Aha! moments

Continuing on this trend of having a lot more lessons than we normally do, we hauled out again on Saturday… but this time for a dressage lesson. When was the last time I had a dressage lesson? I don’t even know. Last summer probably? But 1) I wanted Trainer to see Henry in his new bit, to see what she thought, and 2) I’ve been texting her recently about a couple of issues I’ve been having on the flat, and she wanted to get her eyes on it.

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I put the dressage saddle on and Henry was like “ummmmm what the shit is this? I only come here for jompies.”.

As soon as I got on, Henry was pissed off and tense as hell. We were in an arena full of jumps, in his dressage tack, and he was pre-done with this bullshit. He hasn’t felt that awful right out of the box in a long time. When he’s like that he just tightens his back into a board, takes teeny tiny horrid steps, and puts his tail in helicopter mode. All you can really do is push push push him forward, riding him over tempo for a while, and wait until he starts to get more in front of your leg and let go of his back a little. Honestly he used to be like this more often than not, especially in warmup at shows, so I was having flashbacks to Past Henry. Nothing like flashbacks to give you perspective on how far you’ve actually come.

Pretty sure he wants both of us to f off and die.

After about ten minutes he finally started to give up a little, and we were able to begin addressing the issues I’d been having. Turns out they were both connected. Who saw that coming? Literally all of us.

My first issue is that I’d been having a bit of a problem getting him to connect as well in the outside rein when we’re traveling to the left. At home I noticed I was overbending him to the inside, and when I started to think of almost more of a counterbend, it was better, but still not quite there. Trainer immediately said “his haunches are falling out to the right”, and I’m like “wow I’m dumb, DUH!” and we starting working on controlling that hind end, almost riding the haunches slightly left. When I got it, he came into the right rein just fine. When I stopped concentrating on where his haunches were, they snuck right again, immediately evidenced by a lack of connection in the right rein. And so we went, back and forth for a while. This’ll take some work and diligence on my part.

One of his best moments was right after I sloppily fishtailed a change of direction and then finally sat up, pushed his hind end over, and rode him straight and forward. Miracles, y’all. Tiny miracles.

My other problem, that to be honest has plagued me forever, is my rogue left hand. As Henry has moved along in his flatwork and his balance and frame have lifted, so too have my hands. Well… the right one has anyway. The left one likes to wander around doing it’s own thing, taking sporadic vacations somewhere near the withers. I can only keep my hands up and even if I concentrate on them constantly. Otherwise, next thing you know, that left hand is down the street at the corner gas station, drinking a forty wrapped in a brown paper bag.

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stupid left hand needs to get a damn job

But hey, every time Henry’s haunches started sneaking right, guess what my left hand did? Yup, you guessed it. Dammit.

What we have here is a good old fashioned straightness issue.

When we moved on to the canter it was a little more evident to me, especially travelling left (how did what used to be our good direction now become our bad direction?). After about a lap Trainer said “think about bringing your right seat bone a little to the left” and omg. The difference was immediate and obvious. He tricks me a little into shifting my weight a tad to the outside, which exacerbates that crookedness in the hind end. As soon as I thought more about bring my outside seatbone slightly in, everything got so much straighter and I actually had a horse underneath me. Witchcraft, I tell you.

Did you know this little downhill creature can actually lift his withers?

I was kind of glad that Henry decided to show up and be a turd, because it really brought all the “bad” to the surface and made it easier to pinpoint things. Now I have plenty to work on at home. Maybe we shouldn’t go so long between dressage lessons.

Hillary got a few clips that I threw together into one. It’s awesome to be able to go back and hear Trainer’s words again and see what she’s seeing, so thanks Hillary! Usually if I have any video from dressage lessons it’s because I begged Trainer to take it, which kind of interrupts us both. Being able to see and hear it this way is much more helpful as I move forward and try to work on things by myself.

Oh, and the verdict on the Neue Schule bit from literally everyone is that it’s fantastic. I knew it felt like an improvement, but seeing the video, there’s no doubt. It’s a much better fit for the shape of his mouth, and he seems a lot happier to go to it and stay there (when I get him straight and keep track of that delinquent hand, anyway). The chomping is completely gone, and he’s not diving down behind it and then bouncing up off it like he would do in the KK. Seriously need to write up a full review soon, because Trainer wrote down her feedback on it as well, and it’s gold.

Today is supposed to be one of the coldest of the winter so far, so we might put the dressage to rest until tomorrow or the next day. I feel re-invigorated about it though, ready to take what we learned and chip away at it at home. Our scores have been decent enough since we moved up, ranging from 30 to 34 (with an error), but I know this horse has a really solid test in him, if I can do my part to unlock it. That is my mission. Along with everything else, of course, like trying to get him around 1.10m well, and gallop and jump all the Prelim stuff which is literally big enough for a family of hobbits to live in and technical enough to short-circuit my brain. Ya know… no big deal.

Who’s idea was it to take 3 hard sports and combine them into one?

Know Better to Do Better: A Book Review

Although I’ve been giving priority to all of my mindset and mental training books lately, I’ve still managed to squeeze in a few others! One I was admittedly slightly hesitant about, because it’s written by Denny Emerson, and I’ve historically had a few definite disagreements with things Denny has written on his facebook page. To be fair, he’s one of the few top names in the sport who puts himself out there constantly, never shy to offer an opinion, so it’s pretty natural that I don’t agree with everything he says. That would be true of anyone if they shared every opinion they had.

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Denny is an indisputable legend in our world though, and I do agree with him whole-heartedly on many, probably even most, things. The importance of conditioning, his stance on thoroughbreds, his dislike of gadgets and harsh bits, etc. So when his new book, Know Better to Do Better, came out, I was curious. The line under the title says “Mistakes I Made with Horses (So You Don’t Have To)”. Which… if that’s designed to pique my interest, it succeeded. Of course I would love to hear about the things that older, established horsemen have learned the hard way. I make plenty of mistakes on my own, I would love to learn from someone else’s lifetime of experience.

