Centered Riding…A Trip Back in Time

When I was a kid, all I read were horse books. Fiction, non-fiction, it didn’t matter- if it had a horse on the cover it was in my hands. I of course read the fictional series like Thoroughbred and The Saddle Club, but I also loved books like, The Complete Horse Riding Manual by William Micklem and another that, sadly, has been lost and I can’t recall the name. It was all western stuff, but the techniques could be applied anywhere.

Then I came upon a book called Centered Riding by Sally Swift and it was a game changer. I had just started back riding after a 6 year hiatus and riding wasn’t going so well for me, despite my saintly-if-unbroken new horse, Jester.

 

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Saintly horse is a saint

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In these pictures, to me it felt like I was ram-rod straight, but obviously I’m not. I was also so tense everywhere, you can practically see the anxiety radiating off of me.

When I found the CR book, it was amazing. At that time I didn’t have access to quality instruction (military towns have chain food restaurants, strip clubs and tattoo parlors- DQs and UL eventers tend NOT to flock to Jacksonville, NC), so what I did was drag my husband out to video me riding endless 20m circles, diagonals, w/t/c, jumps, and then compare my videos to videos of real riders on YouTube, make notes, and repeat ad nauseam. It’s a slow way to learn, and by the time you’ve figured out you’re wrong, you’ve already done it for like an hour. But it was all I had at the time. That and then this book. CR gives you exercises to do out of the saddle as well as in, and has wonderful imagery and metaphors that are easy to remember. I’m a visual person- talk at me all you want, but I will understand better and faster if I’m shown. So the metaphors used by Sally Swift really made an impression on me and I carried those with me when I rode.

And I got better.

 

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Don’t be like me. Always wear a helmet. What an idiot.

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Definitely not perfect- but I became much more stable in the saddle. I would run through the images in my head- like the string attached to the top of your head pulling you upright, or the long arms holding onto the just the sides of the bit rather than the reins. And I would think about the 4 building blocks like a checklist- Centering Yourself, Breathing, Soft Eyes, and Building Blocks. It became a habit for me to run through these many times during the course of a ride , so that I could reset myself and notice quickly if I became tense or was off-balance.

Then the unthinkable happened and I lost Jester. Someday I’ll do a post about him. And then Noah was born and it was time to think about getting back in the saddle.

Enter P.

 

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Omg that face

 

I had lent my CR book to a friend before we moved to the Charlotte area, and never got it back, and at this point hadn’t ridden in almost a year. So when I re-started P, I went back to old habits- leaning, clutching, gripping, etc. While I’ve worked really hard to improve those, in times when I get anxious, the bad habits sometimes rear their ugly head.

 

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Like when you do this….

 

 

 

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This happens

 

Last year I also broke my left ankle. My left side is already my weaker side, as I have an acetabular fracture in my hip, which means that there’s a piece of the socket broken off. The only “cure” for it is surgery, but since it doesn’t really impede with every day life, I’ve opted so far not to get the surgery. Maybe someday it will become necessary, but for now, no thank you.

My ankle thankfully did not require surgery or having any hardware installed, but even over a year later is not nearly as flexible as my right. I can do pistol squats on my right side all day long, but my left is hit or miss, and even when I can do them successfully, it’s a lot less pretty than my right side.

This is an old video from when I first was able to start doing them, but there’s a clear difference in the right and left.

Because I’m so stiff on my left side, it’s really gotten in the way of riding and exacerbated my already-present bad habits such as leaning. I get out of balance, my stirrups fly everywhere, P leans, I lean harder. It’s been such a struggle.

In dressage, I lose my left stirrup constantly and then waste precious seconds that could be better spent on riding correctly trying to get it back to the right spot. In jumping, with my shorter stirrups, I don’t lose them as much, but I do stand in my left one, which tips me to the right. It also explains why when I fell this past weekend, I fell over his right shoulder. Everytime I’ve fallen off of him, I’ve fallen over his right shoulder. Seeing his right shoulder when he spooks is not a new view for me. My right leg over fences tends to stay where I need it to, my left leg goes WAY back. And I’m sick of it.

 

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I love P’s face when he’s locked onto a fence

 

 

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BAI LEFT LEG, SEE YOU WHEN WE LAND

 

I feel like I’ve tried everything. I’ve tried swinging (yes, swinging) my leg forward over fences. I’ve tried putting the stirrups on different parts of my feet. I’ve changed stirrups. I’ve changed saddles.

But really it all comes down to balance. And my balance is clearly off. Then yesterday at work (my organization rents offices inside the library), I wandered past a shelf of books and something caught my eye.

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Hello, old friend. Well really new friend, because I’ve never read CR2.

I’ve gone back through the basic exercises that you can do just sitting at a desk-like I do pretty much ALL DAY- and can’t wait to take them into the saddle this evening.

So now I’m curious- does anyone else do any exercises before or after they get in the saddle? If you do, what do you do and how has it helped?

 

 

 

The Upside: It’s Now Husband’s Idea to Get a New Helmet!

Yep:

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I even put it in slow-mo for you guys. You’re welcome.

And to think, I told my husband to keep my XC vest in the cart because, “I didn’t need it for SJ.”

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Now that that’s out of the way, I do have to say that even with my most spectacular fail, I had a blast this weekend. And learned a lot. But most importantly, I got to test out my newly upgraded horse trailer! And it was heaven.

