Thursday, 31 July 2014

The Rest of the Show

Well now that we have been home for some four days and I am finally getting caught up on sleep (in preparation for rolling into another sleepless horse show week next week...) it's also time to get caught up on here and document the remainder of Big Fancy Horse Show.

I left off feeling mildly nauseous about going back in the ring to show in yet another 90cm training jumper class.  And boy was I ever nauseated the next morning.  The only goal of the day became "don't vomit", although I amended that rather quickly to include "don't fall off" too.

The warmup went well enough, as warmups go, and as usual trotting, cantering and then jumping gave me something to focus on and slow my mind down.  Riley felt pretty good - forward, happy and not backing off so much.  I changed his bit from our usual show bit to something even softer: basically, the world's fattest loose ring snaffle.  Usually this results in him yanking me around like an equine freight train but he was quite well behaved, leading me to muse over the fact that my horse really DOES back off in unfamiliar and "scary" situations and is perhaps mildly more insecure than I give him credit for.

Toddling down to the gate, I was in less than entirely excellent spirits, and proceeded to forget the majority of my course, which led to a small panic at the gate.  Trainer was all, "just go and ride it..." and I was like, OH MY GOD I DON'T KNOW THE NUMBERS THERE IS A ONE STRIDE AT THE END OF A NUMBERED LINE OH MY GOD I CAN'T. I CAN'T. OKAY. I CAN'T.  At which time he kind of looked at me balefully, went out of the gate, and returned moments later with some hapless rider on some hapless horse and informed them they were going right now. There was a brief, halfhearted attempt to argue on their behalf, but Trainer was having none of it.  I was too panicky to see the humor in this at the time but looking back?... welllll.

So we watched this person, then it was my turn.  I trotted in, spent a year showing Riley just about every single jump, and then got started.  And you know, it went really well.  I shook the mothballs out of my brain and just concentrated on the job at hand, forgetting about everything but what I was doing and just riding.  What a concept.  We were a little tight to a couple of jumps, which I didn't love, but Trainer was happy with the "patience" so whatever.  Our attempts at both one strides were extremely successful - I said "GO." and he said "okay!" and that was that.

What I noticed, later, on my video, was both the a) commentary, and b) Riley's show groom hovering at the gate, just in case.  Usually she videos and then meets us after with a mint.  And the commentary was something like, "urrrrgh" and "URFF" and "awww" and then "PSHEW, THANK GOD." once we cleared the final jump. Har de har. Apparently I give Trainer heart palpitations.

Riley received many pats, mints and I informed him he was back to The World's Very Best Pony status, which he liked very much.  Later in the day we toddled out to the cross country course and explored it in between bites of grass.  Still cannot believe people actually willingly jump that stuff but I'm sure people think that about Grand Prix showjumps, too....

The next day, Saturday, it was decided that we would do the 1m Jr/Am class, something that actually didn't send me into a tailspin - a fact that apparently shocked Barn Manager/Riley's regular show groom, who was all, "you're not freaked out about the height after what happened earlier? WHO ARE YOU?!"

Of course I have much bravado the day/night before I have to show and then much bravado after, at least assuming it goes well, so I was all, wutever it's a meter. I will be fine. We have done many meters. IT WILL BE FINE. <begins sweating>

Our warmup was somewhat less than ideal.  I couldn't find the proper rhythm to save my life and kept seeing the short one over and over and over.  This eventually led to me pulling up three times in a row in a fit of frustration.

Finally this conversation happened....

Trainer: What are you doing....?
Trainer: Well just go back to the rhythm, then you can adjust when you see it.
Trainer: Well it looked right to ME.
Me: Well it wasn't.
Trainer: Well we will never know who is right unless you jump the jump. <smirks>
Me: <pauses> Point made, sir. Point made.
Laughter all round.

And then I went and jumped it another eight times and sort of stopped sucking and then went down to the ring.

