Category Archives: Horse Life

Just a Random Catch-All Catch-Up

Today was supposed to be 75 and sunny. I’m so tired of the doom and gloom that have been omnipresent the last several weeks.

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Sigh.

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In riding news, I stole another exercise from Lainey Ashker and spent Sunday setting up the circle part of it and a couple other exercises, like the always-fun one stride.

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Arena

Moving jumps is a great way to get your cardio and weightlifting workouts in

Unfortunately the arena didn’t have room for the oxers on both long sides, but I figured the circle would be challenging enough as it is. Check out her YouTube videos here where she goes through it on a green horse and then coaches students through it. I watched the whole hour, it was fascinating.

I was in a time crunch Monday, so I hopped on just to test it out and I think I have to bring 2 of the jumps in a bit since the striding was a little off, but P was game anyway. Even though I started off on the right lead, which for both of us is our worse way. Reminder: start off on the easier side. Duh.

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And then it was exponentially easier when we went to the left.

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This exercise caught my eye because I have a wonderful tendency to lean and motorcycle through turns, while dragging P’s nose around with the inside rein. So this was super hard for me because if you do those things, you won’t turn in time. In the few short times I ran through this, I told myself to turn my shoulders slightly to the inside without leaning. You can sort of see where I actually did that and where I didn’t. P wasn’t sure what to make of the tiny jumps (I almost put them as ground poles to start but was too lazy to adjust anything), so I think bumping them up a couple holes will help him. He also memorizes patterns so once I do it a couple times and he knows where he’s going, I’ll be able to work more on my own self.

Tuesday he had off, and yesterday was the most blahiest of blah rides in the history of blah. I had every intention of riding through a couple dressage tests, then someone else was in the dressage arena so I went to the jump arena and just plodded around until I’d had enough and we went for a hack around the farm. Which wasn’t a great idea because the ground is still so mushy and I can’t have P lose a shoe right now. We have a big weekend ahead of us.

Remember when I said, “Now that Trainer B is gone, that frees up all the time to get back into consistent work with Trainer J?”

Yeah. Didn’t happen. At all. The last time I saw Trainer J was….November? She was scheduled to come to the barn for lessons a few times but each time was cancelled because of weather or sick kids (hers). And work has been a bit nuts wrapping up end-of-year stuff, grant reports/proposals being due (I’m in non-profit…all about the grants) so I haven’t been able to haul up there. Which means I’ll probably die tomorrow.

And then this weekend, we’re going on an adventure. Hopefully. Saturday it looks so icky it might only be a Sunday adventure, but fingers crossed that no one wimps out.

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Trust

I started blubbering about this to Husband the other day, but then I saw the look on his face: like I had sprouted 6 heads or something, so I figured I’d just ramble about it here.

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I’ve kept it no secret that P and I used to struggle mightily over him stopping at jumps. New jumps, old jumps, plain jumps, decorated jumps….all he was equally likely to stop at.

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My most familiar position

Sometimes you could tell strides out that takeoff wouldn’t be happening:

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Sometimes you had no idea:

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So my way of dealing with it was to crawl him around to jumps. Because while I can sit the slow refusals, my stickability wasn’t as assured when he’d refuse suddenly. But that caused some terrible habits- pulling at him every stride, having little (or zero) momentum to jumps, taking my leg off and stiffening every muscle in my body to keep myself in the saddle. Oh, and leaning too. Because the fetal position will definitely help you stay on.

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And so we both had to relearn….well, everything. I was pushed way out of my comfort zone and P was faced with bigger, scarier jumps.

But not right away, and I can’t even pinpoint a time where I felt overwhelmed. Everything we did week after week built upon the last until I found myself actually enjoying P for the first time since he was, uh, 4.

And even after Trainer B departed for Florida in December, we continued to cruise along- crushing 2’9″ jumper classes, our first ever BN horse trial, and signing an entry form for a Novice CT with confidence (that was ultimately cancelled BUT I STILL SIGNED UP SO IT COUNTS). Felt pretty unstoppable.

Riding has been quite iffy lately, thanks to the weather so P keeps getting multiple days off, and even though he’s come back to work each time with a very “Yes, ma’am” attitude, I’m finding my own confidence has been on a steady downward spiral.

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What’s frustrating is there’s literally NO reason for it. I’ve been pretty much mostly working on my own deficiencies on the flat, with some jumping thrown in a couple days/week. And no matter what I’ve pointed P at, even if it’s something he’s literally never seen before, or previously had issues with, he’s been willing.