It almost wasn’t done in time, because they received the wrong awning, but Shetron pulled through and I picked it up Friday morning. It’s awesome. The new awning is teal (perfect) and you literally just flick a switch and it extends out, then you can manually adjust if you want to account for shade or rain. Then when you’re done, you flip the switch again and it rolls back up under an aluminum cover so no more rips if you go under a tree!

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Of course my favorite modification is the AC in the dressing room. I had a 30 amp RV hookup installed in it, so we pulled into the RV camp spot and hooked up and instantly had AC. There are also 2 regular outlets in there next to the saddle racks for phone chargers, etc. Spectacular.

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The 3 year old and I slept in the GN- he had the air mattress with the sides and I had the sleeping pads, and then husband and the 9 year old slept in this bad boy:

And we brought an extension cord with us, so they had a fan in there and neither had any complaints.

Husband bought a little charcoal grill from Walmart and on Friday night we cooked hot dogs, grilled cheese, asparagus and roasted marshmallows. Perfect horse show food.

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We also were able to successfully use the 2 room changing tent with the solar shower.

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The other modification I had done to it was to extend the hinge on the back window on the awning side so that it could close. I’ve hauled P with the back windows open 3x now and all 3x he’s arrived at our destination with nary a drop of sweat on him. So another huge win for Shetron Custom Trailers!

P loved his stall at the Carolina Horse Park- those things were HUGE. And since it was a horse show, the Likit came out. He goes through one of those in a matter of hours so he only gets them for shows.

 

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Still going at it

 

We also rented a golf cart for the first time since the RV camp was across the road from the barns, and the grounds were huge.

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Best $200 I’ve ever spent- the kids had a blast and it was super easy to get everything back and forth from the barns and my trailer since I didn’t get a tack stall. I just loaded everything up in my cart (that’s another of my favorite horse show purchases), then held onto it from the back of the golf cart.

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The other genius thing I did was bring my hammock, with the intent of putting it in the horse area of the horse trailer. But then I saw someone else hang theirs in front of their stall, so I made husband rig mine up there also. And it was perfect. I spent pretty much all day Saturday swinging in that thing in front of P’s stall.

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Friday we got to the horse park around 5 PM, so by the time everything was set up for us and P, it was too late to ride. So I hand walked him around, and we got over our fear of water meter signs while also investigating every trash can around each of the barns.

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This was a schooling HT, where you could school each of the phases on Saturday. I was invited to a clinic with a local eventer that was being put on by the Area II Young Riders program, so I signed up for it because it included schooling on Saturday, course walks and coaching for the HT on Sunday. Since a grounds person was required and my husband had the kids, it was perfect for me to join. And I was even more glad when I went out and walked XC on Friday.

When I signed up for BN, especially a schooling one, I had visions of log piles, coops…everything made to BN specifications and jumps that made for a positive course.

Not this one.

One of the sessions for the clinic was on course design, and we literally took a ruler and level out to measure the jumps. Many were technically Novice fences either in height or width, and the actual track and terrain made the course more suitable for horses with more experience. If I had seen the course or jumps beforehand, I would’ve stayed home.

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Jump 1 is what I expected. It was pretty much straight out of the start box, and easy.

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Turning left after jump 1, jump 2 was considerably wider, but still shaped pretty invitingly. Plus, it was heading towards home so it supposedly rode well.

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Jump 3 was a small feeder that jumped downhill into the woods. So now the horses know they’re not actually going home, plus the landing point was an entire foot lower than the takeoff. The jump from takeoff measure 2’3″. The jump from the landing point measured 3’3″. That’s the maximum drop allowed in BN and we were only on the 3rd jump.

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Jump 4 was just dumb for a schooling BN. Not only was it actually bigger than 2’7″ (if I remember correctly, it measured 2’10”), it was wide, set next to a tree, so very shadowy, and it was painted in such a way that the horse couldn’t tell that it was actually a bench and not a more vertical jump until they were right on top of it. And set directly behind it was a Prelim jump with airy logs that the horses would be looking at. To me, it was the opposite of what I expected to see at a schooling BN horse trial. We’ve jumped both BN and Novice benches before, and this one was the biggest and weirdest designed one I’ve seen.

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Jump 5 was also, in my opinion, inappropriate for BN. It was at the top of a hill, next to a cow jump (?) and not only was bigger than 2’7″ (I think this was 2’9″) it was also way too wide to be BN (52″ or 54″).

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Jump 6 was a combination with a bending line.

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Jump 7 was just a water crossing.

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Jump 8 went into the woods and was a replica of jump 6A.

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Jump 9 was again, inappropriate for BN. It was 2″ too big, was 4″ too wide, and was another combination. The B element had another big drop on the landing side, then you continued down a steep hill.

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Jumps 10 & 11 were what I actually expected for BN.

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And jump 12 was at the top of a hill, so you had to get a really good and balanced gallop up.

