Wednesday, 27 August 2014

The semi-retirement life and a lesson recap

With Monsieur Trainer away doing Fancy Jump Rider things like WEG you may have noticed there haven't been a lot of lesson reports lately.  Riley and I did, however, manage to squeeze one in with the Assistant last night, and so we shall begin there.

First of all, it was six trillion degrees out and humid.  When I arrived, my poor sad pony greeted me sweating in his stall. WITH A FAN.  Not made for this climate, either of us.  I started sweating the instant I opened my car door and went from beautiful, icicle-shaped air to the tropics.  But I digress.

After strategically placing my sweaty equid in front of one of the barn's monster fans and then toddling around and gathering my things, he dried up quite quickly and I decided to go ahead and tack up. Oddly enough, once I got outside, the breeze picked up nicely and the sun decided to go sulk behind a bank of clouds, which made things infinitely more tolerable.  I didn't push the warm-up too much, and since the Assistant was nowhere to be seen at that point anyway, I spent most of my warmup at the walk (forward, back, sideways, shoulder-in, haunches in, stretching, circles) and trotted and cantered sparingly.  I tend to find that if you spend some time having a really good walk warm-up that the rest comes SO much easier.

The Assistant appeared eventually, and we spent a quality half hour talking about WEG and Olympic training camps, which she's been a part of (as a manager) in the past.  Fairly entertaining stuff. Then we started to jump.

For whatever reason, all the jumps in the ring were set to something like 2'3" or 2'6" - tiny, anyway - so she was all, go ahead and jump whatever you want to warm up.  I had a lovely canter and hopped about half the jumps in the ring, making it up as I went.  Riley felt really good, listening and coming forward from my leg nicely without turning into Freight Train Pony.  I finished off this exercise by cantering down an oxer-vertical six stride line, which we both did easily.

From there, Assistant had us canter a bending line (I am not overly fond of bending lines), a vertical to an oxer, bending left. I first did this in a forward five strides, then had to repeat the exercise in six.  I bungled it slightly the first time, thinking that since I had overshot my angle to the right pleasingly enough that all I had to do was kind of sit there and the six would be there.  Turns out, not so much, and I had to do some work the last three strides to squeeze in the six.  It wasn't my prettiest effort but it wasn't horrifying.  I tried it once more and steadied on landing and fit in the six beautifully.

Assistant then put the jumps up a few holes, somewhere in the 3'3" area, and had us canter the oxer to the vertical, bending right, in six strides.  We did this with no problem (easier to hold out in the bend in that direction!) and then had us do it in the five.  We jumped in well and I went direct and picked up the pace a little bit to hit it dead on.  Many pats for the perfect ponykins.

Assistant then had us jump through the in-and-out, coming off the right lead off a short corner, vertical to oxer.  No problems there.  Then we added in a bending (grrr) line to a vertical, which she told me to do in either six or seven, which was of course a test since it's a vertical and one should not be barreling down to a vertical. (Although, to be fair, I've jumped that line before in a six, and it was beautiful and not barrel-y at all. Harumpf.)

Anyway, the first time this was a do-some-work-son seven, then she had me do it again.  I came in quiet to the combination and had to give a little kick and cluck to get out, which led to Riley being very forward and me choking him to death to get the seven.  Definitely not pretty. We jumped through again, though, and I took a big half halt the stride after landing, which led to a very nice seven.

Assistant put the jumps up a little bit again, then had us repeat the exercise backward (vertical, seven strides to the oxer-vertical in and out.)  The first time, I had a very quiet distance in; Riley had the rail down which caused him to spook and run away, but it kind of worked since we needed that boost to get the seven strides done!  Thankfully his spook only lasted about four steps, and I was able to steady and bring him back for the in and out.  We jumped through it once more (no spook this time) and it was beautiful and we called it a night!

Not the most insane lesson; more of a dusting off than anything.  He felt like a star and I felt pretty good too.

Today I took Riley out for what turned out to be a really lengthy hack.  I took him hacking pretty much every day last week - four out of five rides (hence the semi-retirement life!) and every time has involved a rodeo at the entrance path to the hacking trails, eventually culminating in me hopping off, leading him down the Path of Doom and re-mounting somewhere down the line.  He has also been a complete jerk (to be fair, I think he honestly feels terrified) on most of the hacks, and will randomly decide to slam on the brakes, back up a zillion steps and then turn around and gallop away.  This leads to yet more rodeos held out in the back 40.

