing like not thinking about your problems to get your mind off your problems... right?

puppies say "mummy tis fine, we curl up next to u and sleep off all probs"

L over at Viva Carlos does the monthly ten questions, so I am unabashedly participating because I like questionnaires. Funsicles.

1. How many pairs of breeches/jods do you own? 
Pause for thought.  About 13, but: two of those are for showing only (and one pair is far too large at this point, so not even wearable) and of the remainder I actually wear nine of them with any regularity, and of those, there are only about four that are appropriate for lessons and fancy riding, and the others are craptacular (but wonderful) schooling breeches that fit very oddly and I can't tuck anything into them because I have to roll down the waist. Great for summer hacking though.  Of the remaining... I'm actively attempting to sell three pairs, and will hopefully sell more once I slowly replace my current gigantic breeches with breeches that fit. But I'm too poor right now.

2. How many horses have you ridden?
Dear god. A trillion? Potentially more than a trillion? I used to keep track, way back when I was a young'un but not so much now.  I used to catch ride on the Morgan and Arab circuits, and literally rode everything in every barn I've ever been in (small exception being this one, but I'm on my way!) so uh... if I had to guess, north of 300, and that's a conservative guess.

3. How many trainers have you had?
Tricksy question; including all trainers at all barns it would be nine. But... my first barn had one trainer (left due to distance), my second barn had one trainer (left due to him being evil), my third barn had three trainers (left due to moving to Canada), and my current barn has gone through four (one head trainer was let go for ~reasons~ resulting in a new head trainer, and then assistant was let go this fall for ~reasons~ resulting in a new assistant).  I'm not much of a trainer hopper - all that started quite literally 20 years ago.

4. How many barns have you ridden at? 
My first barn + trainer in one location, then she moved and I went with her, stayed there for about a year but it was a looooong commute.
My second barn was my house! Not a long commute.
My third barn was a boarding barn about a mile up the road from my house - I actually rode my horse there when we dropped her off, haha.  My house didn't have an indoor arena, so I kept my show horse there in the winters so I could actually do something.  The ponies stayed at home though.
My fourth barn was a big training barn, and home to my second trainer, though that didn't last very long. About three months. We, uh, didn't get along very well.
Which led to my fifth barn, which had no trainer either, but lots of my friends boarded there.
From there I eventually took my horse back to my parents', then I got a job at a big training barn out of state, with three amazing trainers literally the best in the nation at what they did.
So I moved there, and stayed for... I dunno, three years I guess? Loved it there, they were amazing.
But then my BF asked me to move to Canada, so I did, and had to find a new barn; it was decent timing since I had just sold my horse.
Then I moved to the barn I'm currently with!
So a total of 7.

5. What is the name of the horse you consider yourself to have the greatest bond with?

6. What is your favorite show name you've ever encountered?
I really love the name Girl on Fire. There's a chestnut jumper mare on my circuit with that name and it is just so beautifully appropriate.

7. What do you consider your greatest weakness or flaw in riding?
My fear, anxiety, and overthinking. I wish I were ballsier and didn't overanalyze everything to death.

8. What do you consider to be your greatest strength?
My work ethic. I'm willing to work as hard and as long as it takes. I also believe I'm a good and teachable student.

9. Have you ever leased a horse?
Yes, Slappy, Riley, Ruckus, and Denver.

10. What is the name of the first horse you rode?
There were horses I rode before I really started ~riding~, like at a fair or on a trail ride or something. But the first horse I rode 4 realz was a chestnut Arabian gelding named Royal. I was totally and unabashedly obsessed with him for a really long time!

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Half-ass Twopointober and etc.

In case anyone was wondering, this is what a 1.60m maxed out oxer looks like when it's sitting in your home arena. #hi

When Equestrian at Hart and L over at Viva Carlos decided to put on Twopointober, I was excited. Then I ended up horse showing three weeks in a row, and missed the cutoff to get in my baseline time. Nonetheless, it's all about self improvement and not winning shiny prizes (so I keep telling myself...) so I'm doing Twopointober on my own terms!

My original baseline time was 6min28sec, and I could probably have held it a bit longer, but my back was not a happy camper.  I was surprised to find that I was actually *sore* the next day from just that amount of two point! It definitely drove the point (har) home that I needed to do some work.