When I first started reading through the book, I thought that it was a bit more basic than I was hoping for. There’s a lot about how to choose the right horse, generalizations about different breeds, basic horse management, and all that core stuff. Someone newer to horses, or maybe someone who has mostly been raised in a lesson program rather than coming up through the working student/barn management route, would probably get a lot more out of those sections than I did.

Then we started getting into the “Horse Training” and “Rider’s Emotional Makeup and Character Traits” sections, and here is where Denny won me over. Well okay, there was one part where he briefly tried to address the common issue that amateurs have – finding time to ride – that I found really lacking. I don’t really have that problem, but a lot of people do, and I feel like he mentioned it but didn’t actually offer any advice on how to work within a time constraint. That was disappointing.

But in the Horse Training section he talked a lot about the importance of having a horse that is fit enough to do it’s job comfortably, how best to communicate with your horse, tips on handling tense or nervous horses, warming up, clinics, developing a better eye for a distance (spoiler alert, its about the canter), etc. I got a few good tidbits out of this section. Maybe not earth-shattering things, but definitely good reminders that I always need to hear.

The best part to me, and the part that I think ANY rider will get something out of, is the Rider’s Emotional Makeup and Character Traits section. He starts off by addressing the fact that humans are predators by nature, and horses are prey animals by nature, and what this means when it comes to how we interact and communicate. Understanding this, and all that it entails, has been so incredibly vital to me, and something that IMO often isn’t addressed enough in the English disciplines or riding books in general.

He also talks a little about overcoming fear, although I don’t think that part is particularly helpful compared to everything else I’ve read on the subject, and regaining confidence, which I DID find helpful. My favorite section in this chapter was the “Teach Him vs Make Him” part, addressing our mindset when it comes to working with and training our horses… I found myself going YAASSSSS THIIIIIISSSS the whole time.

One thing Denny does always talk about, throughout the book, is the importance of long marching walks and how to put a good foundation of fitness on a horse – something I 100% believe in and do with my own horses from day 1. He’s from the “old guard”, the days of the long format, as well as being a long distance endurance rider, so his opinions on stuff like that should be highly regarded. It’s something we’re losing a bit in the modern day version of this sport, I think.

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Denny doesn’t mince words

As you move through the rest of the book, there are sections addressing rider fitness, moving up the levels, talent vs work ethic… on and on. If you want a book that covers a huge variety of topics, this one is it. There are several small inlaid sections about particular horses he had during his career, and things he would have done differently with them if he knew then what he knows now. Stories like that are always super interesting to me, because I’m sure anyone can identify with those “if only” feelings.

As with Denny’s facebook page, there are parts that I don’t totally agree with, but way more parts where I found myself uttering an amen. He’s never afraid to lay it all there and say what he means, for better or worse, and he doesn’t sugarcoat things. Agree with him or not, you can’t deny the fact that Denny is a horseman, through and through. Putting the horse first and being morally and ethically responsible were undercurrents that ran throughout the entire book. Denny also understands that not every rider is or wants to be an upper level rider, and doesn’t think that automatically means they’re “less than”. I have nothing but the utmost respect for both of those viewpoints, increasingly rare as they are. I think Denny is better at seeing the big picture than many of the riders who are still at the peak of their careers.

There were a few sections where I found myself wishing he’d said more, or addressed the topic in a more in-depth way, but in a book with this much variety, I can see how that would have gotten quickly out of hand. Overall I think that a rider of just about any level or discipline would find something helpful contained within the pages of this book. There’s just so much knowledge coming at you from all directions, it really does touch on just about everything.

Viva Carlos Blog Hop: My Ideal Day

I love a good blog hop, especially if it means I get to live in Fantasyland!

Viva Carlos wrote: In a silent fit of anger at my job I began day dreaming about what life might be like without my job, not what I would spend my money on (ponies naturally) but how I’d actually spend my days…

I am assuming for this particular exercise that I am somehow independently wealthy, since I am jobless but still able to spend money on ponies? And since I’m independently wealthy, I obviously now have lots of ponies and my own farm. Obviously.

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5:30am – Wake up and head to my lap pool for a swim. I like waking up early, I can’t sleep past 6 anyway, so I’d still get up at my usual time. Also I love swimming, especially early in the morning, but hate people near me, so the only solution is my own private lap pool at home. I’d be in it every day for sure.

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Don’t mind me, just taking my morning spin in my indoor lap pool. Also I got really lost in google in the process of finding this picture… these aren’t as expensive as I thought they would be.

6:15am – breakfast and an hour or so of wasting time on the internet/blogging. This is one of the biggest perks of living in this day and age, the ability to mindlessly surf the internet and waste ridiculous amounts of time.

7:30am – wander out to the barn. The morning would be reserved for riding.

11:00am – Get distracted and start piddling. Spend an hour trying to fix a gate or brainstorming a new XC fence or dragging the arena, or… shit, maybe I’m just out in the pasture doing donuts on the Mule for fun.

you really can find anything on the internet

12:00pm – Wander into town to hit the feed store or tack shop. Grab lunch with friends.

2:00pm – Back to the farm to spend the afternoon working with the babies! Because obviously I have my own little mini breeding operation now, with a couple of foals every year.

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This scenario seems likely

4:00pm – back in the house to shower and waste more time on the internet, finding out what happened all day while I was outside living my best life. I think Independently Wealthy Me would have a corgi rescue, so I could easily lose an hour or two playing with them, too.

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LIVING. MY. BEST. LIFE.

6:00pm – Have food delivered. Probably Indian. Maybe Mexican. Nah, lets say I had Mexican for lunch, so let’s go with Indian food for dinner. Delivered to me because I am lazy like that.