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I have to say I had a preconceived notion that this was going to be a pretty soft HT. And I couldn’t have been more wrong in every aspect, not just the XC course. When we arrived on Friday evening, there were maybe 50 stalls filled. Saturday morning, every stall was filled (all 192 of them), with tons of people showing out of their trailers. It was HUGE. There were just under 240 entries, not even including the non-compete horses that were just there to school. The atmosphere was bigger than at any show we’ve ever been to, but P seemed to be ok. I hand walked him a few times Saturday morning as well, and besides one spook when a cart came up behind him, he was calm. The BN group was scheduled to meet up with the clinician on XC at 12:45, so I got on at 12:20 to walk over there.

And it was terrible. Not terrible like, oh silly Pilgrim, terrible as in people were scattering because I couldn’t control him. He was wheeling around, bolting everywhere, super tense, and didn’t calm down once.

The clinician (poor woman) had us trot an x-rail like 10x because he wasn’t behaving in the slightest.

Then we went over to XC. Everyone else cantered jump 1, we trotted it. But he didn’t refuse, so I chalked it up to a win. He didn’t refuse jump 2 either, so again, another win. Then we went to the last jump and she said she’d rather not have us do this one so early on because he was still incredibly hard to control and the uphill approach wasn’t exactly conducive to trotting. So we watched everyone else go, then did jumps 10 and 11. 10 he didn’t give me any problems about, but 11 was slightly raised off the ground so he refused. She said he had a shitty attitude and has us try again. So we did and then he bolted off towards the group behind the jump. Ugh.

Then we went to jump 6, where we just did the A element. He refused again, but that one was more on me because at this point I was exhausted from just keeping myself in the saddle and I was really just over even riding him.

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He went through the water just fine, as I knew he would, then I followed a horse over jump 8. We skipped 9A, instead waiting for the others to go over…well, tried to. He spun in circles and bolted around. It was actually truly embarrassing and there were a few moments where I found myself feeling unsafe. I typically don’t feel unsafe on P, but he had now been uncontrollable for over an hour and I was soooo done with him. We were allowed to follow a horse over 9B, and he bolted down the hill, even sliding a bit, which did nothing for my nerves. All because the group was down there.

Then we were done with XC, and I opted to go to SJ for some assistance there. We did some warmup jumps and he was much more manageable. And no refusals. Even when she put the oxer up and spread it out, which by then Cambox had had enough and said goodnight.

And from my husband’s POV (child issues included):

Then we went into the Maiden/Green Bean field and did their course. The line for the BN one was really long and she thought it would overface him (and I). So we went in and flew around the smaller course twice, and he was pretty great. Slightly wild in a couple of spots, but still good.

And then we called it a day. We’d been at it for 2 hours and wanted to end on a good note. She recommended we move down to a lower CT, and at that point, I agreed. XC was pretty much totally unproductive. I kept hoping he would settle down, and that point never came. It was truly one of the worst rides I’ve ever had.

So I looked at moving him down, but then saw that the dressage test was Intro A. Ummm, no. I’m not paying a change fee to do a w/t test. So I decided I would keep him at BN, and just take it 1 step at a time. If dressage warmup went well, we’d do dressage. If SJ warmup went well, we’d do SJ, even though we hadn’t schooled any of those jumps. If that went well, we’d go to XC warmup. Though I did decide that if we made it that far, I’d tell them I was skipping the jumps I didn’t school- particularly #4, #5, and #9.

The clinician thought we should be jumping poles on the ground and I can’t blame her. I’ve never met her before so her only interaction with us was on Saturday, now memorialized as P’s Worst Day Ever. But I also know that we CAN do BN, because 3 days prior we were hopping around Trainer B’s course. P was reacting to the huge, electric atmosphere and that combined with the lack of his usual 12+ hours/day of turnout, he was wild.

So the next morning I went out and lunged him first thing in the morning. Not out of control or to make him run, but he obviously had pent up energy that needed more of a release than hand walking gave him. He was great and quiet, listened well, so I put him away after about 15 minutes. Luckily we had a HUGE field to lunge in, so it wasn’t 15 minutes of circles (which I hate).

Then I went back and got dressed for dressage in the AC, tacked him up for dressage an hour before our ride time of 10:22, and lunged him again. He stayed quiet, did everything I asked, so I got on and we went to warmup.

And he was my usual P. Slightly up and alert, but not crazy or out of control. I let him warm up for a few minutes without asking too much of him, then slowly started to take more of a connection and asked him to soften. And he was great. The clinician came over about 10 minutes in and remarked that even just the look in his eye was incredibly different than it was the day before. She gave me some position tips and then we were up.

It was P’s first time doing dressage where there were multiple rings running simultaneously- 5 to be exact. We went around the outside each direction, and our entry sound was a “squeaky toy.” Just as I was wondering how squeaky it would be while we were trotting down the long side towards A, she squeaked her toy and P spooked. But only for a second, then he came right back and we headed down centerline. In hindsight, I should have circled to give him another few seconds to settle, as our first CL was a bit crooked. But everything else in the test went incredibly well. Our downward transitions still need work, but he listened to everything I asked him to do and for the first time EVER, got an EIGHT on our last halt of all things. Usually we do great on our final CL, then the halt gets all wonky. When we halted, I knew it was good, but since I didn’t see a video, I wasn’t positive it was square. So yay for improvement!

I thought we had scored maybe a 34 or so- BN A has never been our greatest test since the first canter comes up so quickly, then he has to walk shortly after, and we’ve never scored below a 36 for that particular test. So when we got back a 30.8, I was thrilled.