Anyway, today was a shining day for Riley: after doing his usual "I DON'T want to walk down that path and YOU CAN'T MAKE ME" dance for ten or fifteen minutes, he finally just.... went.  I have no idea why, but he did.  He was absolutely petrified and I could feel him being really scared but trying so hard to be brave (as he snorted and glared at everything) and I spent about five minutes petting him effusively and telling him he was the best pony IN THE WHOLE WORLD and trying to build up his courage a little.  Which seemed to work.  We hit another debacle when I turned toward the wooded path, which involves a lot of wandering next to legitimate cliffs, and he decided to pitch a fit about it.  I decided to leave that battle since having a wild equine backing up at the speed of light near a cliff is, as we have learned, a very poor idea indeed.  However there are other options, and I took him through the prairies instead.  He was very angry about this at first and we had a little battle, but he eventually went. The path eventually turns off into a lightly wooded area, thankfully with no cliffs in sight.  He was extremely unamused by this and really dug in his heels and refused to pay any attention at all.  At one point, he backed himself into a tree and got stuck, which was actually pretty funny.  I finally got mad at him and gave him a good hard booting and he decided, at that point, that spurs kind of hurt and that maybe going forward wasn't such a bad idea after all.

After that? I have no clue what happened, or why, but he magically transformed from Snorting Blowing Terrified Firecracker Pegasus to I Do This All The Time, I Was Born To Hack western pony. I mean, I had him on the buckle and he was just strolling along, happy as a clam.  We climbed all over hill and dale, through fields and forests (even a swamp) and he never batted an eye.  It was absolutely fantastic and it was the perfect day for hacking - breezy, sunny, and about 70 degrees.


On the way back, I decided to push my luck and take him around the Retired Horses' giant grass field, since he had been such a cheerful little nugget.  Turns out the magic only happens in the back 40 and we made it about 20% of the way around before I gave up and went another direction, through a hilly (and rather muddy) forest on the way back to the barn.  We have to cross a very long wooden bridge on the way back and, despite having crossed this bridge and similar ones (they're all over the property) about a zillion times he *still* thinks they are going to eat him and gives them the evil eye and crazy ear.

But all in all? I am so proud of him!  I'm also so happy he was able to *relax* and enjoy a hack, which is really the first time that's happened.  :D

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Transformation Blog Hop!

How tickled am I to fall across another blog with an ultra-cute horse ALSO named Riley?  Well, Niamh over at Life of Riley is hosting (informally!) this quasi blog hop and it looked like fun.

And so it is time for some Before & After!

There is this charming video still to start us out from the very first day I tried my Riley, which would have been sometime in late August of 2010.  If you listen closely, you can almost hear me screaming in terror.


(this also happened about four seconds later, ha ha)


This is from our (okay, my) very first jumper class EVER in June 2011, in which Riley learned his new job involved finding a lot of his own distances:


And then seriously failing at equitating in an Equitation class, also in June 2011:


Just for giggles and fun, this is the first time I jumped 3'3" (aka 1.0m) EVER and it was the high option in a hunter derby, July 2011.  As you can see we are both having a hard time with our body parts. He probably would have had an easier time with his if I wasn't busy flinging my upper body to his ears but well. Gotta learn somehow.



Fast forward to now(ish), Riley spending over a year with a different person, coming back from some medical issues (wish I'd thought to take pictures of when we started, since that would be a SERIOUS Transformation Tuesday post) and working with a new (and magical) coach.

Mid-May 2014, 1.0m Jumpers:

August 2014, 1.10m Jumpers (sorry, all I have is a video still. Womp womp.)


And last but not least, prepping for some schooling round during the week, to show off our flat skillz:


So now it's your turn! Show off your transformations :)


Friday, 22 August 2014

Thursday Night Rodeo: In other words, Riley goes hacking!

As mentioned in some previous post or another, Riley has a very definite preference for manmade areas.  He is at peace in an arena, and would really rather not think about the Great Blue Yonder, otherwise known as Endless Gorgeous Hacking Trails, that exist out back.

I, however, like to hack.

And so you see where our interests clash.

I decided that last night was a lovely evening for a hack.  The sun was shining, the temperature perfect, and the grassy hills and forests were calling my name.

When I got to the barn, I was greeted by this shining face...

video
We all talk to our horses like idiots. Amirite?

I kitted Riley out in his hacking "outfit" - lots of fly spray, a running martingale for double use (its intended purpose, since Riley will occasionally try to turn into an equine UFO, as well as a handy grab strap for me!) and a fly bonnet.  Then we were ready to hit the trails!

Riley is very dubious.

We headed out the back of the indoor ring, which leads to a wide gravel road that eventually takes you to the outdoor sand ring, but first takes you past most of the paddocks.  Today, Riley strolled along happily on a loose rein.

The sun took this opportunity to go behind a giant cloud.

Eventually, you turn off the road and head into the woods, which brings you to the grass Grand Prix field.  It's just lovely back there, but as previously noted, full of killer squirrels.  

