Friday, May 29, 2015


Mo has been kind of a turd lately when it comes to flatwork. He just wants to invert and run around because pushing from behind, lifting his back, and coming round into the contact is hard and he is VERY lazy. It's probably not any more fun to read about than it is to ride, so I'll skip all the gory details, but the freaking horse needs to get with the program. And he will. I have the trainer for it, and I'm in no way intimidated. Just annoyed, really. But that's green horses. One day they're all "I love the bit" and the next day they're like "I don't know what I was thinking yesterday, but this bit is for the birds."

The good news is that I don't totally want to kill myself, because I have other cool horses to ride (and in fact I just took a super fun jumping lesson on the 2nd level dressage horse, of all things) and because I know we'll get through this. But I'll admit to having a little bit of Lex-based PTSD about everything. It was about this time last year that she started to melt down, and contact was where it started. But she had a physical injury and Mo doesn't. M isn't worried. In fact, she's all "If you get sick of him just sell him to me!" So.

Anyway, I'm trying to look on the bright side and think about how much this will improve my riding, and it's like immersion therapy for getting over the remaining Lex trauma. Also, check out how much fun I was having on Sunday in the show jumping. I can't wait for the jumps to start going up, which means the flatwork has to get fixed, which means I'm MOTIVATED.

Photo by GRC Photography

How do you push yourself through the crap times with talented, wonderful horses?

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Catching Up: Shows.

I have been so busy riding that I haven't had time to write about riding. A good problem to have, I guess, but that means I haven't been keeping up with all of the sometimes fun/sometimes green stuff Mo has been up to. This post is long, but there's some media here and there to keep you entertained.

First of all, schooling at home has been pretty up and down lately. Mostly I think I'll write about that another day, but for now: Jumping is going well, although he makes some green mistakes, which is obviously fine. On the other hand, he's decided that rein contact is for the birds and flips me off when I pick up the reins. He's already on Ulcergard and ranitidine and I've had his teeth checked, so I'm quite confident that this is a schooling issue. It's fine. He'll get through it. I was pretty happy with this jump school (I hope the video quality doesn't suck):

As for the more fun stuff--our trips off property have been going pretty well.

On May 9, I signed him up for a fix-a-test clinic with Brian Ross, one of the best dressage judges in the world before he retired a couple years ago. It was only $45 and about half an hour from the barn, so even though I'm on a very green baby, it sounded like a good idea. And it was! He was very helpful. If I can ever get the video uploaded to YouTube, I'll share it with you. My mom taped the whole thing. Here were his takeaway points:

1. Mo is a bully sometimes and no matter what excuse he's trying to throw at me, I have to kick him.

2. He often exhibits his bullying behavior by throwing his head up and trying to pick a fight up front so he can be disobedient with his hindquarters. Hence the kicking when he's being bad.

3. Even if he starts cantering, if I want him to trot, I have to post in the rhythm I want. That... is hard. But I got it done, and he seemed pleased, so yay.

So no "here's how to do this fancy thing with his shoulders" or whatever, because of course the horse isn't ready for that yet. I have to keep him between the corridor of aids. He saw Mo at his worse--tense, inverted, spooky, and generally being an asshole. But by the end of the ride, things were going better, which set us up well for the next day: a combined test with w/t dressage and crossrails.

Things went a lot better on Sunday. For one thing, I rode him for an hour before I put him on the trailer, ha. He needed to listen to my words instead of blowing me of, and I wanted to avoid some of the problems we'd had the previous day with exploding at the trailer (second time he's done that), running through my aids, etc. So by the time I got him ready for dressage, he was in a better place than he'd been the day before. I had a VERY LONG TIME to warm up, and since he was being good, we spent plenty of time standing around.

His test was pretty good for where we were in life. He got 8s on his medium walk (??) and his second trot circle (earned--I rode the shit out of that circle). Other marks ranged from 5.5-7. It was good enough to put us in second place, ten points behind the first place rider and five points ahead of third place. I like a judge who isn't afraid to use all the numbers. He trotted right around the crossrails like it weren't no thang (which it wasn't. It was crossrails) so we held onto that red ribbon. Fun.

I was worried, though, about the horse trials at Loch Moy coming up. Not so much the show rings themselves as things like tacking up, getting him lunged, riding him until he behaved, etc. The rest of it was just gonna have to work itself out. So in order to best prepare him, I took him off the farm both days the next weekend. We went to my awesome friend's lovely hunter barn and had a marvelous time. They were like "kick that fat horse and make him go!" and I was all "you want to get up here and kick? Because last weekend Brian Ross was all 'good thing you have a neckstrap on.'" Ha. It was a really good time.