He used to see gymnastics (though not very often), or even a few trot poles in a row, panic, and either RUN through them or refuse. Now:

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He also used to TAKE OFF down a line of jumps. Now I find myself setting things like this 2’6″ to a 3′ line and actually jumping it:

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Then we went back to Trainer B’s when he came back for a weekend in January, and P jumped (on the first try) the lattice fence that used to be the source of all despair:

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January 2018- not caring a bit

Bounces- I would NEVER do them. I convinced myself that P would just take a flying leap over all of them. You have no idea how nervous I was turning to this:

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Even when they were raised and looked ALOT different. Which was always a deal breaker for P:

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Thanks to one of my failed move ups to BN, where P refused an SJ warmup jump with a barrel under it repeatedly until I scratched, I avoided barrels at all costs. Until last week. And guess what? It was fine.

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P’s never seen a corner jump in his life. One time Trainer B started to set one up, then P couldn’t even make it over a plank jump he’d seen only a billion times before, so the lesson was rerouted and we never jumped it. So I set one up last week. And again, NBD.

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And then the other night. I totally stole Bette’s exercise (though modified for the barn’s arena) and tried it out.

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So what the hell is my problem? I’ve done a lot of thinking about this and it wasn’t fun to say it out loud (and it’s not fun to type it), but I still don’t trust him.

I trust him on the ground, trust him with my kids, trust him solo in the woods, trust him in a dino costume….but I don’t trust him as we’re heading to a jump. And I don’t know how to change that, but I also know that I contributed to his stopping problem and if I’m not careful, it’s going to come back. P’s a sensitive soul and really reacts to me. When I was getting all defensive on the way to a fence, P would stop because I stopped riding. Then it became habit. When Trainer B gets on his back, he gets P to move and jump in ways I can only dream of…but Trainer B is confident and clear about what he wants. I’m not. I was for awhile, but it’s dwindling now.

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Sooooo….what to do? Not jump for the next 2 weeks until Trainer B makes another trip up to NC? Commission Husband to learn key phrases and randomly shout them at me? I’m kind of at a loss.

I mean, there’s plenty to do on the flat. We’re FINALLY going to see Trainer J this week (OMG IT’S BEEN SO LONG), and I’ve been dropping my stirrups for a few minutes (until I start flopping- then it’s not fair to P) every other ride in hopes of gaining a more independent seat. Though better than before, I really need to kick the leaning habit for good.

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My brain on repeat

I didn’t get to any of the competitions I had planned on this month- either I was too busy or they were cancelled, so tentatively our next HT is the first weekend in March. Luckily Trainer B is coming back for 2 days the week of the HT, so P will get a training ride and then the next day I’ll do a lesson and hopefully get my groove back.

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Like when I pushed him forward to jumps…

Happier times:

This all my be due to the weather as well- it hasn’t been sunny in DAYS so I may find my confidence skyrocketing once the sun shows its face.

In other news…

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So look out for a video collaboration from Triple Crown in the coming days! BO and I are super curious to see which clips they choose to integrate with other videos.

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Prepare Yourselves. You’re Welcome.

About a month ago, BO tagged me in a Triple Crown contest they posted on FB- 3 months of feed to the winner! So we got to brainstorming.

And what started off as a pretty simple concept soon spiraled into hysterical ridiculousness, full of overnight Amazon shipments, hours of editing (literally HOURS), and dozens of takes due to laughing too hard.

So. Enjoy. Because you will never be able to unsee it. I can no longer walk into a stall without busting out laughing.

The best part? After we were done, and the video was finally finished….TC posts a video with a reminder of the contest. And that video is NOTHING like ours. It’s all serious and science-y. So either we’re DQ’d from the start, or they’ll have an excellent sense of humor.

Sucking It Up (Or Trying To…)

So this is kind of par for the course for us this time of year. Weather here is so unpredictable (20 degrees on Tuesday, 65 on Wednesday) snow one day, sunny the next, then rain the next five. It’s pretty much impossible to ride consistently since there’s no indoor and the ground alternates between frozen and just plain soggy.

So I pick something small to work on each time I DO get to ride and once we accomplish that, we’re done.

Like the barrel exercise I stole from the Clayton Fredericks clinic.

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Then the real test. Would he jump it without the guide poles??

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Apparently yes, yes he will. So now my own fear of Pilgrim fearing barrels has been put to rest and I don’t see us really ever having to do this again.