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Due to the # of BN entries, there was a Jr division, then 3 regular Open divisions, and I was in BN-A. Like 7 people scored in the 20’s, so we were in tenth, but if we had been in BN-B, we would’ve been in second, and if we were in BN-C, we would’ve been in first. If there were no splits, we would have been 12th out of 41. So it was a huge confidence booster, and I definitely have to give credit to Trainer J.

SJ wasn’t until 2:26, so after cooling out P, we went back to the trailer to pack up so we could leave after the show was over,. And P napped.

 

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Finally, he’s tired

 

Then I went to walk XC, since I hadn’t seen it the day before. And of course, jump 1 was an oxer with rolltop-ish boxes. Seriously? The clinician told our group to get the horses going right away and going more forward than you think you need. Because for jump 1 you’re going to need it. Dear Lord.

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Like XC, SJ was maxed out, with everything at max height/max width. There were 6 oxers and jump 1 was not inviting at all.

Jump 2 came up very fast.

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Jump 3 was the widest oxer and was a sharp turn to the right after 2.

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Jump 4 came off of a longer approach and was towards the in-gate.

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Jump 5 was an oxer version of 4, and walked in a very forward 5 strides. The clinician recommended going for the 5, because the horses were heading towards the in-gate and would land going forward.

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Then you landed and made a sharp right turn to the 2 stride combination.

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Jump 7 came off a short rollback turn. Luckily we’ve been practicing these with Trainer B, so I wasn’t too concerned.

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Then you had to go around jump 3 and do another rollback to 8.

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Then ANOTHER rollback to 9.

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And finally the bending line to 10.

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So again, we’re at a schooling HT, our first at BN, and everything is maxed out with a pretty technical course. My only real concern was jump 1, so the clinician helped us warmup and put the jump up slightly higher than BN height (since everything else was higher than that anyway), and made the oxer wider. We had a great warmup, with P jumping everything out of stride and I was riding really positively.

It was our turn, so I got him in there turned him left in front of the rolltop-ish jump, then turned him right (not EXACTLY presenting because that’s not allowed), and got him going forward. And I thought it was going to be ok…but no. Refusal. Not unexpected, but he did jump it on the 2nd try, so success, I guess?

Jump 2 was great, 3 was the wide oxer and I felt P hesitate, so I sat back and kicked and he flew over. Jump 4 he was great to, then did a forward 5 strides to jump 5 and it was great then…

P chipped. I didn’t, and I went flying over his shoulder. I was up right away, P was already waiting for me, so we were fine, but it was still disappointing. And uncomfortable. I had sand in all the unmentionable places. But I got back on, went back to warmup and cantered a lap, then went straight for the biggest warmup oxer again. More for me than for P, because what happened was all my fault. I did the 5, and P rarely ever chips. So I leaned up his neck like any good amateur would, and P couldn’t lift his front end off the ground. One hundred percent avoidable if I had sat back and waited.

Here’s the full video:

Super graceful, right?

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Apparently that fence was more trouble than it looked. The girl who went right after me (and was also stalled next to P) fell off at the same fence. There were a few other casualties there as well, and we weren’t the only ones to stop at fence 1. It made me feel slightly better, but not much. Oh well. It is what it is. They said I could still go to XC if I wanted, and I did want to, even though I was still planning on skipping some jumps, but the sand was really unbearable. So I opted to get off and go home. Even though I fell, we ended on a good note back in the warmup, and going around XC with sand in my breeches would’ve done me more harm than good. It was time to call it a weekend.

So. Lessons learned?

  1. If P is going to be stalled, lunging is my friend.
  2. Golf carts are awesome.
  3. Dressage is not our issue. And he CAN halt straight. Also, squeaky toys as entry whistles suck.
  4. Oxers are no longer homes to monsters.
  5. I like hearing our names called out on the loudspeaker when we enter the arena.
  6. I need to get myself some green felt and cover all the things with it at home. That’s obviously a sticking point for P.
  7. I need to get another fly bonnet with some helpful “tips” embroidered on it. Like SIT THE F BACK AND WAIT.
  8. Aquaphor is not just for diaper rashes. It is also a miracle worker for when wet sand gets squished around in your pants.
  9. Most importantly- just because it’s a SCHOOLING show, doesn’t mean its easy. It’s probably harder because they don’t have to follow USEA rules.

So that’s all, folks. P gets today off, then tomorrow we return to our regularly scheduled programming.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pilgrim the Ankle Beater

Yesterday I had my final lesson with Trainer B before heading to Carolina Horse Park tomorrow. I was in Chicago over the weekend to run a Spartan race with my sister, so BO rode P twice and said he was sane (whoop!), then Monday my board meeting ran late so I figured it’d be fine to skip riding that night since I’d be able to get on Tuesday.

P had other plans.

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The farrier couldn’t get out until Wednesday morning, so I tried to take a lesson from BO on one of her school horses, but about 10 minutes in the temperature dropped 20 degrees and this insane storm came out of nowhere.

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So because of that, the horses stayed in that night (they’re on night turnout due to the heat) after already being in all day. On Wednesday I had to pull out of the barn by 12:30 to be at my lesson on time and they finished shoeing him at 12:20. So now my horse has not only not been ridden in 2 days, but he’s been inside for 36 hours.