So finally it was May 24 and time to go to Loch Moy. I'd had a pretty tough ride the Thursday before, but my ride on Saturday was much chiller and more fun so I felt better. Without going through every painful detail of the day, I'll say that Mo really pleasantly surprised me with how quickly he settled in. Almost as soon as I started lunging him, he took a deep breath and licked his lips. I'd given myself more than an hour to warm up before dressage (ideally I like a 20 minute warmup for dressage at this level but this horse is an unknown). So I cut the lunging short because yuck, and my mom helped me get on in the warmup so I wouldn't have to walk him down a very narrow path crowded with people/dogs/other horses. (PS: My mom is the best at going to horse shows. She can really anticipate needs and loves to help. She deserves a prize.)

I thought maybe he'd blow up in the warmup, but no! He was chill and happy. We walked for a LONG time and then picked up a pretty quiet trot. As he worked in, the trot actually got pretty good. I didn't think we'd necessarily be able to replicate that in the ring, but he got a blue ribbon from me in the warmup. The test itself was fine. He spooked at A on the way in, and then at K right when we needed to cross the diagonal. Otherwise, I was pleased with him. I think next time instead of just hoping we live through the test, I'll ask him to step it up a notch. So hooray for that.

Loch Moy runs SJ before XC, which worked well for my purposes because Mo, as you may or may not have realized, has never seen an XC jump in his life. We were just doing intro so the jumps were mostly little logs, but I figured a chill SJ round would set him up nicely. And chill it was. He handled the zoo of a jumping warmup really well, and was very happy to be in the show ring. I trotted him to the first one and from there on out I let him decide if he wanted to trot or canter. He picked trotting, but not in a backwards thinking way. It was great. I could have kept him in a canter if I'd nudged him along with my inside leg, but the jumps were seriously tiny so who cares. I couldn't have been more pleased with his round. Here it is--again, not sure if the video quality is worth watching:

In that video, you can hear my mom talking to my nephew. He was pretty fun to have around that day. On my way to the jump ring from the warmup, he said, "I think we should all give ourselves a big thumbs up." Made the whole show grounds laugh, I think.

The wheels started coming off the bus when we walked up the hill for XC. I trotted some circles until he settled in, and then he spooked at the start gate. He wasn't looking at the first log AT ALL, but I was like, "whatever, it's like a foot tall, he can jump it from the halt." So when he balked at it, I kicked him, and he reared. The stop I didn't mind so much, although it surprised me, but the rearing pissed me off. So I got his bastard ass over that one and the next two, and the fourth jump was down a spooky hill in the woods to a funky looking gate. That was a pretty challenging question. Before he even had a chance to stop at the gate he reared again, so we went back up the hill, came back down, and I swore at him the whole way. He jumped it the second time, jumped the next one fine, and then found the sixth jump mysteriously scary. He spun away from it. I halted him, took a deep breath, walked a circle (we were technically eliminated at that point anyway, but this was a schooling show). Our second and third attempts to jump 6 were unsuccessful, so I asked the judge (who was judging the whole tiny course) if I could just take a crack at 7 and call it a day. She said sure, as there was no one else on course yet, so we took another breath, walked a minute, and then trotted 7. I patted him a lot and we walked back to the trailer.

I was a little disappointed in him for losing it like that, but honestly, he'd held it together super well over the whole morning, and he hung out for the rest of the day like a champ while we waited for everyone else in the crew to finish up.

Here's where half the blogging community will say, "OH MY GOD, I would NEVER ride a horse who rears, she should SELL THAT HORSE because he is DANGEROUS."

That half of the blogging community can stuff it. My horse isn't dangerous. He's green. I'm a good rider, and this isn't my first rodeo. If I felt like he'd been about to flip over on me, I'd be worried, but it wasn't that kind of rearing. The horse needs to go trot lots of logs in fields is all. There is no part of me that's afraid of him. In fact, my confidence in him increased a lot this weekend because of how he handled a lot of very spooky and weird situations. Oh, and he's not in pain. He's green. He will be totally fine. Six months from now, I bet he's taking me to the XC fences as politely as he is in SJ. And if he never decides he likes XC, that's fine too. He can be a show jumper who also does a little dressage.

So all in all, I'm very happy with  Mo. We're going schooling on Sunday, then he gets the first weekend of June off so I can groom for Mary at Middleburg. The next weekend we'll do the combined test at Morningside, where I plan to do an actually good dressage test.

Show season: way more fun than winter.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Turning the Corner

I've fallen so far behind again that I think the best way to handle updates is to just do a general catch-up post. Sorry for the lack of photos--this is certainly one of the downsides of being at a private farm instead of a boarding facility, and of having very few local horsey friends. I'm really hoping to get some for you this week.

Last week, Mo and I struggled quite a bit. I wrote about how he was a little tense after the first show. He was inside out and upside down, and so we didn't even really jump in the jumping lessons. I took one on Thursday in which M made it very clear: I fix the flatwork before he jumps again. And to fix the flatwork, I needed to step up my game. He was tense, sort of stuck in the contact, behind my leg, trying to take over--just generally unpleasant. We couldn't achieve a trot to walk transition without much frustration. So I needed to improve my feel, fix my position flaws that were making my life harder, and take charge of the ride. M tried to help prevent my suicide by telling me that she was upping the pressure on me, not just Mo. But still. It was a horrendous ride.