On the lookout for those very shifty squirrels.

After about a seven minute walk through this forest utopia, the trail opens up to the grass ring.  You have the option of going into the ring, or hacking around it in any direction.  I went to the right, which puts you in a nice grassy lane, and sort of eases a suspicious pony into the proper hacking experience.


Off to the left is the grass Grand Prix field which was worth a photo.

Not picturesque at all.

At the very end of the field - still sort of within fence lines - is a lovely hilly area where I like to flat Riley several times a week. This area also contains a couple of apple trees, and is an opportune place for a quick break and a reminder to Riley that hacking is fun and involves apples.


Thanks, mom.
Even if I know you're just bribing me.

From there we toddled our way on. The fence is the property line for the farm, and the conservation area, which contains thousands of acres of trails, extends beyond.


Next up was a break for some super tasty grass before we took the plunge and crossed the property line. 


World's hungriest equine.

Artsy grazing!

From there I marched Riley purposefully (martingale strap in hand) toward the entrance to the trails. About three steps in, he decided that was far enough, thank you VERY much, and thus began the Thursday night rodeo.

I coaxed him down the path, step by step, and used a few apple shards to try and convince him that hacking is fun and that paying attention and doing what I ask him is definitely in his interest. Spoiler alert: Riley disagrees with my assessment.

We spent an excessive amount of time standing here.  
Which beats flying backward at the speed of light, let me tell you.  
Interested parties will note we are not actually *on* the path...

While it's hard to see in the above photo, the ground on the right slopes up quite steeply, but lands you back on flat ground about 10 feet up.  The ground on the left swoops off and is pretty much a cliff.

View from the top of the cliff.  
The straight ahead in this photo is the off to the left in the above photo.

Riley decided he was seriously disinterested in going past a certain point, and went out of his way to inform me that this was, simply, far enough.  He started by rather politely backing up (me pony kicking all the way) and then escalating into march forward, slam on brakes, spin in whichever direction he felt like spinning, and go galloping up to the top of the path.  There was much in between of, oh good pony, went forward! Good BOY! <extreme petting and calming down before trying to move forward again> 

Once I finally foiled his backing up and galloping off plans by pulling him around in a tight circle, he decided to try backing UP the hill to the right.  I pulled him out of this pattern of destruction twice, but the end came when he managed to get himself (and me!) practically vertical and still going backward. Seeing our lives flash before my eyes, I gave him a "stop doing that NOW!" swat with my stick, which led to him squealing, kicking out, bucking and leaping, then tripping because he was in such a precariously balanced position, picking himself up and attempting to lightly gallop off the top of aforementioned cliff.  My life really DID flash before my eyes for a moment before I managed to tug him around and, still on a fully freaking out horse, did an emergency dismount and grimly held on while he bounced around.  Falling off a cliff? Not on my list of priorities.

Since I was already off, and had a very tense horse, I thought it wise to stay off and just lead him down the scary, scary path after he chilled out for a moment.  Interestingly enough this worked pretty well, and he was calm and relaxed a few minutes later.  I decided to hop back on and see if we couldn't continue the hacking experience.  I figured he lost his mind again, I could just hop off and lead him home.

But, surprise of surprises! He was very jaunty, and definitely more up than he usually is, but he really held himself together and behaved nicely.  We hacked all over hill and dale, through the grass and through the forest, and I managed to get totally lost.

Where are we? 
I don't know, but it's pretty.


It seems to be getting kind of dark.


We did accidentally stumble across a river crossing, and to his credit, little Riley tremblingly walked up to it and almost dipped his toe in.  But I figured he had had enough challenges, and was being a total star, so I left that one for another day!

Once I figured out I had absolutely no idea where I was, I gave Riley his head and told him to go find home.  Which he was, of course, very keen to do, and he knew exactly where he was going.

Eventually we popped out back at the top of the grass ring, just in time for a beautiful cloudy sunset.


Of course, no post is complete without a totally dorky selfie:




Thursday, 21 August 2014

Week In Review

First things first: a heartfelt and excited welcome to those of you who are new here! The magical and lovely Lauren from She Moved To Texas gave me my first ever shout-out on her well-trafficked blog, which was totally unexpected but awesome! So for those of you just popping in for the first time, I promise I'll try to make it interesting. ;)

How we feel about getting a shout-out from Lauren.

We last left off with a visit to my brain - something I wasn't really sure about posting about here, but sometimes you just get so uncomfortable with what's going on that something has to be done.  That blog post, along with having the mentioned discussion with my friend, has become an interesting catalyst.  I'm starting to firmly believe in casting your aspirations into the universe - as long as they are sincere - and doing something about the things you want out of life.  I've spent a lot of time hoping and wishing someone would notice my hard work and reward it by asking if I'd hop on and hack one, but that strategy clearly wasn't working out.  For me, the start of doing something about it involved something as innocuous as laying it out for my trainer. I think I probably typed out and edited what I wanted to say for about three hours (over planning, much?) and finally just... asked.