And then I had one of the better rounds I've had in recent memory.
And then we made the jump-off to my eternal sadness, because I had to jump through that one stride AGAIN. AND it was off a very short corner and rollback. Which was really very mean.
Except this resulted in GLORY! GLORY I TELL YOU.
And we were double clear and into 3rd place.

By the end of it, we were kicked out of the ribbons, since there were 56 in the class and I wasn't exactly a speed demon in the jump off, but it was another one of those annoying ~personal victory~ days.

To go from falling off TWICE in the same day to double clear in a bigger class later in the week is not something that I would have considered remotely possible last year and so, there is much success in that.  Mentally, I didn't even totally lose it, at least when I was actually in the ring, which is also a personal victory.  I feel like I've been able to look at it pretty philosophically - falling off is part of riding. Failure is part of success.  And it doesn't have to be a big deal.

I think Trainer helps with this.  Previous trainers (and Assistant) treated falling off like a catastrophic incident and a big deal.  Trainer just laughs at you and then finds someone who fell off worse, introduces you and then laughs at both of you.  This sounds horrifying, but he does it in a funny way and then talks about the amusing falls he, too, has had, including but not limited to entertaining falls in the warmup ring before things like, oh, Nations Cups and such.  It definitely adds a more lighthearted feel to something that, realistically, is a part of the sport.

We're at home this week - hooray! - and get to have a lovely week of lessons with Trainer.  After pottering around setting jumps all evening yesterday, it really hits home how unbelievably lucky and fortunate I am to ride where I do and get to learn so much.  There are days I really feel like the luckiest person in the entire world.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Horse showing is fun... right? RIGHT?!?!


Je arrives in beautiful Qu├ębec to beautiful horsey show.  Magically happen to arrive at the same time as everyone else driving in.  Not sure how this happened since they managed to do 2/3 of the drive before I actually got out of bed.  We all tack up our very cute ponies and go for a hack.  It turns out the rings are all open for flatting - which basically NEVER happens in Jumper Land, but was a very good thing indeed since the rings are spooky as hell.  We went approximately all ways but forward for a little while before Riley settled in and gave me a really lovely flat.  Following this we hacked around the (enormous) show grounds a little and proceeded to go just about every way but forwards once more.  You win some, you lose some.

The day was not (of course, it's a horse show) without drama.  My barn originally had 11 horses going, and ended up with only six present, due to varying forms of disaster (colic, sickness, riders pulling out at the last second for god knows what reason.)  Along with this one of the owners, coming to observe, managed to lose their SUV off the back of their motor home not once, but twice, and ended up stranded on the side of the road for most of the day Tuesday.  Apparently there was a lot of wine involved after that happened - bonuses to being a passenger in a motor home, I suppose.  Mr. Riley also managed to wake up with a laceration along his forehead, who knows how he managed THAT, but didn't seem bothered by it.

Because Riley was Mr. Perky Pants we decided I should show up and flat at the unrealistically painful hour of 7am before the show started.  Trainer musingly put us in the 90cm (3ft) to start as a warm-up class "because I have not seen you in a while" and you know, my reputation of sucking at riding apparently precedes me.  I'm all, wutever, it's 3ft who cares it will be fun/stress free/etc.  And still took am Ambien at 8pm in order to make sure I got a solid night's sleep.  Because will be Champion or something.


Alarm goes off at some disgusting hour, I check out my hotel's free breakfast buffet which appears to contain only pastries (though a substantial collection), juice, fruit, and no coffee (which is UNACCEPTABLE, amirite.)  It was very nice by most standards but for someone who doesn't eat carbs I was less than entirely enthused.

Appear at horse show, very casual, hop on waiting Pony (sometimes having a groom at the horse shows is REALLY NICE) and have a *lovely* flat.  Hop off Pony, walk course, hop back on Pony, casually wander up to warmup.  Stress level low, life is gravy, and warmup proceeded to go like so:

Trainer: Let's change a bunch of shit about your riding RIGHT NOW!
Me: Okay! It's only 3ft and I haven't seen you in two weeks and we're at a new horse show in a new place, what could possibly go wrong!