I timed myself at the warm-up on one of the horses I rode today, the super fun young jumper I talked about a little in my last post, and let him meander around at walk and trot.  I pushed it pretty far this time, and basically only sat down when my back was burning. My legs were kinda fine, but the back... not so much.

My hands are not actually on the neck, I SWEAR.

Total time:

Close to a two minute improvement in a week, which I'm fairly happy with, particularly since I haven't exactly been practicing beyond regular lessons and riding and a bit of no stirrup work. Though now, a few hours after, whew - I can feel it! It's interesting, because very few things make me feel very sore in my inner thighs these days unless I do, like, two horses without stirrups, but this got me.  And my back, though it feels like it got run over by a truck, also feels oddly relaxed, where it usually just hurts.  My legs themselves feel like I just did a decent round of squats. Hot bath, here I come.

In other news, I had a lesson yesterday with Trainer which was middling at best.  We did more work with extension, medium, collection and I think I am really getting the hang of it.  I am, of course, exceptionally lucky that I get to practice on quite a few horses, which makes a difference.  Trainer went one step further this time and had me practice collection on the way to a fence - like I had to add the stride in, every time.  Which was HARD. I went to my usual habits when jumping which is the "get it done and don't die" approach; unfortunately not the goal of the exercise! I tend to do a lot of give and take when I want my horse to collect on the way to a jump, and learning to keep that very strong connection backed up by a *lot* of leg was tough.  By the end, both Riley and I were tired, and I really hope my eye is not permanently fixed to the short one now! I'm not sure exactly how much we got accomplished, other than reinforcing the idea of collection and extension. Trainer rambled on a little later about the importance of repetition, and I guess he's right. I think I got really spoiled last week with working with this new concept and was totally excited to learn something else life-changing, but realistically, we should all probably practice this first.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

A Week with New Assistant

Riley says "I look really good in fall colors"

I hope to make this a reasonably quick recap of last week's rides/lessons, but for some reason I always end up typing out small novels so I guess we'll see.

Thursday, I had my first lesson with New Assistant.  (Also a dressage lesson on my other horse, whom I never talk about here, but probably should.)  We started out with her observing my warmup in silence, then she had me start cantering some poles placed on the short end of the ring.  The idea is that a jump on the short end is hard, because it's a very short approach and a very short landing, but you have to be really careful not to turn in the air since it causes a rail.  So, she had me practice this on a normal rhythm, then the add-a-stride rhythm, then the go-and-get-it jump-off rhythm.  We talked a little about Riley's reluctance to do true collection and just slow his body down without really doing much with his stride length, and this was an interesting theme that started coming up this week.  She suggested a couple of exercises to improve his connection coming through the corners, which I've practiced a bit this week and seem to help.

After this, she had me do a long bending line from a vertical to an oxer.  The jumps were tiny, maybe 2'3" or 2'6", and she first had me put in as many strides as I possibly could between the two by going out in the long bending and just being patient for the jump.  I put in 10 the first time, then she had me go back and remove a few strides.  I did it in a short 8 this time, then she had me do an "attacking" rhythm like I would do in a jump-off and I got it down to what should probably have been a six but was a seven because I bent out a bit much.  Nonetheless a successful exercise.

After this, she had me canter through a different, regular five stride bending line (which I thought was rather long indoors, riding inside sucks) and then go back through in the attacking jump-off rhythm and try and ride my track more direct and get it done in the four.  I was a bit worried about this, since making a five into a four is a get-it-done type of scenario where you need to have the right rhythm in and get it done early, and indoors this is even more of a challenge! But I had the right canter coming in, got a great distance where I sliced off a few feet, and then legged up for the four which we completed really quite beautifully.

All in all a reasonable lesson; she figured out some of my shortcomings quite quickly (eagerness to do the add, rather than the leave out, for example!) and we talked a bit about riding more efficient tracks and stuff like that.

Saturday, I lessoned once more with her, since Trainer was away doing a clinic.  This was a more interesting day. We started by doing a set of three poles, evenly spaced, cantering in, trotting the second and cantering out.  This was quite easy and fun. Then she had me canter them in a four to a four, which was also easy, then around and do a five to a four, then a four to a five, then a five to a five, then a five to a three.  It was pretty cool and it made some of Riley's weaknesses show up - which is to say his tendency to bulge into a banana shape going to the right, and his reluctance to "bounce" - instead, he just goes slower instead of doing a proper shortening of stride, and some of the shortening exercises really made that apparent!