Little did I know where this would lead.

To my eternal shock, I got a phone call the next day more or less handing over the reins on one of the ammy-owned horses at my barn, whose owner is not around right now for a number of reasons.  Not only do I get to be in charge of this horse's exercise regime, I get to lesson and jump on him as well! He is a lovely young horse who's had some time off recently, and is fun and cute. Luckiest girl in town, right here.



This has also led to random opportunities that go something like, "hey, you're here, will you hop on so-and-so if you have time?" Of course the answer is always YES.  On Sunday, I got to ride an ex-Grand Prix horse!! Coolest thing ever.

So now I really DO live in the barn - grooming, tacking, riding, and bathing a larger number of horses daily is time consuming, but I love it, and I wouldn't want it any other way, and I'm so incredibly grateful for the opportunities I'm getting.

Ain't that the truth.

For some additional inspiration, Monsieur Trainer competed at the LGCT London event last week, which is the coolest location for a horse show ever.

This is not my trainer, but it shows the amazing location!

He had some fantastic results and things are looking good for the upcoming World Equestrian Games. He, along with a couple of teammates, are competing this week as well, then moving into training camp before The Big Show.  So excited for him and the Team!


Wednesday, 13 August 2014

A Visit to My Brain

The past few days have been an interesting mental game.  In no particular order, my brain has been going over these things:

1. I want to quit my job and ride all the ponies and watch all the lessons.
2. I want to quit my responsibilities and ride all the ponies and watch all the lessons.
3. I want to quit my life because it doesn't currently have enough ponies.
And repeat.


I've had a lot of internal turmoil over these past few months, and while the root cause is realistically something unrelated (and has nothing to do with anyone but myself) the fact of the matter is that I am never happier than when I'm at the barn or at a horse show.  This is something that continues to become ever clearer, and has led to a mental loop that goes...

- I like ponies SO MUCH.
- What can I do to make ponies my lyfe?
- I really don't want to be a groom.
- I like riding ponies.
- I suck too much at riding to be a professional rider.
- I should become a much better rider AND THEN become a professional!
- I only have one horse, jesus this is going to be a long road.
- I should find more horses to ride.
- HOW DO I DO THIS.
- I should talk to Trainer.
- WHAT IF TRAINER THINKS I AM TOO TERRIBLE TO RIDE ANYTHING.
- I should really grow some balls.
(spoiler alert: I haven't grown balls yet.)
- Shit now Trainer left for a month AND I STILL HAVEN'T TALKED TO HIM ABOUT RIDING MORE PONIES OR FLORIDA OR LITERALLY ANYTHING AND I AM GOING NOWHERE IN LIFE.
- Weeping.

And so the cycle perpetuates and becomes more and more painful as time goes on.


I think I might have broken in half about it on Monday, and when chatting with a horsey friend, I spat it all out.  Which is new and interesting since I've not exactly released this free flying mental loop into the wild before now, but she's a non-judgey type and it was all I could think about and, well, out it came.

Me: <weepily> Ihatemylifewannarideponiescan'tdoitanymore <gulping sob> TrainerthinksIsuckatridingIsuckatridingnevergonnagetanywhere.
Friend: Um.... what?
Me: <explains self>
Friend: I know <so and so> at <insert well known farm name here> who's looking for a rider. So. Let me make a phone call.
Friend: Also I have five horses that I want ridden so have at it.

So that kind of perked me up.  Waiting to hear on that but I suppose it just goes to show, you miss 100% of the shots you don't take.

Even if this doesn't pan out (and I don't think it will, but I guess you never know) it seems like a decent start, a spark that might actually set the flame alight.

Deep breath.

I went out Tuesday after giving Riley (and myself!) a couple of days off.  My neck is WAY better now thanks to three chiropractic visits and a very skilled massage therapist.  Riley was very very good and we basically just worked on stretching and forward and quietness and transitions within the gaits.  He was super attentive and felt loose and oozy after a long stretching warmup. Occasionally I forget he is a horse that, while he can survive and thrive on a quick warmup, really feels at his most shining if he has about 20 minutes to do a lot of stretchy, forward walking and trotting, some leg yielding and haunches/shoulder ins, and some time to just canter around like a hunter before we start doing any real work.

Cute-face in the wash rack, just before the storm blew in.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Pony Show!

As alluded to in the previous post, this past week was a horse show.  This one was, rather thankfully, close to home.