Can anyone see where this is going?

After a less than totally awesome warm-up we headed down to the gate and went in the ring.  Trainer is all "DO THE ADDS" so I'm like ahright I will make this look like the most awesome equitation course that ever was.  Bearing in mind that we also changed Riley's usual show bit to something a wee stronger which might actually make the adds possible.

So we go in, I pick up a casual canter, and he charges the first jump.  I'm all, NOT COOL and set him back and we do the add... plus two.  (Ugh.)  It looked very lovely but obviously I had zero rhythm.  Come around the corner, jump an oxer, then a rather evil bending dog leg in some random amount of strides (8-11, depending on how you rode it) to a vertical-oxer in and out. And here is where things went horribly, horribly wrong.

I was like, lol casual canter! Oh let's move forward oh wait no shit okay let's chip!!! Oh fuck now I think we have to do two strides in this in and out oh well it will be fine c'mon Riley! And he was just like, "lol?" and slammed on the brakes and spun left hard.  So I went flying off and used my head as a stopping point on the way down and landed directly between the front and back poles of the oxer.  Fantastique, non?

I had to sit there for a moment to make sure I wasn't dead, which of course gave the medic time to come screaming up, so there was this whole to-do but long story short I was fine.  Come out of ring, Trainer spends a lot of time going over all the things I sucked at doing (which was a very long list of which I heard approximately nothing since I was really busy trying not to break down in toddler-like tears) and then he's like ok let's get back on and do it again.  And I'm like, oh great.  Can we at least jump some jumps first.... so we went back to the warm-up ring, jumped exactly two verticals and then went again.  I'm all, you know there is literally no way this could happen again, I have gotten the worst out of the way, ha ha everyone falls off whatever.

Can anyone guess what happened next....?

That's right. Twice within about 10 minutes, the same fucking jump on the same fucking course, at THREE FEET.  I am mortified and irritated and angry and terrified all at the same time.

This time it was probably only 60% my fault - I had a slow distance in, and then kicked and he was just like "UM LOL YOU'RE HILARIOUS HAHAHA FUK U" and slammed on the brakes and then went trotting off like an Arab.  I hit the dirt (in the same imprint, basically) and was just like, are you serious? REALLY?

So this time I came out and Trainer kind of stared at me with concern (which is different from the usual where he laughs at you when you fall off...) and goes "hmm tomorrow I will school him."

There is a silver lining to all of this: due to whacking my head and ruining my $700 SpeedAir (sobbing. really.) I got to buy a new helmet! Which my credit card hates me for. But I'm now the proud owner of a Samshield! I think it makes me look like a bobblehead but the choices were a bit slim, and I was so NOT dropping $800 on a new SpeedAir.

Some 20 minutes after I rode (or really, didn't ride) the skies opened, the thunder cameth and the entire show was rained out and cancelled for the day.  So I went back to my hotel, sulked for a while, then took a really nice nap before going out for drinks with my barn fwends.


After threats of making me show after Trainer rode, I showed up at the truly ungodly hour of 6:30 AM.  I mean my hotel didn't even have breakfast going at that hour.  So unfair.  I walked my course then cooled my heels for awhile waiting for Trainer to actually show up, discovering during this time that they were only allowing single trips in the schooling classes since they had double the entries for the day due to the day prior's raining out.  This perked me up greatly, since it meant I didn't have to ride - and this turned out rather well since my neck, shoulders, left rotator cuff and upper arm, left hip, tailbone, right hip, right thigh and right calf all have rather spectacular bruises.  But mostly it's my neck and damn it hurts.