Let’s see….there were a couple days we just worked at the canter. I have trouble alternating between light seat and actually sitting without totally killing P’s momentum, and we both have trouble turning right, so we just did laps around the arena. Super fun.

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The next day I set up a corner jump just to see what would happen, as P has never jumped one before.

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I’ve resolved to make myself not pick to a distance and if it’s bad, it’s bad. The words of Clayton F. still remain very much floating around my head and I don’t want to go back to giving P a reason to blame me. After the corner experiment, we trotted verticals on a loose-ish rein and he wasn’t happy that I was just a guiding passenger and he had to take some responsibility for his feet. So obviously something we’ll need to work more on.

But most of my very recent time at the barn has not been spent riding. Instead, BO and I have been working on a certain project that I can’t fully share for another few days, but here’s a hint: we’re definitely going to win an Oscar. Or 5.

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No competitions for us anytime soon, which is a total bummer, and really a huge factor in how much I ride and what I do. Maybe it’s just a reaction to my own attitude shift, but P seems to go better when we’re out and about more. Not so great if we’re always at home. But Husband has decided that all he wants to do in life is be a cop and starts the law enforcement training next week through….MAY. So a new schedule to get used to, not to mention a temporary tightening of the finances. Trainer J has been going places like Wellington and Aiken lately, so we haven’t seen her in forever, and Trainer B will be coming back for 2 days at the end of the month. So until then….well, we’ll see what happens day by day, I suppose.

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Push or Wait

So last week, I’m talking to Trainer B via text and he asks how P is doing. I say, “Fantastic! Look!” and send him the video of P rocking through the bounces. He says, “Awesome! Now spread them out and raise them.”

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But I say, “OK,” and I mean it. I will.

So a couple days later, I stick the same video on IG/FB because I’m proud of P- and me, because bounces seriously gave me a complex. And immediately the comment that comes in is, “Raise them up.”

GAH OK I WILL. YOU WIN.

So I did.

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And some other stuff.

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He’s just a super cool guy.

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Why he has to wear a sheet no matter the weather

Saturday and Sunday I went to go audit the Clayton Fredericks clinic. He comes pretty regularly to this farm, and knowing nothing about him, I was curious. I went for the BN/N and Prelim groups and both were pretty eye opening, reassuring, and educational.

Saturday was SJ and the first thing he focused on was the riders’ positions. That made me wish I had been riding because that’s a serious struggle for me. Sitting in the saddle- not hovering or bouncing, getting the horse connected without excessive use of reins, etc. Then he had them go through tiny raised cavaletti- starting with 2 rails, then once they were quietly trotting through, going down the line of 6.

Some takeaways (for me) to think about when warming up/riding on the flat:

  • To get the right amount of bend, turn your shoulders to the inside (without leaning). Shoulders should be even. You want to feel the horse’s inside hind leg under its belly. Make sure you don’t block with the outside leg.
  • At the canter, seatbones should stay in the saddle. Lower leg forward, balance on seat.
  • Warmup exercise: laps around the arena, with small circles in each corner. Drive through the turns.

Next he had them go over a ground pole, then 5 strides to a small cross-rail, and quietly halt in a straight line afterwards. Once they could do that, he sent them down an exercise I’m going to shamelessly copy:

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You really had to have a forward canter from the start, otherwise the distances wouldn’t work out. One of the riders reminded me sorely of me in that she consistently under rode it and kept adding a stride everywhere. Another participant had the opposite problem and her horse flew through- literally THROUGH- taking down every single jump with poles flying. So while, yes, I need to always remind myself that forward is better, at least we’re no longer that pair that runs at/through everything.

I stayed for the next group, which consisted of 3 Prelim riders. And wouldn’t ya know? They had some of the very same issues I struggle with- not getting the right strides, leaning at jumps, pulling before fences, swinging legs, getting left behind…not that I was exactly cheering when they’d make mistakes, but honestly sometimes it feels like I’m the ONLY ONE who struggles.

The next day was XC day, but since it was pouring they ended up moving some of the portables into the arena. The name of the warmup game was to get the horse moving forward and straight from the get go. And to test that, they started with this barrel exercise:

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He went with the theme of, “Let’s see how little everyone can use their reins,” by having them trot the barrel on a loose rein. The riders needed to get straight early on so the horse had time to assess, and then keep them straight using their seat and legs. No need to pick a distance- let the horse choose and stay with them. In the BN/N group, only 2 of the 4 from the day before remained so they both got much more personalized instruction. One of the horses was a saintly old pro that did everything perfectly the first time around. The other was a pony that wasn’t so keen on the big black object in the way, and he chose repeatedly to take the guide poles down instead.