This will definitely go well.

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As soon as we headed up to the arena, I knew it was going to an exciting time. Usually I walk for a few minutes and get control of his shoulders, then we trot and do the same thing, and then do a few laps at the canter each way.

Yesterday we just skipped right to the canter. Ok then.

Trainer B set up a little warmup jump to see what kind of horse came out to play that day- just a pole set on top of some muck buckets and we hopped over it a few times each way.

Then some skinny ground poles to see what happened.

And he was fine. So we headed to the roll top that we’ve previously jumped before.

Aaaaand…refusal. An ever so gentle one, but still. Come on.

So I backed him up and we trotted launched over it, then did it a few more times trying to get him to land straight rather than land to the right.

And then moved onto the lattice gate that, again, we have successfully hopped over before.

Another refusal. So sigh. Back up, Jump. Ok, good.

So then we started putting things together. Roll top to lattice, roll top, gate, lattice. And then introduced a new fence mid-course (not jumping it singly) that he has not jumped before- an oxer with brush in it. And then 4/5 strides to the lattice again, but turn right and then over the C4 cross rail-oxer thing.

Here’s a visual:

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I was pretty sure that P would stop at the brush-filled oxer since it came up quickly out of the turn, and he had just stopped at 2 jumps that I was just trotting to, but he barely hesitated, then powered over it and to the lattice.

One thing that I was struggling with was getting him to listen. He was so freight-trainy and wasn’t listening to any of my aids. It was point, jump, and run, which as we all know, A) isn’t fun and B) will mean mistakes and rails. If he’d had turnout and/or rides in the previous 48 hours I’m sure he would’ve been at least semi-sane, but he was just not wanting to listen or slow down at all.

And side note on my reins. I have the Thinline reins and have loved them faithfully. But the last few rides I’ve struggled with grip- my lesson with Trainer B when it was pouring and then XC schooling at Wind Ridge when P was all sweaty, I just couldn’t keep a hold of them. Both times I rode without gloves (I hate gloves), so I figured I’d throw them on for this lesson since it was guaranteed to be a sweaty one, but of course couldn’t find one of my gloves. Ugh. Anyway, if anyone has suggestions for reins that don’t slip when wet, please throw them at me. I hate laced and webbed. That is all.

Or maybe I should just wear gloves. I just need to find the other one!

Back to the lesson. We struggled a lot with the 4/5 stride between the oxer and the lattice. P would land over the oxer and RUN, all crazy horse style, while I tried to gain some semblance of control. So at first Trainer B was having me half halt in between, but all that was happening was P was landing and bracing so he could ignore me, and then that led to a fight over the lattice.

So he said that with P, to just soften when we landed off the oxer and let P figure it out for himself, even if he ran into it.

Oh, that sounds like fun.

But I did what he said and when we landed off the oxer, I just kept my hands soft and P did a perfect 4 strides. So Trainer B goes, “damn, I guess that was good but I was hoping he’d make a mistake so he could learn from it.”

P was probably trying to hide a smirk.

But then the thing to fix was P’s turning. On the right turn after landing off the lattice. P was dropping his right shoulder, barreling through my right leg and honestly felt like he was going to go down. So Trainer B said to come off the lattice and hold the left rein, so that he was pretty much counterbent going through the turn. So I did…and P was NOT HAPPY.

 

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100% P’s expression

 

 

He did some weird pogo stick thing where his left leg was battering my left ankle. The same left ankle that was broken. And it hurt so much I had to pull him up and take it out of the stirrup. And there was popping.

So we talked for a few minutes, then my ankle felt better so I stuck it back in the stirrup and we went back to work, this time doing the entire course. So we come off the rolltop and he digs in, I hold the outside rein and he does the pogo stick thing, but only rams my ankle like 3x so I kept going. Then we do the rest and come off the lattice and go right, and again P just took my correction to the extreme and my ankle took another beating. I had to stop at that point, it was throbbing.

Here is what was edited out of the last video. Because I put it on social media and didn’t want to get a call from my mom going, “WTF is your horse doing? Is that safe? Think about your kids!”

And here is my POV. It started so well…

The jumps themselves were great. The course minus those 2 spots were great. So as a whole, I’m thrilled with yesterday. We talked afterwards and he said P is just such a sensitive horse (I know), and he’s very extreme, it’s hard to get a consistent ride out of him. He either is going too fast when he needs to be slower, or he’s going to slow and then needs to be moved up. This of course was really exacerbated by the lack of riding and turnout the last few days- when I say P needs a solid 6 days of work to stay sane, I’m not being dramatic, it’s how it is. So it’s finding that balance of keeping him forward without running and collecting him without him getting stuck behind, and that will come with practice.

One thing he did say was, “I know it feels like he’s going fast, but that’s the pace you need for show jumping. So when you think he’s going too fast, just remind yourself that it’s the pace you need.”

FINE.

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Today P got his magnawave session in. My friends own a magnawave business, so I texted the one who was coming out to do him that he jumped a lot yesterday and she sent me this about 5 minutes into it:

 

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About right

 

I wish I had spent the magnawave session on me- my ankle is still giving me some issues. It’s a bit swollen so I’m in flats today and have it elevated on a chair. I’ll have to remember to pack some ice and ibuprofen- tomorrow we leave!