Trainer eventually put in an appearance and hopped on Riley.  He's never actually jumped him before... he flatted him exactly once back in November, so I was really looking forward to observing.  Trainer has a reputation for being able to ride absolutely anything and make it look like a million bucks, but Riley was extremely unamused.  He basically flattened his ears and sulked his way around the ring warming up until they started jumping, then Mildly Happy Riley appeared, but he was still sucked back and kind of going backwards and looked very annoyed by the whole process.  I kind of had to laugh since I'd forgotten how pissy he gets when new people ride him.

We all trooped down to watch him sail around the ring, and he was extremely grumpy and sticky.  Irritable chips, wouldn't come off Trainer's leg, going backwards.  Coming to the first in and out, an oxer to vertical, Trainer basically bashed him with his legs and cowboyed him forward and then he jumped through it nicely; same thing with the second in and out.  Trainer finished with a bit of a scowl then proceeded to inform the gate person he was going again.  Which was easily the most entertaining part of the day, since they argued back and forth for about five minutes, something like "I want to go again" "well no we're only doing single trips today because there are so many people." "But your ring is empty.... if I go again right now it does not matter I will inconvenience nobody."  "Well no you can't." "What you don't want to make money? Come on we are here to school. Just let me go again this is ridiculous." "Um no you can't" "Radio the office and tell them it is me." <Gate guy does so, drops the name in the process.>  "OK you can go...."
There was a lot more to it than that but we were all sitting up on the hill watching and dying of laughter.

The second round was oodles better, I could still see him being sticky and then spurting forward and then dropping behind the bit again but it was infinitely better than it was.

Trainer finished, hopped off, murmured a few words about him and then looks at me and goes "he is tricky eh?"

Um so long story short I'm very lucky to have a Trainer who can do that and make it all work.

But now I have to show tomorrow.

I'm stuck between mild apathy, mild terror, and mild nausea.  On the one hand I feel okay and on the other I'm pretty sure as soon as I get on I'm going to crap my pants.   I really can't win.  And I really don't want to break my new helmet on its first ride.

Pray for me.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

I haven't actually died

So here's what happens: I get shiny new followers and then totally drop off the face of the earth.  Nice, right?

The good news is, I'm not actually dead.  I've just been insanely busy - travel mixed in with work mixed in with ~~drama~~.  (What's life without drama? Besides, you know, nice and relaxing and stuff.)

Right now I'm sitting in a rather cozy hotel room - it looks like it should be in a ski lodge - in a town that, I'm pretty sure, was built solely to service the main highway that runs through southern Ontario.  This place is a cornucopia of cheap hotel rooms, fast food, and diners.  Reminds me a lot of American truck stops, actually.

As for why I'm here? Well, I'm en route to a Big Fancy Horse Show, and decided the drive was too long to make in one straight shot.  I considered flying, but road trips are fun... and when I saw, with my own two eyes, the amount of crap I packed into my car, I realized this was the right decision. There was *no way* I could have flown with all of it.  There's not even enough space for another human being in there.  (Which, for the record, is ridiculous, and probably means I over-packed.  What do you mean I don't need six jackets?! Horse shows have their own weather patterns, you know.)

I'm on the cusp of actually feeling prepared for this horse show. As mentioned somewhere, the week before last we had lessons with the head trainer, whom, as mentioned at some point, dashed off to Aachen shortly thereafter, where he had a truly stunning go in the Nations' Cup, putting in only one of three double clears.  The World Equestrian Games team is named later today and, barring disaster, he will be on it.  Which is of course very exciting and will result in WEG parties. Not that we wouldn't have them anyway....

Beyond that, I felt that my darling pony was Not Quite Right. This began with some casual lead swapping at our last show about three and a half weeks ago.  This put my antenna up, since this is totally not normal behavior for him.  I gave him quite a long rest after that show - almost a week - and then went back to riding, and he still wasn't normal.  He started swapping off his right lead - a problem which has plagued him in the past, and generally says to us, "hey, I am not comfy, okay?!" I also felt him "fall out" behind several times during our ride. I had the chiro take a look at him immediately, but it did nothing and I started to quietly freak out.  The Assistant, I'm sure, thought I was nuts, since it was happening so very intermittently, but well... I know this horse and my inner radar was going "stifles stifles stifles stifles."  So I had the vet out immediately, and he flexed Mr Pony, and... sure enough, stifles.