After this, she had me canter off the right lead to a small (probably 2'3" or so again) vertical off a very short corner, land and counterbend in a circle, then continue on the same line once we got back around to an oxer.  The first time, Riley was sluggish and behind my leg, and landed in a sprawling heap, so it took me a little bit to re-balance and get the exercise done.  But we did and it immediately helped him to balance and straighten.  We did this several times in a row and it was really useful, then went around the other direction and did same.  She commented that he tends to land in a big, open strided sprawl no matter what distance I get in, which is interesting and explains a lot about why he is so damn hard to do certain things with.  I mean, I can feel it when I ride, but I always thought it was *me* and my lack of balance... turns out, not so much.  Actually she was rather adamant it wasn't.

So, two lessons in with her, my thoughts: I like her quite a bit so far. It's hard to tell in two lessons, but her exercises have been interesting and useful and more importantly actually make sense.  She doesn't yell, she's not critical in a harmful way, she's way more about having a conversation about your horse/its shortcomings/how we fix/what I'm feeling and actually LISTENING to what I'm telling her, which coming from previous Assistant is nothing short of miraculous.  Plus, she's really nice and funny, which never hurts.

But I do think it's funny she made all the lessons after me do torturous things, lots of two point and no stirrups and other assorted amusing exercises.  I asked her why she didn't make me do them and she goes "because I know you're already good at that!"

Having lessons three days a week is fairly glorious, but also leads to not tons of time schooling on your own! (Which is not a bad thing right now, really.)  Sunday, though, I had the ponies all to myself.  Riley flatted like a total star, and a little cute young jumper gelding that I've been doing a bit had his best flat ever.  I really like this one; I've probably ridden him eight or nine times now and he is a really neat horse.  A bit spooky (one moment you'll be trotting along quite placidly and the next you'll be leaping across the arena because he saw ~something~) but usually works out of it eventually and he is a real teacher in the art of feel.  He responds to the lightest of touches and prefers it that way, and gets extremely irritable if you try to pull on him or get too in his face, and will overreact to the leg for awhile, every time.  But he's the coolest horse, because once *you* get it right, he is all about going around like the perfect show pony.  He went absolutely beautifully Sunday, even after a grouchy warm-up on his part, and it just felt amazing.  One of those horses you can make huge strides with and see the results of your work really quickly.  He's also one that really appreciates positive reinforcement - I think a lot of them do, really - and a quick pat and wither scritch when he does something right leads to him working ten times harder.  Definitely walked on air a bit after that ride, it was so so good, and stuffed his adorable face with carrots!

Lastly I did the other young jumper gelding I've been doing for a couple of months now, and took him out on a hack with a friend who showed up.  We walked and trotted a bit and he was perfectly behaved, and it was so nice to get out! The weather was quite chilly, I think around 7 degrees, and it was wet and muddy, but also really stunning.  Unfortunately my iPhone did not do it justice but it was incredible out there.

Lastly, my barn got a new kitten! She is the cutest thing ever.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Blog Hop: That One Thing

I promise, one of these days I'll stop being so sporadic. I have some cool ideas for blog posts, just not a lot of free time at the moment!

Anyway, I fell across this blog hop the other day, and it looked like a lot of fun. I'm a bit of a tack ho, so this is definitely one for me...

First, I wanna know: what is the ONE piece of tack (or clothing) that you simply cannot live without? Put function aside for a moment and try to decide which piece of your tack ho collection is your favorite. It can be anything for you, or for your horse. 

Because I'm completely incapable of doing just one thing, I will give two answers here.

The first is my totally amazing saddle. I got a stunning, new custom Butet that arrived in May of this year, and it's my favorite saddle of all time.  The balance is exquisite, my leg improves just by sitting in it, the leather is divine, and my butt is happy.  I'm convinced my position improved tenfold just by having this beautiful piece of equipment. It will be pried from my cold, dead hands.

I consider this a "necessity" item... within reason. Obviously, I could have purchased something less expensive, but on the other hand, you have to have a saddle to ride.


The second is what I would consider a totally frivolous item, particularly since I had perfectly nice stirrup irons leading up to this.  But about three seasons ago I became more than mildly obsessed with the Wildkart Jin stirrups.  I honestly don't care that they're a wide footbed, though over time I've come to rather appreciate that about them. I just like how they look, and the look on a rider's foot.  So sexy. (I don't know. It just is.)  I am basically obsessed with them and admire my foot in the stirrup every day. (Yes. It's very vain of me. I DON'T CARE.)