6:30pm – READING TIME. I love reading. Everyone go away and be quiet so I can get lost in a book.

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Damn y’all, my reading nook is fancy.

8:00pm – Night Check! One last look at all the ponies/dispense some cookies and pats. Also, now my day is bookended with horses, as it should always be.

8:30pm – Go to bed. Keep reading until I fall asleep surrounded by a dozen corgis.

 

Damn, I really need to find a way to be independently wealthy…

 

 

The Mental Game Part 2: Long Hard Road

Way back in November I wrote a post about how I was dedicating myself to working on my mental game. I had noticed over the previous years that I really was not in a good head space when it came to how I approached showing, or even just the day to day struggles that all riders have to deal with. I was putting way to much pressure on myself, I was too negative, and I was losing focus. All of these things had a severe impact on, well… everything… but especially when it came to my performance in the ring. I was tired of letting myself be my own worst enemy, tired of being consumed by anxiety and ruled by emotion, so I decided to start trying to take steps to change it.

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I started in what has always been my favorite place: books. Before I could really try to fix what was going on in my head, first I had to understand it. I loaded up on different sports psychology books, most riding-related but some not, and spent a lot of time picking them apart page by page (or with my audiobooks, sentence by sentence). Some of them I really liked, some of them were just ok. But they all highlighted one big thing: I had to learn how to be kinder to myself, how to see the big picture, and how to let go of things that I couldn’t control (well ok, there’s a lot more than that, but those were the big 3).

Whether it’s coincidence or not, I saw immediate results. Right after I opened my first books, I finally managed to put in two solid performances, finishing on our dressage score in both of our fall shows and earning two 2nd place ribbons. Awesome, right? Clouds part, angels sing, you’re done, you win, job complete, ta-da! Yeah no, not so fast. Then Texas Rose came along, and with it, some very complex feelings. The old me would have called that show a test, but now I see it for what it really was – an opportunity to see just how much I had learned so far, and just how dedicated I was to seeing this through.

That show was our first P/T, at the biggest venue we have here. I was pretty intimidated by it, but I also knew that we were capable. I made a bit of a mistake in the dressage (an error) but was able to just kind of laugh it off. Which… that itself is progress. The undercurrent of embarrassment and self-deprecation was still there of course, but I was able to pick out what went well and identify what I had learned. Then we got to stadium. It looked huge, and I was trying real hard not to shit a metaphorical brick. Warmup was kind of a shitshow, and I stepped in the ring thinking “Okay self, you can either feel cowed and defeated by all this, or you can sit up, kick on, and give it your best shot. Now is the time to choose.”. I sat up and I kicked and we got through the course just fine, albeit with 4 rails.

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this jump was a highlight, and an awesome memory that no one can ever take away

Gah, four rails. It’s really ugly to look at that 16 on paper, right? Plus you feel like kind of an idiot as the jump crew is scurrying around, cleaning up your mess as you walk out of the ring. But does the number on the paper actually tell the story? No it doesn’t. It was our first recognized Prelim showjumping round, on a horse I’ve had for his whole career, and here we were at a level I had never even dared aspire to. If I chose to focus on the result (“omg 4 rails, 16 penalties, great, now we’re last!”), I would have been upset. But if I chose to focus on the journey, and the opportunity that this represented (“holy shit we did a Prelim round at Texas Rose! I made mostly good decisions, and my horse tried so hard for me. Now we get to go home and work on how to smooth out the less great parts, and see if we can make some improvements.”) it was exciting instead. It was funny to me, as I sat there by Henry’s stall that afternoon and considered everything. That was the first time it really registered with me that I could actually choose how I wanted to think and feel about it. I could choose to be upset, or I could choose to be excited. There was so much power in having the ability to choose, rather than in letting my emotions control how I felt.

And then XC rolled around, and a random footing issue resulted in a 20. I remember walking back to the barn after we finished, waiting to feel that blow to the gut. Because, you know… a 20 is failure, right? Kind of embarrassing, especially on a horse that should not be getting 20’s. But I waited and waited, and that blow to the gut never really came. It’s not like I’ve learned anything new here, really… horses are horses, sport is sport, and sometimes things just go wrong. Shit happens. I’ve always known that. But before, I let the things that were outside of my control really get to me, to define who I was as a rider and even as a person. They would eat me alive, feeding on my self-worth, my confidence, and my positivity. I let myself feel so discouraged by random occurrences or one off mistakes. But this time I finally saw it for what it was: Shit. That. Happens. And again, there was a learning opportunity available to me, if I chose to take it.

I have never left a show in second-to-last place and felt satisfied with it in my entire life, until that day. And to me, that illustrates a lot more growth than either of those other two previous shows where things went really well. There’s nothing glamorous about growth, but it’s essential. I learned so much more from the show that looked ugly on paper, and I was able to grind away at those lessons, keep working, and make marked improvements. Which, shocker, eventually DID make themselves evident in consequent show results (if you’re into that “results” kind of thing).

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In retrospect, I really needed to have a bit of a rough time. It made a lot of the stuff I had been reading actually click into place for me, and I was able to see things that I still needed to work on, but also the things that I’d already made so much improvement with. It proved to me that I was on the right path, and that this mental training stuff was really something I needed to pursue, for my own sake. I delved back into my reading with gusto, and started talking to more people about the subject.

Around that time Matt Brown came out with his Chronicle series, A Case for Not Focusing on Your Goals, and the subject matter was much the same as what I was dealing with. I was blown away by it, not really having seen a top professional be so candid about the subject before. He had book recommendations too, which I have been making my way through one at a time. Rough times are going to happen, no matter who you are and no matter what you do. Especially when you push further and further outside of your comfort zone, into new territory. They’ve happened before and they will happen again, sometimes in small ways, sometimes in big ways. There is no avoiding that. The difference is how we get through them, and I’m realizing that perspective and mental preparedness are key.