PNS- for the Win?

So last Friday, the Voltaire rep came out to try saddles on P with the idea that I would probably end up needing a custom saddle.

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The CWD has to go.

Not only is it not aesthetically pleasing…

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But it doesn’t fit me very well. It’s comfy beyond belief, but the flaps are not so conducive to my stupid long legs, particularly while jumping.

Whenever I would trailer down to Aiken, I would ride in the trainer’s Voltaire. It fit P great and I always felt so secure in it. So my top choices were Voltaire and Stackhouse, because my dressage saddle is a Stackhouse and they’re in NC, but Stackhouse wouldn’t be able to do a fitting for a long time, as they’re on the road right now.

So I told the Voltaire rep the specs for the saddle I would ride in down in Aiken and she brought about a dozen variations for me to try for comparison.

 

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LOVE the color of the saddle

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Turquoise billet guards!

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Turquoise gullet!

 

After trying a couple to determine what looked best, the first saddle I rode him in was an 18″ Palm Beach with 3AA flaps (long, double forward).

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This may sound weird, but I wanted a saddle that fit better with my EcoGold half pad. I just like the idea of there being that extra layer of shock absorbing material in between my sometimes-not-so-graceful self and my horse’s sensitive back. This saddle already fit his shape well, and then was made pretty close to perfect with my pads (pretty much the same as the Voltaire I rode in while in Aiken).

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We went out to the arena and I got on P and he immediately went into the softest, most relaxed frame without me even asking. It was kind of incredible, and totally unexpected. Usually I let him warm up without asking for any sort of frame or connection for the first few minutes, but he was connected from the get go. We did some w/t/c, and hopped over a few fences, and he was fantastic.

The seat felt quite a bit different than my CWD- the saddle didn’t just stick me in one place, and I guess I’ve come to expect that. I asked about trying an 18.5″ for comparisons sake. Well, P let me know what he thought about that and was immediately super short-strided- almost felt lame- and I couldn’t get him to move out at all. The saddle was just barely at his last rib, but I guess that was enough.

So then I tried an 18″ with a different flap, I think it was a 2AA and with the regular sweat flap (not the upgraded second skin like saddle #1). P was better than he was in saddle #2, but not nearly as nice as he was in saddle #1.

So just for the sake of certainty, because at this point I wasn’t sure if it was the saddle or his attitude (it was about 200 degrees and his friends were being turned out), I tried saddle #1 on him again and lengthened the stirrups one hole (the first time I tried it, they were slightly too short for me). P immediately went back into being engaged and soft.

I rode for an additional 10 minutes or so in it- sitting trot, posting trot, 2 point, sitting canter, half seat canter, etc. And he was great.

Of course, it’s the absolute top of the line one with all the add-ons, so about $5,800 for a custom one.

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So I asked if the demo saddle was for sale.

And she said yes! Plus I could keep it for a week’s trial.

So I have until tomorrow to decide and I’m leaning towards yes.

I can’t find a better price for a used one that has the same features. Here are my favorite ones:

  1. It’s buffalo. My CWD is calf and while it’s older and was previously owned by a trainer, the leather is really worn. Obviously, there’s a freaking hole on the pommel. It’s also starting to wear down on the left side of the seat. The buffalo feels much grippier.
  2. It has the second skin upgrade. This is a slightly thinner, more pliable sweat flap than the regular one, giving a closer contact feel. P responded to this one a lot better than to the other nearly identical saddle but that had a regular sweat flap, so I chalk that up to a win.
  3. PRO panel upgrade, which is supposed to fit a variety of horses. Something to do with the padding or whatever, I wasn’t too interested in that, since I have just 1 horse. But then I rode BO’s TB, who is a drastically different body type, and this saddle with the same pads, fit him pretty darn well. Just to compare, I put my CWD on him to see which was better and it did not fit at all- lots of rocking, where the Voltaire sat still and level. I wouldn’t have gone out of my way to buy a PRO panel, but it’s nice to have (if I 100% decide to purchase).

Tonight is the final ride in it before I have to decide, since I’m leaving for Chicago in the morning to go see family and run a Spartan race with my sister. Yesterday I got on and cantered poles with P (HW from my lesson with BO to regain my ability to see distances), and P was the most relaxed I could’ve asked for, despite having 2 days off. This was my text conversation with husband prior to getting on:

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I just cantered up and down both long sides over and over the poles that were on 5 stride lines and he was perfectly fine. So fine, in fact, I dropped my stirrups and did some trot and canter- I NEVER drop my stirrups on this horse. And I felt totally secure in the saddle, so I don’t think I want it to go back.

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So tonight I’ll hop over some fences, make sure that’s all ok, then stay up and agonize over my decision until midnight or so.

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In other expensive news, my trailer was dropped off yesterday for the modifications!

 

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Bye bye

 

And these items are arriving today!

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Wind Ridge XC Schooling

Best part of the day, hands down, was finally meeting B from Riding to B! It has been a long time in the making. Though she was sidelined due to a knee injury (and not even from horses…HOW BORING ;), and couldn’t ride. But she took all the awesome pictures you’ll see throughout the post- thank you, B!!