So he had those blistered (I know, I cringe too) and I travelled home to visit my family while a very kind friend hacked him out for me during that week.  Unfortunately when they blister, they have to be worked every day for some time.

The plan was to blister, see how he felt, and if he required them, stifle injections prior to this Big Fancy Horse Show.  I came back Tuesday, and did a jump school involving all kinds of rollbacks and crazy turns, and he handled them extremely well.  I still don't think he's 150% - the strength I was feeling isn't totally there, and the beautiful suppleness isn't totally back either, but I'm hoping this is just time related.  Anyway, if it's necessary, we can go back and inject the stifles any time... but I think it's fair to give him time to adjust to this and see how it goes.  He's not typically a horse that responds to treatment within the world's shortest time frame and every time I ride him he's feeling better, so there's that.

For a quick lesson recap over the past week (for my own records if nothing else... this is quickly becoming The World's Longest Post):

Tuesday - small school, might have jumped 20 jumps, highest around 3'3" vertical, practiced jumping 3' oxer, landing and turning within one stride, Riley handled very well, I handled less well ha ha. He felt tired, I decided to be a Nice Mom and give him Wednesday off.

Thursday - Normal jump school with Psychotic Equine.  Warmed up like crap, felt icky, spent awhile on phone with equine massage therapist who recommended some under saddle exercises, did these, helpful.  Started jumping a little, nothing big, maybe 3ft, Riley turned into Equine Freight Train.  Have never been totally unable to stop him before.  Assistant thought this was v. funny.  So did I, however less funny when he's galloping himself under a 3'3" oxer then levitating over top of it, then having to run into wall to stop. Ugh.  Tightened noseband and flash, helped very (and I do mean very.) mildly, discussion of possible new bit introduced.  Riley thought very amusing. Very cheerful. Me? Exhausted by the end. Went home, fell asleep around 9:30 PM. Hah.

Friday - Decided that Psychotic Equine needed a free lunge; did so then decided to ride bareback with halter and lead rope again. (Becoming addicted to *not* cleaning tack.)  Psychotic Equine morphs into Perfect Equine, seriously, a genuine star.  I felt amazingly sticky. Did everything we would do in a normal flat ride and then some, schooled over poles, leads, circles etc.  Toward the end schooled at the trot, had him totally "on the bit" and doing half passes all over the arena.  One of the coolest things EVER.  Starting to see a theme with these bareback rides, they are awesome.  Less awesome is the fact that I'm still really sore three days later but hey, take what you can get.

Saturday - Jump school, mildly less Psychotic Equine than before, still pretty cray cray.  Jumps go up since he is less cray cray than before and we have a really really good school.  Assistant built up a nice triple combination and I don't think I've ever felt quite so GOOD going through one.  Riley felt like a small pegasus and I didn't go OHMYGODATRIPLECOMBINATIONI'MGOINGTODIEOHMYGODDDDDDDD like I usually do... sport psychology and visualization finally working...?  We probably jumped it at around 1.05m, it wasn't quite 1.10m but it was definitely over 1m, so I was feeling fairly happy with that.  The rest of the jumps were around 1.10m for verticals and 1.05m with oxers and I felt really comfortable with all of it.  And Riley felt quite fabulous.  Just really strong.  So we are definitely changing the bit now.

Now I am off to continue this extremely lengthy drive and hope that my A/C doesn't give out after three hours like it did yesterday. (FUN!!!! Not.)

Thursday, 10 July 2014

A little of this, a little of that

I have some great lesson posts to make after two lovely, and intense, days spent with Trainer, who drifted off to Aachen yesterday.  But more on that later.