An extremely attractive display on top of the barn's washing machine...
They should pay me for this stuff, really.

precious all dressed up

Second, I'd like to know what you're currently saving up for or lusting after. Basically, what item do you have your eyes set on right now? If someone handed you enough money, what would be the first thing to buy on your list? 

Ugh. Where do I start.  
I've been lusting after a pair of Parlantis for a long time, but my goodness they are expensive and I really just cannot justify it... yet.


Also these Tailored Sportsmans in this color, which is Ivy.


And last but not least, a Back on Track blanket for Pony. But I refuse to buy one because *fingers crossed* someday my dressage horse will sell and I'll get a new creature and it seems silly to buy a BoT blanket for a horse I might not have much longer.

So naiiiiiice

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Autumn Awesome: AKA Equestrian Bootcamp

"I am going to teach you how to RIDE."

As a pre-reading note: I slightly wish this could be a funnier entry - and I have no doubt they'll be coming. But I have to remember these moments, and keep them in this online memory book, and look back on them during times of hardship and sadness or self-flagellation.  Sorry, dear readers.

Post-show season and pre-Florida has become known as Boot Camp 'round these parts.  Trainer is fairly big on concentrating on showing when we're showing, and fixing and adding to your knowledge toolbox during the off season.  Well, now is the off season, and I couldn't be more excited for it.  I feel like a kid at Christmas who is also in a candy shop who also knows they are getting everything they want in their gift boxes.

Equestrian boot camp involves a layering of things: a lot of flat lessons, a lot of new concepts introduced by Trainer, a *tremendous* amount of education, the realization that you have never learned how to actually ride, a whole hell of a lot of practice, and a significant amount of time spent without stirrups. 

At the mention of all these glorious things to come, my barnmates consider their own deaths and I just get weird and giddy.  This gif about sums it all up (that would be me, in the middle):


The first day of this magical string of lessons came yesterday.  I was pretty early, and somehow ended up displaying a horse to a prospective client, which was interesting.  After that, I tacked up Riley and went in for my lesson.  Trainer was in an excellent mood and we spent some time chatting about the Nations Cup Final in Barcelona, during which he, and the country, had a truly excellent showing.  Can I just say again? How unrealistically lucky I am? How fortunate I am to have landed somewhere with that kind of insane talent and knowledge? AHH. Boggles my mind.

Anyway, my lesson started as they always seem to: abruptly.  One moment I'm trotting along purposefully on a loose rein to stretch Riley out and the next there are commands sailing across the arena to my ears.  

Trainer generally picks one fairly specific concept per lesson (or week, depending) and introduces it to everyone.  It varies by riding level - the more advanced riders will go way more in depth where the barest duskings of it will be introduced to the riders who aren't quite there yet.  Trainer started by working with me on a circle at the walk, and having me ask my horse for inside flexion while ensuring that his shoulder didn't pop and his hind end didn't go flying off into the sunset.  The big instruction was to give, give, give with my outside elbow and relax through the elbow and shoulder, not the fingers (as he kept reminding me; whenever someone tells me to relax, my fingers open!) and just maintain contact, not pull, with the inside hand.  We did this both directions at the walk, then moved to the trot, with no real problems.  Then we went to the straightaways, asking for slight inside flexion by giving with the outside elbow and hand, getting some kind of reaction from the horse, and going back to straightness, then outside flexion, then straightness, then inside, then outside, then straightness, and a lot of nothing when you got the proper reaction.  It was very bare, and very small movements but Riley was like "oh, I like this" and began to really frame up beautifully.  We worked this at trot and canter, did square turns, lots of Trainer being very vocal about yes/no/maybe, then we started doing collected work. 

Now in the past I've done what I would consider collected work, but apparently wasn't too terribly proper, ha ha.  Trainer's instructions involved putting on a lot of leg, but just holding - not pulling, holding - the contact, then slowly (and later more quickly) easing the contact back and asking the horse to rock back and shorten his step.  Sounds easy, right? It's not. But we worked collection, medium, extension, medium, collection at trot and canter, and Riley was like, "OH." and I apparently started doing a lot of things right, at about the same time he started getting it, and evidently got the hand giving thing down to some sort of science, since Trainer seemed quite cheerful about my (apparent) ability to collect and properly use my hands after thirty minutes of instruction.