We moved in Tuesday, as usual, and I took Riley for a flat in the jumper rings.  He decided he was in quite a mood and snapped at some horses passing by him and bucked and bolted a little bit.  Trainer showed up to observe us flat, which is always sort of entertaining since he seems to attract clingers-on like moths to a flame.  So he's parked in his golf cart well away from the entrance to the ring or any clumps of people, and casually murmuring things to me from time to time, and by the end of it quite literally had a crowd of ten or fifteen people lurking nearby listening to him talk, or actively trying to speak with him. This also meant *I* had ten or fifteen people very studiously observing my every move.  Hashtag celebrity status or something.

Wednesday, it was decided I would do a 90cm (which is 3ft) jumper schooling class to warm up.  I had the distinct feeling that Trainer thought I was slightly broken after the last horse show - not an unfair assessment, particularly given my history, but I was feeling pretty fine, despite the bruises from that ever so enjoyable experience continuing to burn dark purple.  In warm-up, we continued to work on patience, quietness, not galloping around like crazy and just letting the jumps come up.  We warmed up well enough and then toddled in the ring to put in a very good performance with relatively few mistakes and obtained a clear round ribbon.  I came out and we talked about Riley's fairly peculiar jumping style, which can mislead you into thinking you have done something very wrong when in fact you have not, and which Trainer thinks is part of the root of me looking to take the long one a lot of the time.  ("It feel 'ORREEBLE when he jomp like deep like zat, but it does not mean you have given a bad ride, I will tell you if you have, do not worry <grin>. ")

Perfect pony is perfect.

It was decided we'd move up to the 1m schooling the next day and, after some discussion, we decided to show four days in a row, then send Riley home Saturday night instead of doing the Jr/Am division on Sunday, since Trainer has a flight to Europe Sunday afternoon.

The next day, the 1.0m (3'3") schooling went extremely well.  I practiced all the things we worked on, improved upon them and, although I messed up the middle of the course by resorting to old habits and looking for the gallopy one, only did this for two jumps out of 14 efforts and managed to really ride well the rest of the time.  I was super happy with it and started pondering the 1.10m.

Friday, we did another 1m schooling, which went down as the best horse show round I've ever had in my entire life.  We're talking smoothness, patience, ease, professionalism.  I have truly never ridden a course better in my life.  It was everything you'd want in a round and I came out absolutely ecstatic.

Perfect pony in our best round!

I met Trainer when I came out and he reinforced everything I thought it was.  "Zat was excellont, I could not have asked for better.  We do meter-ten tomorrow."

Well you may all remember exactly how I feel about doing 1.10m (3'7") classes.  But damn if I wasn't feeling good about it and prepared and like I could actually RIDE and like I had uncovered some magical key to success when it came to jumping.  So instead of turning white and fainting off the side of my horse I grinned widely and said "absolutely, let's do it."  Which I think mildly surprised Trainer since I pretty much barfed on his boots last time he suggested it, but hey, a girl can change.

I woke up Saturday morning feeling somewhat less than total bravado, and was barely able to choke down an egg and a single sausage for breakfast.  Then off to the horse show.  Thankfully the 1.10m went early in the day, so there wasn't too much waiting around.  The show office elected to make it a Speed round where it had originally been listed as a jump-off class, due to the fact that there were something like 200-odd trips to get through in the ring, which doesn't sound like a lot but at an average of 15-20 trips per hour plus course walks, drags, and course setting, takes a long, long time.  This made me happy since it would result in fewer jumps to jump, and they also traditionally make the Speed classes mildly softer than the jump-off classes.  Though of course that was not the case on Saturday.

Instead, they left it the same as the 3'9" Jumper Medal class that went beforehand.  Thanks a lot, course designers.

I didn't really mind the course, save for two things that stuck out: an ENORMOUS triple bar at fence six off the corner, which I swear they did not set down in height from the 3'9" medal, and was unbelievably imposing and SO tall and wide; it looked like we were going to jump a small house.  The second was a triple combination as the very last effort, though as triple combinations go it was about as kind as it could be - vertical, one stride, oxer, two strides, vertical.  It looked to be riding well, too, so I wasn't panicking too much about it.

After some serious kerfuffle and moving down in the order after one of the hunters in our barn dumped his rider and went on a tour of the showgrounds, causing all the grooms to be tied up for some time, our horses appeared and I hopped on to get ready.  Riley flatted well, if a little behind my leg, but I managed to wake him up by the time we started to jump.  Our jumping went absolutely beautifully.  I had the rhythm, the confidence, and the assertiveness to ride really well.  That is until some jerk decided, while we were cantering down to a 1.10m oxer near the end of our warmup, to start throwing the giant liverpool around that resides in every jumper warmup ring.  Riley freaked out, bolted off toward the jump and, while we managed to survive, it was a bit rattling.  We cantered down to it again and the asshat decided to shake it out really high in the air when we were about five strides away.  This resulted in Riley slamming on the brakes, throwing his head in the air and spinning away in terror.  I just about hopped off him and went over and beat the jerk with my whip but instead, Trainer took care of it, told them to cut it the fuck out and gently swore at them for a moment, which received a muttered apology, and told me to canter down to the jump again.  We did, then jumped it once more for confidence, then a vertical and we were off to the ring.