This part is my biggest work in progress. Fear of failure is hard to tame.

The more I’ve become aware of the mental aspect of riding, the more I’ve noticed the little things that continue to add up. The more people I’ve talked to about it, the more I’ve realized I’m not alone. In fact, almost every single person I’ve talked to has had some of these same struggles, or comes from a similar place. I feel very strongly that this isn’t something we talk about enough, as equestrians. It’s not a discussion we’re having all the time, but it should be. It’s not something we dedicate ourselves to as intensely as riding itself, but it should be. Every rider, every trainer, every owner should have this mental training as a continuous part of their education.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying all this because my brain is magically “fixed” and I’m all better. Far from it. There is no such thing. I have to strap myself in, every day, and commit myself to this, every day. It will probably always be this way. For as much as I have learned, I still have 100 times more to figure out. It’s still very easy to find myself slipping into negative self talk, or comparison, or focusing on the flaws, or fearing failure. Our brains are programmed that way in this day and age, and trying to reprogram it is not easy. It’s a long hard road, and I don’t expect to ever find the end of it… I’m just hoping that it will continue to smooth itself out a bit.

I’m also hoping that by sharing my story as it unfolds, that it helps spark more conversation. I want to talk about this, honestly I need to talk about this, and I want other people to feel like it’s okay to talk about, too. Either way, get ready to see me reference this or talk a lot more about this from now on. I needed some time in the beginning to absorb it for myself and start working things out in my own head, but now I’m ready to start sharing, for better or worse. And if anyone ever wants to have a conversation, never hesitate to hit me up. If you’d rather do it privately, email me or message me any time.

If you’re looking for a couple of books, my two favorites so far have been Braining Training for Riders and Chop Wood Carry Water. That said, Trafalgar Square Books has a really good collection of sports psychology books, if you want to see what else is out there. Something else might speak to you more.

Filling the Calendar

Spending last week in Ocala was an interesting experience. On one hand, I instantly wished my horse was there with me, because it’s such a horsey area and all the big names are there, and there are tons of shows and clinics and schoolings happening all the time. It’s a little like Equestrian Disney World, and the FOMO was intense. On the other hand, spending those few days in Ocala sealed the deal on me never taking my horse there.

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they do have the best trees though, it’s beautiful

For the past few years I’ve been thinking of spending a couple weeks in either Ocala or Aiken in the winter, but after experiencing the heat and humidity that is Ocala, there is just no freaking way that would be an option for us. Henry doesn’t handle that type of weather well, and he would be miserable. He’s a 50’s/60’s kind of guy, and if anything he’d rather it be colder than hotter. So, ya know… maybe some winter soon, Aiken. Or I could just find a job and move there permanently, because that’s what I really want. Texas would be in my rearview mirror without so much as a second thought.

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But, for this year anyway, we’re past the point of leaving town for the winter. Our season starts here in mid-March, and we’ve got a recognized show every couple weeks through June in Area 5. Of course, I find myself in a bit of the same position I did in 2017… kind of in between levels. I was waiting until after the second off season Pine Hill show to start formulating a plan for the year, and now we’re past it, so it’s time to start thinking. We’ve got two successful Prelim’s under our belt, and one P/T, but the two Prelim XC’s we’ve done have been on a soft course, and we have very few of those in our area. I don’t think we’re quite “there” yet to go tackle some of the other courses. MeadowCreek’s mid-March show was an option, as their course is pretty straightforward and the track suits my horse well, but with all the rain we’ve had (and continue to have in the forecast), I have some footing concerns. Also Trainer isn’t going to that one, and I definitely don’t want to tackle our first recognized Prelim without her.

We decided instead to go school at a facility up near Dallas that weekend, a place that has plenty of the types of questions that we really need to work on. More technical stuff, bigger, skinnier, requiring more accuracy and forward-thinking. At this point I think something like that will be of more benefit to us as far as growth goes. Not as exciting as showing, but that’s the journey sometimes. Of course, that only leaves us with one possible recognized Prelim left on the table for the spring, after you nix all the big/hard ones that I don’t think we’re ready for. That would be Pine Hill in mid-April, over a new course from the one we’ve already done. I’m leaving that one on the table as a maybe, depending on the weather and how everything else goes. I’d like to go because we’re comfortable there now, so it would be a good first recognized, but if we don’t then I wouldn’t mind saving the money.

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hey look, we got show pics

Mostly because the big thing on our calendar right now is the two back-to-back Coconino shows in July. We did Coconino in 2016, and then Chatt last year, and I definitely preferred Coconino. Chatt was prettier and fancier, for sure, but it was so disgustingly hot and humid. I felt bad for taking Henry there at all, he was absolutely miserable. Showing him in the summer is tricky, I have to be smarter about it if I want to do it. So back to Coco it is, the land of cold nights and no humidity (and, granted, high elevation). He was a much happier animal in that environment. The ground isn’t as good, the facility definitely isn’t anywhere near as fancy, but my horse can actually breathe… that counts for a lot.

Granted, the Prelim at Coconino is no joke. They have a weldon’s wall there that has haunted my nightmares for years, and the terrain, shadows, and woods make the course even more challenging. Also, clearly I wouldn’t be running Prelim on back to back weeks. Way too much for my horse’s legs. I’m thinking maybe just do a CT the first week, or a dressage test and a jumping round, school that stupid weldon’s wall in between weeks (mostly for my sake, let’s be honest), and then run the full Prelim on week 2. So the thought right now is to keep working through the spring, do lots of schoolings, fill in some gaps, do more jumper classes, and then go to Coconino.

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The last time we were at Coco – in the Novice 3Day! Shit has changed, y’all.