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Sunday morning started quite early, as I had to be on the road by 8:15 to make it to Wind Ridge in time. It’s a venue I’ve never been to before, but tentatively have their August HT on my calendar, so I really wanted to go check it out. I was going to meet B there, as well as some of her friends for not only a regular XC school, but one with their trainer who B has raved about. So we’d be getting some help as well- always appreciated!

 

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Super stressed, can’t you tell?

 

 

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Pretty new ME boots!

 

Of course when I got on, P became considerably more up and anxious to join the group that was already headed to the warmup area, so we got a good (if unplanned) gallop in before going to meet the rest of the gang and Trainer A.

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After a bunch of circles and figure 8’s, P started to relax and gasp! listen to me instead of bug out every which way, and so we started over the stadium cross-rail and vertical. The first jump over the x-rail was hideous and Trainer A called out, “That’s perfect- the perfect example of what NOT to do.”

This is going to be fun.

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Then we jumped the tiny XC warmup jump- I totally felt P wanting to stop, but kept my leg on and he leapt over it, so we did it again and I buried him. Off to a great start!

Then we headed to the start box and the first few jumps on course, and P was actually ok with leaving the group to go to the start box solo…he jumped the little rolltop a little awkwardly, but it took all my leg to get him over it. Then we were SUPPOSED to go over a little table-y thing, but P was like, “Hell Naws…my new best friends are over there.”

And stopped. Like a stride or two away.

So Trainer A had a great idea, and had one of the other riders (whose horse-which belonged to B- was awesome) lead us over. And P thought super hard about stopping again, but popped over in the end.

So then we did it by ourselves.

And since P was still a little unsure, Trainer A had Angel Pony lead us over a few more things, including these:

Then we headed over to a different part of the course and we were supposed to jump over the little thing with the log on top, up the hill to another little thing, then right and downhill to water, then to the left and over another red thing. And P was used to the whole leading thing by now, though the first jump with the log on top he was super unsure of….kicking and clucking convinced him not to actually stop, but it was close.

 

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Look at my perfect eq when P deer hops the jump. Be jealous.

He was fine over the second element, but when we turned right and saw the water…P was all, “Ok, you follow me now. I got this” and it took all my might to get him pulled behind the Angel Pony.

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And as soon as we hit the water, I felt “the change” in P. Trainer A had us turn around and do the little red thing, through the water, and then to the right and over some steps going uphill, again behind Angel Pony, and P was again all, “Let me show you how to do water, there.”

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So we did the same thing ourselves and P was brimming with confidence.

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So then we went over to the ditches and Trainer A wanted to test his confidence and sent us over solo, no lead.

But P has really always been good about ditches, so this was NBD.

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So she sent us up AWAY from the other horses, to jump a little hanging log that he hadn’t seen before, then over the ditch from the opposite way.

And he was great.

When I pulled him up after that, P was practically STRUTTING , he was so pleased with himself. It felt like I could’ve asked him to go over anything and he would’ve, but it was a great place to stop (not to mention it was like 150 degrees and we’d been out there for 2 hours).

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Today it’s supposed to storm all damn day, so riding is out. If it’s not too bad out, I’m going to set up some more “scary” things in the small indoor and lunge P over them again. I have the bath towels and crepe paper already in the truck (thanks again for the idea, Megan!)

Then tomorrow I have my first lesson with BO on her school horse Patrick to start to fix my eye. Because the worst part of jumping for me is I never know when P is going to take off. So either he takes off at awkward spots or he stops because I can’t make up my mind. So while he needs to learn to just GO and JUMP, I need to work on my own deficiencies as well.

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In Which P Jumps the Crazy Jumps

I went out the barn after taking the kids to a movie to jump P over crazy things. Loaded up my truck with things like tarps and shavings bales (Megan had a great idea and suggested beach towels and crepe paper, so those are definitely going in for next time), and tacked P up in our potential new saddle (PNS..I swear I’m going to do a post on it) and dusted off my trusty old rope halter. I haven’t used it since the days of ol’ Jester, who was the one responsible for breaking off 3 of my 4 trailer tie rings.

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We went behind the shed and I started him over a couple of boards on the ground, and he was just fine. So then I enlisted the help of some of the little girls that were still there and we dragged the tarp out and made it jump-able. Again, he was fine. WTF? Why are you fine? WE NEED TO WORK THROUGH OUR PROBLEMS SO HAVE A PROBLEM.

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From there, I just kept dragging things out from the shed and changing things up.

And he jumped everything.

The only thing he did have an issue with (and unfortunately is not on tape) was after the last video, I reversed directions where he jumped onto the tarp. He did it once, then refused repeatedly, maybe 3x, before going over it. So I kept him going over it until there was no more hesitation and we called it a day.

The whole session lasted maybe 25 minutes and you could pretty much see the wheels turning in his head. I was surprised that he jumped everything so quickly when Trainer B had so many issues (my jumps were definitely scarier than his), and while I’m not naïve enough to think that the 45 minutes with Trainer B cured him, he IS a super smart horse and so hopefully this means we’re on the right track. Of course we’ll see whether or not this translates over to when I’m in the saddle, which will be tested tomorrow AM when we go XC schooling at a new place.

All in all I’m extremely happy with how today went, because it shows that P (in my opinion) carried over what he learned in the lesson with Trainer B to today, so we’re at least on the right track.