I have a little down time right now - down time that has left me busier than I'd like, but still with some time to think.  But since I'm traveling and thus unable to spend my customary many, many daily hours at the barn, my thoughts have wandered.  And I guess since this is *my* blog and I'm trying to figure out ways to firm up my lady balls, what the hell.

My pet pleasure over the past, I don't know, six months has been clicking on and actually reading peoples' horse-related blogs, usually in their signature lines on the Chronicle Forums.  During the Everlasting Winter where it seemed like WEF lasted some 900 years (presumably because I wasn't there for all of it... that would be the entirety of WEF minus four days) I got my WEF-tastic fix from any source that mentioned it, including several blogs.  I first became seriously hooked on The Working Rider, which started out as an ammy hunter rider's first sojourn to the Winter Equestrian Festival. I swear I drank in every word in those posts like it was a glass of water after three days in the desert.  This led me to a few other blogs as well, another of my favorites quickly becoming She Moved To Texas.  The author originally hooked me in with her beautiful photos of hunters and jumpers at WEF and then I started to follow seriously.  She writes a great blog with a lot of interesting material.

Anyway, a recent post on She Moved To Texas got me thinking about the things that we put on the Internet.  This blog has next to nothing in the way of dedicated readers - something which I've done quite consciously.  I haven't even told many people I actually know and only told them hesitantly.  And why? In the past, I kept a blog about all things dumb - horse related or not - that went on in my life and it did well enough.  But at some point over the past five or six years, I've become painfully private about pretty much everything.

The question is: to what end? Now, I've gone so far to protect my privacy, and my true thoughts and feelings about certain things, that I genuinely feel that nobody knows who I am.  I project different sides of myself to different people.  I am afraid to show my societally unacceptable flaws for fear of judgement, whispering, criticism, and gossip.  Afraid to share my opinions in any meaningful way and constantly editing. This world of social media, where one's every thought and pedantic feeling can be tracked, is repulsive to me, and seems so narcissistic.  So I've pulled back. In the face of an onslaught, don't add to it, I suppose.

But here we are today - and here I am, writing this with the only reason being "because I can."  I guess I'm getting tired of hiding who I am, of editing my life so much so as not to be offensive or make a mistake, or for fear of being made fun of.  And so: despite the fact that I know anyone in the world could read this, and maybe they will, who knows? - I'm going to write down some truths.

The first being a scary thing to admit because I think many people will laugh at me: I want to ride Grand Prix jumpers.  And as someone currently really terrified of showing at 1.10m it seems laughable... but it's my dream.

I want a job, career, whatever within the equine industry. I don't know what that job is, just yet.  I don't know if it would (or should) involve riding horses.  But I really don't do well without a pretty much 24/7 horsey fix.

I want to ride for a European trainer, in Europe, and soak up every iota of wisdom I possibly can.

I want to ride, show, help, whatever! at WEF... I know, doesn't everyone? I'm still not sure of how to make this happen. This is rather concerning for me (FWP alert!), and I feel a little subdued by some of the feedback I've gotten - namely "omg, you would HATE being a working student!"  Which doesn't even begin to consider the logistical issues. Ugh.

And these are all things I've been afraid to put into the universe.  Horsey dreams and hopes.  It's my great wish that my blog acts as a vision board - which, incidentally, I've had pretty good results from, and highly recommend for anyone seeking to improve their life (or just have really nice pictures to look at...)  Since I made mine, back in January, there have been a lot of things that have come to fruition.  Naturally this has involved hard work along with expense and planning, but it's still interesting.  My therapist is big on putting your dreams and aspirations out in the open and seeing what happens.  So what the hell?

Saturday, 5 July 2014

A Little Confidence Goes A Long Way

Today's lesson: better living through confidence.