That’s the rough plan right now, but of course things could and probably will change to some degree. We are already qualified for AEC’s this year but there’s no way I’m running my horse in humid Kentucky at the end of hot/humid August, so that’s completely off the table. We’ll worry about the fall season after Coco, if all that works out as I’m hoping.

It might be a bit of a slow year for us, horse show wise, but I’m totally okay with that. Right now the goal is growth and improvement… the other stuff can come later.

 

Back Where I Belong

I am one of those weird, ultra-pathetic people who can be gone for 3 days and just really misses their horses the whole time. I’m used to seeing my knuckleheads every day, and they are what my world revolves around, so even just a few days has me missing my two favorite goobers.

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I mean, it’s basically like hanging out at the circus every day

Since we got home from Ocala so late/early, I just worked a half day on Friday. Enough to clean up my inbox, put out some fires, and then slip away quietly before I got drawn into anyone’s problem. From there, of course, I went straight to the barn.

Henry’s new bit had arrived while I was gone, so the first order of business was putting that fancy thing on his dressage bridle. See… here’s the thing with Henry. When you change anything, any piece of his equipment, his initial reaction is hatred and extreme overexaggeration. You have to give everything two rides before you make an assessment, and when it comes to bits, you better not actually be trying to get anything accomplished in those first two rides. He will chomp incessantly for the first ride, and then in the second ride he’ll either be extremely worse or slightly better. By the 3rd ride he either likes it or he’s belligerent. He is high drama. Like honestly, y’all should have seen the meltdown he had over a Happy Mouth once. It took me two weeks back in his regular bit to get him right again.

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Whaaaaaaat? Meeeee???

So for his first day in his Neue Schule, I just planned on a long ponying walk hack. No contact, just let him carry it and get used to the feel. As expected, he chomped and chomped and chomped the entire time. I think even Presto was like “Bro. Stop. Dat is annoying.”.

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If only pictures had sound

Aside from the chomping, both of them were spooking snorting idiots for our hack, especially Presto. Which is pretty out of character for him, usually he’s definitely the quieter horse of the two. I could tell he was just WILD, especially when at one point he was passaging beside us and snorting at bushes. So when we got back, I turned him out in the arena while I went to put Henry away, and all I could see out of the barn door was flashes of Presto, running endless laps of the arena at warp speed. Couldn’t do this in your pasture on your own time?

by the time I got out there it had slowed to a snorty arabian trot

In his defense, it had been a week since I got him out and did anything with him, so I think he’d just gotten bored as hell. I appreciated that he was as polite as he was for our hack, considering how many pent up loonies he had lurking under the surface.

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we are NOT in a cute neck phase right now

On Saturday and Sunday morning I was watching the Saint-Lô stallion show on ClipMyHorse, live streaming from France. It’s a rare treat to have a whole weekend with no firm plans, so I took full advantage by watching as much from Saint-Lô as I could. We were originally hoping to make it to Saint-Lô this year to attend the stallion show in person, but then the Burghley idea came about and that seemed like a more-bang-for-our-buck trip for the year. Some day, Saint-Lô… someday. A couple new stallions caught my eye, and I liked seeing event sires Upsilon, Jaguar Mail, and Grafenstolz.

The highlight of the show for me, of course, was a familiar face. Mighty Magic is looking good at 16 years old, and I am seeing so much of him in Presto.

The weather this weekend could not have been any better, with highs near 70 and bright blue skies. We made more progress with Henry’s new bit (I think we have a verdict, but I’ll talk about that more when I post about the bit itself), and on Sunday I set up a faux ditch in the arena to send Presto over.

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First he snorted at it a lot, then he literally tried to kill it by stomping it with his front feet. After a couple times over he was just stepping across, so I was like “I wonder what he would think of those barrels over there” and sent him at those. It’s so funny how quickly he’s understood the idea of sending over obstacles, just from that one day where I lunged him over those boxes out in the field. Now you just kind of point to it and he goes. They should have horse agility classes, he’d be good at it. Okay that’s a lie, he would be really slow. I’m pretty sure he finds the game to be fun though, and he just trotted right up to the barrels and plopped over, super unimpressed.

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I promise he’s never jumped barrels before

This week I’ll be glad to get back in our routine, and start getting myself prepared for the busy spring ahead. It’s almost March, guys… this year is already flying!

YEH/FEH symposium day 2

Our flight back from Florida last night didn’t get in til like midnight, so I’m moving a little slow this morning, but better late than never?

Yesterday was the Future Event Horse side of the YEH/FEH symposium, with yearlings through 4 year olds, looking at them on the line and (for the older horses) under saddle and in the freejump chute.

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3yo colt

We kicked off the day by talking about judging conformation, and what to look for.  Holly Simenson, the North American director of the German Oldenburg Verband, joined Championship judges Robin Walker and Peter Gray for input on this part. She wasn’t such a fan of using the triangle to present the horses, saying that in her experience it’s too easy for the horse to get crooked, which in turn can make it look like they have irregularities or imperfections in their movement. She prefers showing the horse in hand against the rail of the ring, keeping the horse straighter. But… our FEH format uses the triangle, so that’s what we used.

The first demo horse of the day was a lovely full TB yearling colt. All of the judges mentioned how difficult it was to judge yearlings, which I think everyone can agree with. Holly noted that in her experience, the prettiest yearlings often end up being the plainest and least athletic adult horses. She also said that for event horses especially, athleticism is the quality that is of the utmost importance. Robin and Holly both agreed that since they can be so darn ugly at that age, and change so quickly, what they really look for in the yearlings is a good type and ground covering gaits. In this case good type means something that looks more like a TB, and ground cover means one that has a lot of reach underneath the body with the hind legs and easily covers a lot of ground in the paces. They want to see that the horse “walks with it’s body” – ie the back is supple enough to allow the horse’s entire topline to move as it walks.