I felt good going in the ring. I think Trainer instructed them not to buzz me in right away - he can get away with that sort of thing - and I spent some quality time showing Riley all the things that freaked me out - every jump of the triple combination, the Liverpool, the gigantic triple bar, and the in and out along the spooky rail (it has a bunch of flags and a lot of horses go "AHHHHH" when they get over there.)

Then we were buzzed in and got started.

Jump one was an oxer off the in gate about 3/4 of the way up the ring.  I hit this on a forward stride and we were up and over with ease and grace.  Then a right turn with a lengthy run to a vertical, followed by a *short* four strides toward the in gate to an oxer.  I came in on a little bit of a forward one to the vertical, then sat back and choked Riley to get the four, but wasn't quite quick enough and we were quite deep.  However, he managed to get us out of trouble and I gave him a pat on the neck for his efforts.  From there, we cantered along the side of the ring to a vertical off a short corner along the Scary Wall.  I hit this well, a tiny bit quiet which was my plan, since it was six strides to an oxer-vertical in and out that had been riding short.  I landed, took a feel about two strides in, then came very lightly forward the last three strides to meet the oxer absolutely perfectly.  I was really, really proud of how I rode that line and I don't think I could have ridden it any better than I did.

Perfect Pony making piecemeal of the "in" part of the oxer-vertical in and out.

Next up was the vertical coming out of the in and out.  It should be noted that, when Riley starts doing bigger classes, he becomes impressed and starts jumping the snot out of things.  I have a photo which perfectly illustrates this:

Extremely bad quality since it's a video still, but here he is over 1.10m, pretending it's, oh, I don't know, 1.35m or so.

Or this. Yeah, there's also this. 

So while we hadn't quite reached the point in the course (....yet) where he was jumping the standards, I could feel him backing off and getting impressed and going "oh DEAR mom, these are bigger. I think this means I need to yank my knees to my eyeballs and make sure we come out alive. You hang on back there okay?"

He put quite the effort into that oxer, and landed in a little bit of a heap, which made the (totally normal...) distance out of the in and out a little bit long.  He hesitated slightly, I put my leg on and he jumped out but it was a little bit funny and I figured I'd better get him in gear for the rest of the course or we would end up backing off out of the jumps altogether.

Of course, next up was the huge triple bar.  I went wide in the turn, giving us maximum space to find a good distance and ride whatever came up.  From about six strides I saw the lightly forward one, which is, of course, perfect when you are riding a triple bar, since you want some gallop and impulsion to clear the height and width.  So I sent Riley forward and hit the distance perfectly, and Riley proceeded to jump the living snot out of the fence.  Knees above the standards and very serious expression on his face.  Unfortunately it was TOO good and sent me absolutely skyrocketing.  I ended up two feet above the tack, then practically behind my saddle as we landed, then on his ears when the saddle kicked me forward, then grasping around his neck desperately, then flying off the right side and doing a somersault on landing.

Pretty sure this is not correct equitation.

It's going down, I'm yelling Timber.....

Riley's thoughts on the whole thing.

I want you all to know I'm refraining from posting stills of the actual fall itself since it looks... uhhh, kind of graphic and also looks like I broke my neck.  Which I really did think happened for a minute, since I came down hard on my right hip and shoulders, then head, then somersaulted sort of spectacularly.  After most falls I pop up right away and stalk off in irritation but it felt bad enough that I went down and stayed there.  I immediately had the ring crew at my side, telling me not to move, then the medic showed up in about 13 seconds, along with the Barn Manager.  Trainer told us last autumn that if we ever fall off in the ring he absolutely will not come in the ring, and this has sort of become lore within the barn now.  Whenever it's happened to anyone he will sit and quietly observe, even if the medic is out there forever, but his philosophy is, "well, if you're hurt there's nothing I can do about it anyway" so I obviously didn't expect to see him there.  

The medic did a bunch of prodding around and checked for broken everything.  By this time the extreme nausea had dissipated and I had gotten my wind back and was feeling much better, but was still laying on the ground with my eyes closed while he prodded around.  And then I heard something funny in an unmistakable French accent.