One thing Clayton zeroed in on was that rider was a bit meek in the last couple strides, when instead she needed to toughen up (cough, cough, oh the familiarity). And her choosing to lean forward the last couple strides in her attempts to stay with him should he choose to jump were having the opposite effect- she needed to sit back, shoulders behind her hips even, and kick all the way up to and over the barrel.

Sounds quite familiar indeed. Almost as if he were channeling a certain Trainer B…

A good tidbit I found helpful was: “3/4 of the horse should be in front of you. If 3/4 of the horse is behind you, they can do whatever or go wherever they want.”

Again I stayed for the Prelim group with the same 3 riders from the day before, and again it was a total eye opening to see more advanced riders with some of the same issues I have.

“Your upper body in front of the fence will tell you how the horse will jump the fence. Tall upper body will help him jump up, leaning will cause him to go on the forehand. Carry the hand to keep your body upright. Low hands encourage leaning.”

That was what he said to one of the riders who would drop her hands right before a fence and lean.

Ok, well there’s an incentive to sit up.

The same rider also picked her way to fences, pulling all the up to and over it, especially when she felt like her horse was rushing. So I listened closely to how he instructed her.

“Don’t pull to or over the fence no matter what. Let the horse learn that running to jumps is uncomfortable. If you pull, then you’ve interfered and now the horse is going to blame you for the bad jump. Do nothing, let him learn his lesson, and he’ll figure out how he can make the jump comfortable.”

My personal favorite mantra of the day: “Either push or wait to the jump. NEVER PULL.”

And it really did work. They started over the same barrel exercise the BN group had and the horse initially was running and launching over the barrel, with the rider tugging every stride. By the end, he was quietly getting himself over it with the rider on the buckle and one hand on her thigh.

“Sit in the right spot and everything falls into place.”

Another rider was struggling with using his body correctly. He was practically contorting himself to correct his horse (again, sounds familiar), and overusing his leg/rein. The horse was twisting over the jumps and on landing, so Clayton had him focus solely on sitting evenly on his seat bones with both stirrups equally weighted and not do anything else. And…uh, that worked, too. That made me realize that, like this rider, I’ve been doing WAY too much of the work. Trainer J always tells me that.

All in all, I really enjoyed auditing the clinic- he was entertaining and funny, but serious about what he was teaching. I liked that he focused more on the riders and what they needed rather than the horse. I would definitely ride with him, even just for a flatwork session to get everything in the right place.

Super lucky for P- we’re going to do the barrel exercises today after work. I’m sure he can hardly wait…

Discussion Board: Clinics

I’m lucky enough to live in Area II, right by the border of Area III, which means lots of BNTs hold clinics within 3 hours of me year-round.

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In late 2015 I did a clinic with a 3* rider whose farm is about 35 minutes from me and I frequently XC school there. It was just a one day XC clinic, but it was great for P and we did quite well for ourselves there. Unfortunately, taking a few regular lessons with her in early 2016 after that left me terrified and bumped me down a good 12+ notches or so on the confidence belt.

Shortly after that experience, I went to another clinic, this time with Tim Bourke. I had a pretty good time, learned a lot, and my crowning achievement was jumping this insane Training log pile that almost caused me to lose control of my bladder.

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Then after the Aiken saga and subsequently whipping him back into shape with Trainer J and starting with Trainer B, I signed up for another clinic that was being held the day before a HT I was entered in.

And it was terrible. One of the worst rides I’ve ever experienced hands down. Not that that was the clinician’s fault. She had never met us and we gave her a very poor first impression. Usually P holds it together at off-the-property adventures, but this day he was letting it all unravel. But when the clinician continued to comment about his “shitty” work ethic, told me to scratch from the HT and do a cross-rail CT, and told someone else (I overheard- apparently she didn’t realize where my stall was…) that we should be doing no more than poles on the ground, I thought that went a bit beyond rude. Not to mention demoralizing. I mean…I paid her, I realized my horse was being a giant ass and tried not to take up much time with my issues by opting out of a few jumps…so why kick me when I’m down? I’ve seen a couple clinics with her advertised, including one at a venue I so badly want to ride at, but I just won’t ever ride with her again. While I appreciate bluntness (you won’t EVER hear Trainer J/B sugarcoating things for me), there’s a line.