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Lovely 2yo colt by Herald 3

They also want to see that the horse has correct limb conformation. Holly stressed to the breeders that if a foal has a some kind of deviation, it’s important to address it as soon as possible. If you fix these issues before 6 months of age, the bones in the lower leg will align correctly and it won’t be a problem. However, if you wait until after that age, the alignment will not change, and any changes you try to make to get the limbs to look straighter will only put them under more stress.

From there we saw some 2 year olds and some 3 year olds, both colts and fillies, from a wide variety of bloodlines. We discussed each horse’s conformation and gaits as a group, and the judges gave their thoughts on how they would score them. Robin cautioned the judges not to get too nitpicky, and reminded everyone that just like with the YEH judging, what they’re really scoring with the gaits are whatever the best moments are that the horse offers, and to remember that they’re looking for horses that look like eventers.

Which led to more discussion about just how important it is for the horses to be properly prepared, and for the handlers to be educated on how to best present their horses. You could have a superb quality horse, but if it’s such an idiot that the judge can’t see any good moments of movement, or if you don’t know what you’re doing and fail to show the horse to it’s potential, then the judges have no choice but to score what they saw. So, prepare your horse, learn how to present it in hand well, and everyone will have a better and more successful experience. Robin especially was very passionate about that part. A couple of the horses were quite poorly behaved and presented, so I can easily see how frustrating it would be as a judge for that to happen in a class. They looked like nice horses, but we couldn’t get an accurate idea of just how nice they might be.

After that we moved on to a mock 4yo FEH class, so basically a w/t/c flat class. This is judged much the same way, where they’re looking for the horse’s absolute best moments and scoring those. One thing that was common here is that the riders did not generally show their horses well at the walk… the judges want to see one that is really MOVING and marching and swinging through it’s back. They don’t care if you do it in your jump saddle or dressage saddle, or if the horse is all that solid in the connection yet – they just want to see the best possible gaits you can show on that day. Ground covering, supple, and forward, with an active hind end.

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From there we went over to the freejump chute. First Robin covered the specs for the chute and the distances, and then talked about the equipment he uses (gloves, helmet, a short rope). Safety was of utmost importance here, as he wants to make sure that the horses are safe, confident, and have a good experience. Again he stressed the importance of working on this enough at home so that the horses know what to expect in the jump chute, have learned how to go through it properly, and are confident about what’s being asked. If the horse isn’t prepared, the judges aren’t going to be able to see the horse’s best efforts, and it’s unfair to the horse to show up somewhere and have to do something it’s never done. A lack of preparation for any of this stuff seemed to be a big sticking point for Robin throughout the day.

Matthias Hollberg, a GP showjumper, helped run the freejumping side of things. He noted right off the bat that not every horse that freejumps well will jump well under saddle, and some that just seem ok in the freejumping will jump better under saddle, but almost all who freejump really poorly will also jump poorly under saddle. It’s a good indicator, but not necessarily a be-all-end-all way to gauge talent.

They were looking for horses with safe forelimb technique, a good use of the body through the air, and an intelligence about how it went through the chute or learned from any mistakes. If the horse hit a jump, they wanted to see it come back through and be more careful. If he ran through and went past the distance, they wanted to see him come in the next time and slow himself down a bit, not just keep making the same mistakes. There were a few good horses, and a few bad ones, some who had never been freejumped, and some who had. Again, it was a good variety of experience and quality. Mattias urged the judges to watch the horse’s withers as they came through the chute – he wanted to see the horse raise its withers and round its topline over the fence, not just move its legs and stay flat/stiff in it’s back in the air.

I also have to mention that I was really impressed throughout both days with how well-prepared, well-handled, and well-presented Matt Bryner’s horses were. Super professional and mindful of the horses, and clearly someone who does the work at home to make sure they are successful at the shows. In a country where we generally have a lack of good young horse producers, he was a standout to me in this crowd.

It was a really educational day, and as a FEH participant and someone who brings up young horses, I got a lot of good tips for how to better prepare and show my horse. Definitely worth a long day sitting on the bleachers! I would recommend these educational symposiums to anyone from breeders to young horse owners to riders. This is a lot of the basic education that we’re missing in this country, and to be able to go get a crash course, see lots of nice horses, and hear from such a variety of professionals in one place is a really fantastic opportunity.

YEH/FEH Symposium Day 1

This is a tough life I’m living here in Ocala this week y’all. I’m sweaty and sunburned and spent all day yesterday looking at/talking about horses. On a Wednesday. In February. This does not suck.

Anyway, Day 1 of the YEH/FEH educational symposium was dedicated mostly to the Young Event Horse side of things. In the morning we were in the classroom, and Marilyn Payne kicked things off with an overview of the YEH judging, what they’re looking for, and what new changes there are for 2019. I’m pretty familiar with all that by now, but I’m always into PowerPoint slides and bullet points.

Maxime Livio was in the room and commented that, in his opinion, he would like to see the pedigree considered in the judging. There was a lot of opposition to that, from basically everyone else, even if I tend to agree with where he’s coming from. It’s definitely important, especially from the “blood” point of view, but on the other hand it’s hard to make something like that a judgeable criteria.

From there we moved on to looking at videos of horses when they were 5. For this they used footage from Bundeschampionate of horses like FischerRocana and So Is Et, but were being sneaky by playing the videos first, getting opinions from Maxime and the judges in the room, and then revealing who the horse/it’s career was at the end. There were a couple videos of not-very-successful horses hidden in there, for contrast. It was kind of interesting. What made it most interesting, IMO, were Maxime’s comments. He has a keen eye for a horse and is very good at explaining what he’s seeing, what things he can look past, and what things are dealbreakers.

Amid all of that conversation, my favorite notes of the day came about. Maxime said that there are 5 basic criteria he’s looking at when he’s evaluating a horse for top level (modern long format) sport, and he puts them in this order:

1) Pedigree. Maxime wants to see lots of blood, a horse that is capable of galloping for 10-12 minutes and still having some stamina left at the end. He said that when horses run out of stamina, that’s when things get dangerous.