The Assistant's push over the past week has been to prepare us all for whatever rigors lie ahead with Trainer -- he returns from Spruce Meadows in order to teach us poor wretched souls at the beginning of next week.  The Assistant seems to think he will kill us, which may happen.... (no-stirrup Puissance comes to mind.)  At any rate, she seemed very concerned that we all jump Large Jumps today.  I observed a friend, a very talented Adult Amateur Hunter rider, schooling a lovely 3'6" prior to my lesson.  Her horse is a stunning fellow and jumps a 10 every single time.  Really fun to watch.

My lesson was started with little fanfare.  Assistant put up a vertical to around 2'9" and a little oxer to about the same size and told me to go ahead and enjoy myself warming up over them.  Riley was in a moderately grouchy mood while flatting - he was irritable about moving off my leg, pissed about listening to my hand, tense in his jaw, and generally just a little scowly.  He was doing everything I asked him to, but I could feel light waves of resentment wafting upward, as though saying "WHY ARE WE OUT HERE. I WANT TO GO HACKING. THIS SUCKS." 

When we started jumping, his attitude shifted precipitously.  This is a horse that *LOVES* his job.  I think the only thing that makes him happier is standing in front of a fan with people brushing him while being fed unlimited treats. (Obviously... this has never happened... *ahem*)

Anyway, he settled in after we cantered the vertical a few times and the oxer a few times, and Assistant quickly put together a short course at around 3ft that we sailed through.  Annnnnnd then the jumps started to go up....

First I coursed a soft 3'6", which felt really super. We threw in a few amusing turns at the height and both handled it well. My nerves hadn't started to kick in too much and I was having a fine time.  Riley was feeling infinitely more cheerful, listening to my leg and hand and actually felt like a partner instead of a grumpy gills.  

Since this went so well, the Assistant decided that the jumps could go up some more. Or a lot. You know. Whichever.  The verticals ascended to heights somewhere between 1.15m and 1.20m, and the oxers to a stiff, square 1.10m.  One of the girls setting the jumps cheerfully informed me an oxer I was about to jump was "400 meters tall."  

But off we went.  The first jump, a funny-looking red plank with cutouts, came up off the right lead.  This jump looked really huge for some reason - maybe the cutouts - but we hit it perfectly and Riley pinged right over.  Then a turn right and quick rollback to the left to jump our first enormous oxer.  We hit it dead on and it felt huge on landing; I did one of those where I ended up somewhere in Riley's ears.  After rebalancing, we continued left and jumped a jump with a "bowtie" filler on the side of the ring, then continued on in about a 9 stride dog leg to another single vertical on the end of the ring.  From there, we turned left and came back up the ring to a huge oxer with a liverpool underneath - the one my friend so cheerfully said was "400 meters tall" and jumped it perfectly.  Then it was a quick inside turn left to a one-stride vertical to vertical combination, which we hit dead on to finish.

Mind you, after the terror of the liverpool oxer, I had totally neglected to remember where I was going, so the turn left was inside and then more inside and then CRAP TURN RIGHT and then CRAP NO TURN LEFT and OH THERE'S THE ONE STRIDE IN THREE STRIDES HAHAHA OH WELL THERE'S MY DISTANCE YOLO. (This is, incidentally, interesting to me; even just a couple of months ago, there would be *no way* I would have done that at ANY height, much less 1.10m.)  So, the Assistant made me re-do the last three jumps - the end of the ring, roll back up the ring to the oxer, then the inside turn to the one-stride.  This went stunningly well.

To say I'm happy about this lesson would be the understatement of the year.  We jumped big... for us... and did it really well!  Riley felt confident, I felt confident, and best of all I faced my oxer nemesis and not only lived but rose to the occasion.

I feel like if I continue to keep riding like I am lately (and of course hopefully, you know, better too) that everything is possible.  I'm so excited for the future and feel so unbelievably fortunate to have an amazing equine partner in Riley. 

Friday, 4 July 2014

And then there was silence

Not much to report from last week.  Riley and I took a little time off following the last horse show, and my visits to the barn pretty much consisted of sitting in his paddock while he ate grass around me.  He found this fairly entertaining and thought what I was doing was rather curious.