At this point I would like to point out I'm still not exactly sure what I did, but I practiced what I thought might be right today on a few different horses, and got some pretty excellent results, so I'm hoping I'm on the right track!

Trainer always likes to connect whatever specific exercise we're doing to the bigger picture (which is jumping courses, basically) and spent some time talking about the (obvious) benefits of collection before fences and after and stuff like that.  So for shits and giggles he threw in a tiny vertical, had me jump it from normal rhythm but with the correct use of hand and leg to hand, then collect collect collect after, lead change, same thing the other way.  

Dear readers, while I'm still not entirely sure what I did that was so right, it felt... well, it felt amazing. Because there was obviously something really, really right about it.  I finished and was just walking on air and could not stop thanking Trainer.  He was so fantastically interactive about all of it too, walking next to me, showing me exactly what he wanted me to do, talking at great length about collection and forwardness and all of it, and the muscles it affects on the horse's body, and how I could take all these tools and put them on all of the future horses that I ride, and a lot of other really nice and complimentary things about my riding that I am honestly embarrassed to put here but will probably remember forever.  I literally sat there and grinned like a total moron, tried to come up with coherent responses, and thanked him about 300 times. 


Then I tried to be funny, and also slightly make light of the fact that I could barely get around a course when he showed up last year, and said, "every time I have a proper lesson with you, I realize I don't know how to ride at all!"

He got kind of annoyed with me about that statement, for the briefest moment.  We had been talking and laughing, then all of a sudden it was *deadpan silence and French staredown* and I was like, *cringes in terror.*  And he kind of thought for a moment, and then goes, "you know, you are always saying zis, zat you do not know how to ride. You are not as educated as you could be, zis is difference. But zat much different than not knowing how to ride.  I will educate you. It obvious you want to be educated, look at what you done over ze past year, your whole riding is totally different. You embrace what I tell you. You work ze hardest. Now we get to do more advanced ting, like today, zis advanced stuff."  And then another unexpected flood of compliments.  (For interested parties, I have no idea how to take a compliment. So that was awkward.) It's obviously very validating to have your trainer tell you you don't suck, but this one is not prone to compliments really, and is pretty much never effusive, so to hear all this come out in a flood of "hey, I'm an Olympic rider, and I don't think you suck, in fact, I think you're pretty cool!" is fairly weird in a rather good way.

I'm glad I practiced and worked as hard as I have. While I have no expectation it's going to be easy from here on out, I am really starting to think it's going to be *better.* Plus one for perseverance and chasing dreams.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Year in Review: A look back at show season

Now that the outdoor show season is officially at an end, it's time for a look back.

My 2014 show goals included:
- Jump the 1.0m jumpers
- Jump the 1.10m jumpers consistently
- Do a 1.15m or two
- If everything goes swimmingly and Riley can handle it, do the 1.20m
- Ride with consistency
- Sit better over bigger jumps

I didn't hit all of my goals, and the year definitely didn't exactly go as planned.  But I hit some goals, and as horse people, we always have to improvise.

I made a lot of mistakes...

And I had to buy two new helmets because of them...

(my feels on that whole mess)

But I did a lot of things right, too.

I got some impressive bruises.

Despite not jumping the height I wanted to jump this year, I still made a few forays into the 1.10m ring, which at the time was very, very scary.

We looked good doing it, too.

I was (and am!) fortunate enough to train with one of my riding idols, something I am grateful for every single day. I learn so much from him and continue to be in awe of his talent. 

~Paparazzi~ shot

I can honestly say that I tried my best every time I showed up. Some days it went better than others, but I always tried.

Some days I was really scared, but I did it anyway, because that's what you have to do.

Some days, after the failures, it was all I could do to continue, because I wondered if I would ever grow beyond the sum of my failings.  But I do continue, because I know if I work hard enough, I will achieve my goals.  

As time goes on, I'm realizing that even though you want the progression to be fast, that doesn't mean it will be.  But as long as you're moving in the right direction, that's all that matters. 

Having said all this, I am extremely hopeful that the seeds I planted this year, in terms of a riding foundation, sprout and grow into a big, beautiful flower next year and in the years to follow.  My riding is definitely better than it was in May... palpably so. And that is something to be proud of!

And now, I'm looking forward to a winter of riding lessons, some Mise en Selle (French for no-stirrups torture, a term coined by Trainer) and, hopefully, a foray or two to Florida for WEF.  And also a vacation. Because I'm tired.