"IRÉN!!!!!!"
My eyes snapped open and I stared in shock and amazement at Trainer, who, for the first time in anyone's memory, had come in the ring to see if I was dead.
Me: "What are you doing here? I thought you said you wouldn't come in the ring if we fell off?"
Trainer: "Well you were taking too long to get up, I thought I would come prod you off ze ground."

By this time I was mostly feeling okay and had started to rise to my feet, which led to a serious wave of dizziness and nausea but quickly went away, still resulting in me stumbling around a little bit.  We all stood there for a moment, chatting, and then I walked out on my own steam.  So, all's well that ends well.  The medic trailed after us for awhile, force fed me Gatorade, then went on his way.  

Some time later, Trainer ferreted me out and spent awhile laughing at me for falling off, whacked me on my (quite sore) still-helmeted head, and told me it was really something I shouldn't worry about and in fact should be really okay with because my horse had jumped really well and I had just made a small mistake and softened too much with my body for the height and width.  He was actually shockingly positive about it, and the conversation was something like this:

Trainer: HAHA you fell off!
Me: UGH I know I'm pissed about it.
Trainer: <loses all traces of laughter immediately> Why?
Me: Because I just didn't ride well enough to stay on and it was going so well and it felt so good and then that happened and UGH I just didn't ride well enough.
Trainer: No no, listen, okay.  Your 'orse, he jumped ze shit out of zat jomp, okay?  Zat hard to sit. You were SO HAPPY you get to ze good distance for zat jomp that you just soften a leeeeettle too much. It not a big deal, you should be okay wiz it, it is not somezing to worry about at all.  You ride zat course exactly like I want you to ride eet.  Zis a huge improvement from that other mater-ten you did, do not get all in your head about zis.
Me: But I really should have ridden it better and been stronger ugh.
Trainer: Well okay how many triple bars you ridden in your life?
Me: I don't know, like, four or five? Or something?
Trainer: Ya okay and never any at zis height. Listen, it gonna be zis way, we challenging here.  You step up good to zis. It gonna be the same ting when you jump ze open water the first time, you not gonna know exactly what to do every single time, zis okay. You can only learn wiz experience you know, you can't just know everyting, it cannot be perfect always. How many time you think I have fallen off?
Me: <scowls> Ugh fine.
Me: When can I jump the open water?

I had planned to go back in the 1.0m class after the fall, but since the ring had some 200 trips in they weren't allowing any adds the day of, so that plan was out.  I opted to send Riley home since I knew I would be sore today and really uninterested in riding, and turns out that's true!  I woke up quite a few times in the night from the pain and am currently feeling very grateful that Canada will let you buy what amounts to Tylenol-3s over the counter.  The concentration of the pain is in my neck - it's very, very sore, and the rest is relegated to my right hip and leg, then both my shoulders, and of course I have a headache.  And for some weird reason, my scalp is KILLING me on the back top of my head.  Like I can't even touch it without basically bursting into tears. 

But the worst part? I just bought a new helmet TWO WEEKS AGO.  Guess what I have to replace! Goodbye money. :(

After this, we're off for quite some time.  The Assistant is taking some horses to a few horse shows coming up, and it's been strongly suggested I go, but... well, for reasons I won't get into here, I'm not overly interested in attending.

Trainer is off now (in fact he's probably boarding a flight as I type this) for Europe for final World Equestrian Games preparations and then competition, and we won't see him for about a month.  I can't begin to tell you how excited I am that he's going to represent at the WEG and am REALLY looking forward to cheering him, and the rest of the Team, on from my living room.  Although I'll probably get an ulcer from the stress, let's be real. FEI TV subscription, here I come!  Or maybe even a last minute trip to Normandy.  Hmmmm....

Post- and Pre-Show Lesson Week!

I really am not very good at keeping up on this whole blogging thing.  I have been busy Life-ing. That is my excuse. Or just not in the right mood.  Which obviously bodes well for the book that I've been trying to write for the past seven years.

Anyway, we had the blessing of having Trainer around all last week, which is a miracle in and of itself considering his very busy European show schedule.  When he's around, shit gets done.  I'm continuously amazed - though I suppose I probably shouldn't be at this point - how much ALL of us learn and improve in just one week of having him here.  Literally this man took my riding from "blah, I seriously suck and keep going back to ALL MY OLD HABITS I WILL NEVER GET ABOVE 90CM AGAIN" to feeling confident about walking in the 1.10m ring this past week but... more on that later.

I had a private lesson on Friday morning.  Trainer decided that his goal was to teach me to stop freaking out if something wasn't perfect and galloping to a jump.  When we started with him last autumn, my reaction was to pull to the base of every jump and put in a million unnecessary strides and then cause my horse extreme grief when jumping.  Now it's gone the opposite direction and I kick and leave out strides that really shouldn't be left out.  So he is all, you need to learn patience and go back to the rhythm and just let it happen.  I think I'm starting to understand this fairly well; it's made the MOST enormous difference, let me tell you.