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The most important thing to me is to solidify P and keep his confidence up. I know his biggest issue is his insecurity- I’ve felt it on course more times than I can count. He starts out tentative and backed off, then (usually) about jump 5 or so-or when he sees water- he clicks into a different gear and is much more rideable and likely to jump the jumps. But I also can’t tell you how many times we’ve been leading after dressage and then a stop drops us. That’s got to go so if it takes going back to ground work (which honestly should be done no matter what level your horse is, it’s just not nearly as fun as riding), then I’ll do it.

 

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Dis face 🙂

 

Wish us luck tomorrow!

 

 

The Best Laid Plans

Headed to Trainer B’s yesterday. I warmed P up, he was great, then Trainer B comes out and asks if I had something specific I wanted to work on, or if I just wanted to build on last week.

Yeah. I want P to stop stopping. Can ya do that for me?

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I told him about XC schooling because really it was still bothering me. Typically when P stops at the base of a fence it’s because I screwed up. But there are far more times when P stops many strides away and has to basically inspect the jump before he’ll pop over. It’s not enough to just trot up, he’ll still stop and there’s nothing you can do about it.

Not even if you’re Tim Bourke.

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Exhibit B

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So anyway, I explained that whenever we approached a jump, any jump really, at any given moment I’m only about 35% sure P will jump it. So it’s always a surprise- a pleasant one, of course- if he does jump a jump. And I’m tired of it. We’ll go stretches of time with no issues, then it’s just out of nowhere- he stops.

He’s not being bad, he’s not doing it to get me off…the horse is truly just very cautious and wants to make sure it’s not going to attack him. I get that, but at some point you’ve got to realize I’m not about to point us at a ring of fire or something with a legit troll underneath.

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I also explained that he has the highest stopping rate funny looking jumps, but we board at a HJ barn where literally everything is white- white standards, white poles, white gates…the most creative it gets is some flower boxes. So when we get out and there are stone walls, funky fillers, etc…he’s got to take a look.

Trainer B said there are basically 2 ways to approach it: 1) With the rider; and 2) From the ground. Of course from the ground is safer. So I said yeah, let’s do that. And he goes, “Okkkkkk, that means you’ve got to dismount.”

FINE, BE THAT WAY.

Trainer B got a rope halter with a long lunge line rope thingy attached to it, and we took off P’s running martingale and reins. We headed out to Trainer B’s field where he has a smattering of XC jumps, and he started P over a tiny log, which P hopped right over.

Thanks for making me look like a liar, pony.

But then he pointed him at a saw horse jump and P was like, “NOPSIES!”

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But after some cajoling, he went.

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After going over it like a dozen times each way, he added in the log on the other side, so P was going jump to jump and he was good, so he moved to the ditch.

And P made me a liar again. I said you were GOOD at ditches. Sigh.  Though to be fair, it’s a big ditch. But still.

And he did that again each way until P wasn’t hesitating. Which means he did it ALOT.

Then they moved on to another log, which went just fine. Then to a hanging log:

So we talked afterwards and he said that this is what he does with his young horses and even his upper level horses when issues arise. Work on the ground, just sending them over jumps repeatedly. Don’t let the horse back off from it or turn into you…only release pressure when they go forward and jump the jump. He said it’s all in P’s head and he just needs to get it wired into his brain that if he’s pointed at a jump, he jumps it.

And this is stuff I know. This is how I taught P to self load in a trailer. And it’s also how I taught him ground poles and small jumps when I first restarted him. But for some reason, ever since he’s been a real riding horse, it didn’t even occur to me to go back to the very beginning to solidify that response to this particular issue. I’ve always fought with P from the saddle. It hasn’t been very fun and there have definitely been times where I’ve backed off because I’ve felt unsafe.

He also said that P should NOT have stopped the way he did last week when I “popped off” (he made it sound like it was graceful. It was NOT. I think I still have some of his GGT footing in my hair). And that it’s not fair to me that P only jumps if I’m perfect. So my homework is to get all this sorted from the ground for a few days, then when I come back we’ll get him off the trailer and right over some of the jumps from the ground, then I’ll get on and we’ll see what we’re working with.

Tomorrow I’m going to do it on my own. We couldn’t today because the Voltaire rep came out and we spent like 2 hours on saddles (more on that tomorrow), so tomorrow I’m going to get creative and make P jump whatever crazy things I can find from the ground. So far I have some boxes, 2 colored plastic trunks, a tarp and some shavings bags in the bed of my truck.

We’re going XC schooling Sunday so I’m hoping it will transfer over. Fingers crossed.

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I entered P for real in the War Horse Event Series in BN. I asked Trainer B’s opinion on that- if I should scratch or even just drop him to a lower level, and he said no, to go for BN. So I am. I get to school P over most of the jumps the day before, so hopefully that helps.

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Since Trainer B is headed to Canada to ride in the 3*, he’ll be gone all next week. I’m taking that opportunity to hopefully have my trailer upgraded since I reserved an RV spot and have NOT reserved a hotel (maybe I should do that…). All the parts except the awning arms are in, and they’re expected in any day, then it should take 2 days max to get everything installed and ready to plug in.

I’m hoping to get in a lesson with Trainer J whenever I get my trailer back, then I have a lesson with Trainer B the following Wednesday, 2 days before we leave for Carolina Horse Park. Then it’s off to the show!