2) Soundness. This is where he looks at the conformation, the straightness and correctness of the limbs, the lungs and cardio system, and obviously gets a vet opinion.

3) Personality. Mainly: heart. He wants a horse that really has a strong desire to do the job, is always looking to go forward to the next fence, and will always try to please it’s rider. He used FischerRocana as a prime example here of a very average quality horse that has so much heart, it makes her into a great horse.

4) Jump Quality and 5) Movement. These were kind of lumped together for him.

He went on to explain that the reason he ranks them this way is because more importance is given to the things you cannot change or improve. You can’t change the fact that the horse’s type is too heavy or pedigree is lacking blood. You need soundness obviously, but good management can improve it slightly, so there is a little bit of possibility for improvement. He felt that personality is mostly innate, but that it could also be improved upon a good bit with correct training and riding. Jump quality and movement, he said, have the most capacity to improve, and in his opinion can even be improved as much as 70%. So he starts with the things he can’t change as the most important qualities when he’s looking for a horse. While the ranking order of these characteristics might change depending on what type of horse you’re looking for, I like his approach of placing more importance on the things you can’t change. That’s a smart way to think about any horse purchase.

My favorite horse from the videos was Andreas Ostholt’s very successful 4* horse So Is Et (by Sunlight xx), who did not do very well at BuCha

I loved how Maxime broke this down. It was very well thought out and reasoned, and it’s nice to see a rider so invested in the importance of pedigree and desiring a lot of blood in his horses. This theme carried on into the afternoon sessions as well with the demo horses, which I’ll get to in a minute.

After looking at the videos of the 5yo’s, Christian Schacht did a presentation on conformation. Despite having what most would consider to be boring subject matter, Christian was super entertaining to listen to. He knew how to add humor to keep people engaged. As for the confirmation parts, his big emphasis was on the horse’s balance. He wants a horse that isn’t too downhill as to be on the forehand but also isn’t too uphill as to be inefficient in the gallop and jump. He also likes to see hocks that are a bit lower and closer together, making it easier for a horse to sit and push off the ground at the fences, especially at deeper distances. He called the hooves “the second heart of the horse – no hoof, no horse”, ie also a very critical component.

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So entertaining

One passing comment he made that I thought was interesting was his observation that when horses toe out (not a big deal in his opinion) usually it’s more pronounced on the right front than the left. This is true for Henry and Presto, which is probably why it stood out to me. Oh, and he noted that slight roach backs are not uncommon in jumpers, and are often considered to help make the horse more powerful.

After lunch we headed outside to watch some 4yo horses do dressage. There were 3 very different types of horses, which made for good contrast. Maxime’s favorite was the chestnut OTTB. Yes, you’re noticing a trend with him and blood horses. 😉

A dressage ring full of very well behaved 4yos

Then we walked down to the XC field and got to see two groups of 5yo’s do a mock YEH class. There were 5 showjumps and then 7 or 8 XC fences. Maxime would comment on the horses after each of them went, and then the judges discussed how they would score them. The horses ran the gamut from unshown to a Bundeschampion, so it was really interesting to compare and contrast, and then hear all the opinions on what level the horse might have potential for. Maxime was generally more forgiving of little mistakes and green moments than the judges were, and wasn’t afraid to chime in to a discussion and offer his perspective or respectfully disagree. It made for really good conversation.

Maxime’s favorite horse of the day was the last one to go, a full TB that came off the track last year. Maxime liked it a lot, and then when it was revealed that it was a full TB, the like turned to love, and he declared that that’s the one he would buy. It’s funny to me that everywhere we’ve gone, the European riders really love and seek out the mostly or full blood horses intentionally, and place a lot of value on them. Here they’re often seen as “less than”. Many of the judges seemed surprised that a horse that nice was full TB, as if it was special IN SPITE of that. To Maxime, the horse was special BECAUSE of that. It’s an interesting dichotomy.

Overall it was a very educational day (although at times I wanted to hang myself with my lanyard at the talk of what “breed” of Warmblood each horse was. They’re registries, not breeds, and the registry tells you nothing about the horse’s bloodlines. Alas, I digress..) and I greatly valued having Maxime’s input. I found him to be very educated and confident in his views, yet also humble and open to discussion. He had a lot of great little quotable tidbits that were already captured perfectly by Leslie Mintz in this article. Go read it!

I was also impressed that pretty much every rider knew the pedigree of their horse and was able to recite it when asked. This is very encouraging to me, and a trend in the right direction.

Today we move on to the FEH side of things, with the younger horses in hand, and freejumping. I’m in horse nerd heaven.

Ocala Day 1: Spiraling

Michelle and I arrived in Ocala yesterday, and today we’re headed to the YEH/FEH symposium at Grand Oaks. We had a dinner last night at the Holekamp’s, but since our flight was so early, we had all afternoon to kill. What do you do in Ocala when you’ve got a spare 6 or so hours? TACK SHOPS. Because there are like a dozen of them.

We were so well-behaved, we started at the consignment store.

I liked this wide, square raised noseband
About half of the tall boots

Michelle found a few shirts there, but nothing caught my eye. I was so good.

You see where this is going, don’t you?

Then we went down the street to Tack Shack of Ocala. Again, we were trying to be reasonable, so we started in the building with the big clearance section. Again, Michelle found a few things (a halter and a couple shirts), but nothing spoke to me.

And then we went over to the main building. I was doing pretty well until I wandered into the bell boot section. Then I thought, “Ooo, I actually do need some new bell boots for Henry, the ones I bought him at Bundes are dying.”.

And I found some pretty navy fake leather ones.