I warmed up well over a vertical, then he had me jump a six stride line (vertical to oxer) twice, set around 3ft.  No problems, felt great.  Then we faced the dread in and out, also set around 3ft.  As you may recall my issues at Big Fancy Horse Show involved riding like a dumbass and having two stops in a vertical to oxer in and out, so obviously that was on the list of things that needed to be addressed.  Naturally, when we faced it the first time I came through the (short) turn and turned into a racing cowboy yeehaw and practically made the thing into a bounce.

Trainer is all, "sooooooooooooo why don't you come here and we'll talk about zat. What happen?"
Me: "Um. I don't... know. I guess... I saw... the long one........"
Trainer: "Ya you did. And you did zat stupid hunter gap ting which I love." <smirk>
Me: "UGH."
Trainer: "When you do this galloping at the jump it make your 'orse nervous.  You fell down at ze 'orse show because ze rhythm was not good. Ze rhythm is also not good when you do this ting, this galloping at ze jomp.  Your 'orse, 'e has a lot of step, if you are patient and come in wizzout a gallop you just add some legs if it is a little slow you are fine.  You just cannot crawl in because zen it becomes a one and a half." <shrug>
Trainer: "Get your good rhythm zen keep it, zen you come to ze jump and adjust a leetle, not kick ze crap out of him."

To make a long story short, I think I jumped through that stupid in and out at least twenty times, and by the end of it had my spurs taken away (lol) and were adding in a line to a vertical after in either six or seven strides.  And by the end.... it was actually pretty damn beautiful and I was remaining calm and riding well.  And then I went home and sniffled a little because I suck at riding and caused my horse to be nervous.  Can't win with myself.

I had another lesson Saturday, this time with a friend of mine who usually shows in the same divisions. We practiced patience, I got to keep my spurs, and Trainer was rather pleased with the whole exercise. We jumped through a number of courses and toward the end we started racing around through the middle of the course, but I was happy with myself that I caught it, brought it back, and practiced patience through the back half.  Trainer was also happy and told me "zis Rome, it was not built in a day, and zis horse, ugh he change so much it is difficult, he not always zere for you."

So we finished feeling fairly prepared, I would say.

Sunday, it was 9999999999999 degrees, and I thought that making Riley do much hard work was rather unfair, so I decided we would go hacking.  Which is of course Riley's favorite activity ever. (That was sarcasm, by the way.)  It used to be my least favorite activity ever but I guess at some point over this summer I've grown a set of lady balls, at least when it comes to hacking, and now think his antics are quite amusing.  This is not to say I don't still take him out with a grab strap because you know, he does have a wicked spin.

I hacked him out toward the grass ring, which is where most of the decent hacking trails loop out.  The grass ring itself is probably a 12-15 minute walk from the back of the barn and you have the option of either taking the road or a lovely wide trail that winds through the woods.  I usually take the wooded trail because it's shady and nice, but there is also the possibility of meeting Killer Squirrels, who for some inexplicable reason forever seem to be carrying around giant pine cones.  Anyway we met one of those on the way up but Riley didn't have his usual reaction of "OH MY GOD TERRIFYING." and just trucked right along on a loose rein.

This was all very well and good until we marched back toward the entrance to the trails (which go forever and ever on acres and acres of land; our barn has a lot of land which backs up on to a conservation area that has a ton of hacking trails - you can get lost back there for hours. It's fantastic.)  I was like, woohoo hacking!!! And Riley was like "ummmmmmmmmmmmmm this seems very dubious mom.... I don't know.... I think I'm going to politely turn around now." Which he did and then I attempted to tell him that no, we really DID need to go that direction, and then we got into a little fight about it.  This resulted in walking back up the trail, then turning around and getting a good swat with the stick and marching forward.  Well, to make another long story short, we did this dance for about fifteen minutes, and I finally gave up after I got him some thirty steps down the path, told him to halt and STAND and wait, and then quietly turn around and go back.  Next time, hopefully we'll make it a little further, but it was obviously not happening on Sunday.  So I hacked him around the grass ring instead - which he also put up a hissy about but received a sharp swat for his troubles, and we ended up having a fine time indeed.  And I made him take the long way home around the big field where they keep the retired horses (which he hates and always spooks at) and around the pond and up through the back, so at least we got some real hacking in with a minimum of continuing hissy fits.

Entrance (hard to see, but it's there!) to the hacking trails. We spent a lot of time whirling around in circles here. Heehee.

Grumpy horse is grumpy. But at least he got an apple out of the deal.

But cute horse is cute. And he clearly got to eat some grass so life is not all that bad.