"Hiiiii I'm coming to see you because you look like you might have treats or will pet me."
(safe bet.)

"What are you doing with that small metal object? I'm much cuter."

This week, I decided it was time to kick both our butts back into gear, and started with a nice uninvolved flat on Tuesday.  It was raining, so we rode inside, where someone had thoughtfully left up an entire course made entirely with poles.  There was also a fun little bounce combination.  After I warmed up, I made up a few fake courses and cantered around, practicing light seat and heavy seat, and went through the bounce a few times to try and get Riley off his forehand a bit.  The five days off was great for him, but he was definitely a little stiff and, well, felt like a horse that hadn't been worked in five days.  He handled the bounce combination like the pro he is, and after popping him through this a few times, working some transitions and generally not trying to kill him, I called it quits.

On Wednesday, it was *still* raining, so we were inside once more. I did one of Riley's favorite things and let him loose in the indoor arena.  He greatly enjoys a good blowout from time to time - about every five days in winter, thankfully a lot less in summer! - and enjoyed galloping around, bucking, farting, striking and playing.  When he is done he just stops and wanders over to me in the middle of the ring.  When he was done this time, I sized him up and decided that I should really ride but that tacking up was hard to do.  So, after donning my helmet (#mindyourmelon) I tied on a leadrope and hopped on.  

It's been some time since I rode bareback - the last time was probably in mid-April, but I've done plenty of no stirrups work and been riding six days a week.  Still, I wasn't exactly expecting to feel so incredibly sticky.  In the past I've been a little hesitant bareback - put on a neck strap, trotted carefully and only really cantered on the straightaways.  But, for some reason I felt fantastic, and we proceeded to have a totally normal flat, including poles, rollbacks, lead changes, transitions... pretty neat.  I guess the seat is improving.  Riley felt like a lovely soft piece of butter.  At one point, while cantering, I decided to drop my "reins", close my eyes, and hold out my arms like I was flying.  Riley definitely accelerated, and it just felt... amazing.  Definitely one of those Flicka days where you really feel a deep and powerful connection with your horse.

This all led up to a lesson with Assistant on Thursday.  I hopped on - with a saddle and everything - and Riley immediately felt fantastic.  He went right to work, and was soft, pliable and forward.  Various commentary from Assistant and the person observing my lesson basically consisted of how amazing he looks, how they can't believe he's the same horse that he was four or five months ago, how well muscled he is now, how he doesn't look like a weird pony on stilts.  He has truly come a tremendously long way.

We had a great flat warmup and then started to jump some.  Assistant had us warm up over a small vertical, then we started adding in slightly bigger fences.  Riley was spot on and I worked on doing heavy seat vs. light seat, which led to one fairly bad distance when I saw the right spot, then decided to add another stride that was really, really not there.  We jumped a few smallish courses, probably around 2'9", then she put some of the jumps up to around 3'3" and we jumped around those.  She had us practice a short approach to a vertical, a seven stride dog leg to another vertical, left turn and rollback to another vertical, then very tight rollback to a long gallop to an oxer which we jumped from left to right.  Riley handled all of this like a champ, and so did I.  We finished after doing that course beautifully twice.  

After this I had a short discussion with Assistant about where Riley maxes out, since he's changed a huge, huge amount over the past several months.  At first it was, maybe he can do 1m again. Then it was, let's do 1.10m! Whee! Now we're thinking he can handle 1.20 at the very least... and maybe even more.  Once we're ready to move up from 1.10m, Trainer will hop on and teach him a little bit about bigger stuff.  We're pretty lucky to have him in the mix, and Riley seems incredibly confident and secure in the 1.10m, which he never did before, so.....

I am really excited for the future with him, and equally as thrilled that this might mean another year or more with him! I love this horse so much.

Today, I gave Riley the day off and made homemade pony treats with the full intent of spoiling him to death.  They're organic and look a little bit like Stud Muffins.  Hopefully he likes them!