There are 2 clinics this upcoming weekend that I thought long and hard about signing up for. One is with Clayton Fredericks at a farm half an hour away, and the other is Lainey Ashker about 3 hours away. Clayton F. comes to this farm often and riders have all had nothing but good things to say about him. Lainey A. sounds like quite the entertainer, not to mention her exercises are no joke (which is why I copied her grid/course). I was so so tempted to sign up, considering we’re lacking in regular jump instruction at the moment, but just couldn’t press the Register button, though I am going to go audit the CF clinic.

And I’m good with that. Despite the fact that we’re not in regular jump lessons at the moment, P’s continuing to flourish. I have enough footage of previous lessons (that I watch pretty much on a loop) that I can typically figure out what I’m not doing right and how to correct it the next time around. That definitely didn’t happen overnight, and it took a lot of persistence to get to this point. Poor Trainer B having to repeat instructions a zillion times before it stuck in my head, and me having to physically repeat those instructions a zillion + 1 times before becoming muscle memory. So for us at this point, we’ll stick with what we know works, rather than bring someone brand new into our lives, even if it’s only for a weekend. No sense in confusing the both of us with different techniques and responses.**

I like a lot of aspects of clinics- having a fresh set of eyes on you is sometimes needed, there’s the social aspect- I still keep in touch and occasionally see some of the participants from the Tim Bourke clinic- and it can be a fun getaway without all the pressure of a competition.

But I also think there are some disadvantages to clinics. There are some riders who want a magic fix and think that because XYZ is an Olympian, by the end of the weekend, you and your horse will be Rolex ready. I used to be one of them. But training with Trainer J and Trainer B has taught me that there are no shortcuts (especially if you ride a horse named Pilgrim) and slow and steady for sure wins the race.

This puts pressure on the clinician. If one of the riders brings in a problem horse with the expectation that the clinician will solve all its problems (I can say this because I’ve done it), the last thing that rider wants to hear is to get a small victory and quit. Then that rider will feel put out that they shelled out $$$$ to hop over a cross-rail a few times and call it a day (literally my first lesson with Trainer B), tell all their friends and potentially interrupt the clinician’s business.

So I’m curious to hear what everyone else thinks- do you go to clinics? Why or why not? Do you continue to practice what you learned there?

**That all being said, if MJ EVER comes to the US, you better believe I’ll be there. There’s an exception to every rule, after all.

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Bounces? Check.

Yesterday, after a particularly hellish afternoon at work in which I was on the phone with Quickbooks for over 2 hours, I departed the office with a massive headache. And I was SO CLOSE to skipping the barn in favor of going home to drink copious amounts of vodka red wine.

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Reusing this one because it applies.

But I had spent a good hour setting up the gymnastics/course on Sunday night, and damnit, I wanted to try it. So I headed to the barn and tacked up my horse, while downing 800mg of Ibuprofen.

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So we did a little warmup. ALL the transitions. Ya know, the works. And then it was time.

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Here’s a confession: P’s seen a bounce exactly one time in his life. And he was, well, 4, so about 3 1/2 years ago. The first time we went through, he took the bounce as an oxer…which was super fun. NOT. And then we moved to te HJ barn where I was stuck with a permanent hunter course. All the gymnastics we’ve done at Trainer B’s and anywhere else have been 1+ strides. So I have a mental hangup when it comes to bounces. Especially 4 in a row. But I grabbed some mane and prepared myself for him to either slam on the brakes or take a flying leap.

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Ummm, k. Who are you and what have you done with the real Pilgrim? This horse used to get flustered and STOP at multiple trot poles and here he is now, taking a sea of jumps in stride. Naturally I didn’t support him enough with my leg going in, but he broke to the trot for a second, assessed the situation, and kept going. What a difference. So we went through again off the left lead.

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Much better, though my position left something to be desired. It all goes out the window when I’m unsure of how P will react to something. I’m trying to be better about that. So I asked Husband to stack another plank on the last jump and had another go-round.

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And quit right there. There was just no need to do it again after that. He felt amazing and I felt pretty solid in the tack (except the last bounce when my shoulders were creeping forward). I was tempted to just keep going around the course, but my head was pounding and I still hadn’t made any of the jumps bigger than probably 2′. And it was P’s second day back after being off for ANOTHER week. So I’m erring on the side of quitting too early vs pushing for too much, which has been the name of the game with Trainer B and has obviously paid off in the long run. But holy smokes, that was fun.

He’s just one super cool dude. Most of the time.

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A super cool nerd is more accurate.