Apparently bell boots are a gateway drug, because then I spiraled. Half an hour later I staggered up to the counter in a stupor, plopping down a sunshirt, some gloves, a new whip, and the bell boots. Michelle was loaded down with halters in a variety of baby sizes, so I didn’t feel quite so bad.

So meshy though

After that we headed to lunch, where we watched horse racing on the TV’s at the bar while we ate. There’s a lot to be said for being in a horse-centric town.

And hey, what do you know, there was another tack shop in the same shopping center! What a hardship. Michelle came out of that one unscathed, but they had cheap stud plugs so I bought literally all of them.

We passed by a huge farm supply store, so we stopped in there because why not, and as soon as we stepped in the entry Michelle saw these:

She gasped and literally SHOVED ME OUT OF THE WAY to get to them and snatch up two bags. Now SHE was spiraling.

We headed back up toward where we were having dinner and passed by a big used trailer dealership that had a ton of head to heads (what Michelle has been shopping for) but they had just closed. But… there was a little gap in the fence… so… we let ourselves in to look around in all the trailers. They had left them all open, so it seemed like an invitation to me. Just forget about that whole fencehopping part.

Once we got back to the hotel after dinner we both laid out our acquisitions for the day.

Mine
Michelle’s

I’m not sure how to determine a winner in this case. Is it the person who got less, or the person who got more?

Either way, it was a day full of horses, and we made some new friends, got some pretty new things, and had a good time. Today we get down to business!

Pine Hill Feb HT – Cross Country

Not gonna lie, I think was maybe more nervous for the second Prelim than I was for the first. The first time I was just trying not to die – pure and simple, no further expectations. And then I didn’t die, thus it was awesome by default. But now we were back for another crack at it, with the goal of smoothing some things out and trying to make some improvements. There’s a lot more pressure in that. What if the first time was just luck? What if I came out and bungled it royally? Now I had to prove to myself that it wasn’t a fluke.

I was nervous a couple days before, but woke up on show day feeling pretty zen about it. And then dressage and stadium went well, and I was feeling a little more confident by the time cross country rolled around. I actually remembered to take pictures of the course this time, AND I had my helmet camera charged and ready to go! Miracles never cease.

Before we got there I was very concerned about the footing. We’ve had So Much Rain, and there were definitely spots on the course where there was still standing water and mud. Luckily most of the Prelim course runs through the higher ground, so while there were a couple of deep areas, none of it really effected the jumps themselves. The other levels had some course modifications because of the footing, but mine didn’t, so that part all worked out. The venue did a really good job of preserving the footing leading up to the show, and laying down sand in places where some extra grip was needed.

Since the footing looked pretty good, I decided to let Henry open up a little more than last time, carry a little more speed between the jumps, and see how he felt. Of course, I didn’t take into account that since the course was the same as what we did in December, Henry now knew exactly where he was going. He took off out of the box like his ass was on fire, just about leaving me suspended in midair like a cartoon character, and jumped the first fence like a rabbit. Not the start I had in mind.

THE WAGON WAS FUN THOUGH

I landed from 1 and really pushed him up in front of my leg again right away, so I could rebalance and settle into a better rhythm. It worked, and within a few strides we were rolling. Henry was feeling very cocky, knowing exactly where he was going, and pretty much just told me to strap in and hang on. I steered, and I rebalanced on the approaches, but I’m pretty sure Henry would have done the course with or without me. He wasn’t rude about it, so I was okay with that, and I was glad that he was feeling confident. He flew over the rolltop at 2, the wagon at 3 (will that ever stop looking big? Probably not.), the combo at 4AB, and the log ramp with the drop at 5. I took a tug on the way to 6 that I shouldn’t have, stuffing him into a tight spot there, but he’s honest, so he went.

Irish bank – also fun. Glad I didn’t sneak in late at night and bulldoze it a couple years ago when I really wanted to.

We popped up and down the Irish bank, around to the chevron, and then to the trakehner. Things seemed to be going by so fast at this point, jump after jump after jump. I was trying hard not to micromanage him or shut him down between fences, so I pretty much just let him go along at the speed he felt most comfortable at. He was eager and full of run, so when we had long stretches, I just let him roll.

All the jumps at the water were good, and I let him open up a bit as we went back up the hill, hopping over the little bench out of stride. Then we steadied up quite a bit for the turn to the corner, galloped around the lake, and through a muddy spot that made me have to whoa a little more than I wanted with just a few strides before the boat table. The distance there was a little long, but he jumped the snot out of it for good measure.

Then down the hill combo, rolltop to bank to chevron, back into the front field for the last two fences. He tried to be a little too athletic and jump over a muddy spot, almost tripping over his own feet in the process (god, that would have been an embarrassing way to end the day), but recovered well and hopped over the train car, then we finished up over the big stone wall. And just like that – second Prelim, in the books!

We were quite a bit faster this time than last time, and once again Henry was barely even breathing hard at the finish. They had a timer malfunction, so didn’t log my official time, but from my helmet cam footage I think I was about 20 seconds over, which would have been 8 time faults. Due to the timer malfunction they put me as double clear. I’ll take it, but in my head we’ll go with 8. Which I’m still super happy with, because last time we had 19, and this course is so twisty I think it would be nearly impossible for me to average 520mpm without being scary/dangerous.

I made a couple of mistakes and had a couple of bleh fences, but overall I was happy with how confident Henry felt and with the fact that I let him jump out of a more open gallop. It was nice to make the mistakes and have him not even blink about them. It helps me a lot mentally to know that I don’t have to be perfect, he can handle it if I’m a little bit wrong. There was definite improvement though from the December show to this one, and it was a big confidence booster for both of us. The first time wasn’t just a fluke!

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Don’t get excited, I was the only entry in Prelim this time too. He still earned it though.

I still have to sit down and make some kind of plan for the next 6 months, but hopefully there will be more green numbers in the near future!