So Friday I didn't ride at all because I was shooting sales videos of horses for a friend. I spent the entire day--which was gloomy and gross anyway--feeling very sorry for myself and thinking maybe I should just take up knitting. But then I put on my big kid pants and took advantage of the fact that we have two extra horses in the barn right now at M's and that she hadn't had a lot of time to ride during the week, which meant that the horses did not NECESSARILY need the weekend off. And she had no plans on riding them. So with her permission, I rode all five available horses at her farm both days, plus Red and Sugar at my house (we have seven horses at her place right now, but one of them is her son's pony and the other is a horse you'd have to put a gun to my head to get me on, and there's no way M would let me anyway because she doesn't want me dead).

Lemme tell you, that many rides in two days is quite a lot. My legs are still sore. But I got on these VERY different horses with one goal: to figure out how each one was going to fix my issues. Every horse had to be on the bit, go at the exact pace I told them to, AND finish the ride more relaxed than he or she started it (or at least stay the same). All horses were ridden in the dressage saddle to increase my comfort level with it and because I thought it would be the most useful for fixing my issues. So this was the lineup:

Mo: Y'all know him by now--a very green young TB who is a good egg but is also not always easy.
Red: My big silly dope, working on contact, but generally kind and willing.
Sugar: The medium pony, who is very sassy but safe and quiet. Honestly, she just needed to steer.
Seneca: A PSG dressage horse, a thoroughbred, a known rearer, one of my FAVORITE horses of ALL TIME.
Spike: The biggest ego I've ever sat on, pretty green (competing BN at the moment only because he has no time for dressage but could jump around Novice or Training tomorrow no problem), thinks his ideas are way better than yours.
Bo: Second level dressage horse, could go third if he can get the changes confirmed. Also a thoroughbred, but not as light as some of the others. He knows a lot but you have to know how to find it. Love him. Worst thing he does is whinny for his friends.
Taz: A very green, very tense TB. He's technically gone Novice but I'm not sure how. He's competing BN at the moment, but he'll move up to Novice before too long. He's 173.hh and about six inches wide and has a short neck and so-so balance, so it kinda feels like you could just find yourself lying in the dirt at any moment. He'll rear when he's worried, too.

My rides on all of them went pretty well. I definitely kicked my own butt, but except for Sugar, I achieved all my goals. Sugar just doesn't really come round at this point, and because I don't need her to, all is copacetic there.

Then on Monday I had a dressage lesson on Mo, and I was nervous about it: would my hard work on fixing my lower leg, my shoulders, and most importantly, my brain, have paid off? Or would Mo still insist on inverting and evading?

Long story short, M was THRILLED with how both Mo and I were looking. I was so relieved I could have cried. She loves the saddle ("your position is fanTAStic"). She liked the frame he was in, and so did I. He was soft and could maintain the lovely feel through changes of direction and even transitions. We were able to school contact in the canter instead of just surviving it. He didn't totally come round in the canter, but it was rhythmical and I felt as though I could easily point him at a 2'6" jump in that canter and we'd be fine. I got off feeling so happy I wanted to cry. And I got the best compliment I've probably ever gotten from M: "I put the pressure on you, and you stepped up. Again." Thank god. Then I rode Bo while she rode Seneca, and she was lightly coaching me through counter canter and other dressagey stuff that I still think is hard.

Tuesday we had a jump school on Mo. I was desperately hoping that the excellent flatwork would stick with us and let us actually jump in a jump lesson. I needn't have worried. He was fabulous. The only thing I needed to deal with was opening up his stride a bit without him rushing, and we got that done. He trotted over the warmup verticals no big deal. The only time we ran into the slightest problem was the first time I presented him to the barrels, lying down under a 2'3"ish oxer. He stood around in front of them and I gave him a hard time, and then every time I approached either barrel oxer, he jumped it.

There was still some riding to do, and now I need to fix my ride in the last two strides to the jump (I sometimes freeze a bit, and stand in my outside stirrup). But Mo was just being a really good baby. He made some awkward efforts, and I didn't always stay with him as well as my four-star veteran coach could have, but we got it all done and nothing was a total mess. He trotted in and cantered out of the vertical line and the barrel oxer line, and then cantered into and out of both lines. I was so, so happy. And relieved.

So this weekend will be big for him, and now that we have a couple good schools under our belt, I'm not dreading anything. On Saturday, we're doing a fix-a-test clinic. It'll just be Intro A, so nothing too exciting, but we're definitely not ready to canter in a dressage ring yet. The clinician, Brian Ross, is someone that people I love have a deep admiration for, so I'm hoping Mo doesn't decide to revisit rearing that day. On Sunday, we're doing a combined test at the same venue (Gordonsdale, if you're nearby). It'll be Intro A again, and an 18" jump course. I was worried that he was just going to be too nuts to handle things, and maybe he still will be, but I'm excited to see how he does instead of dreading it.

So that's what we've been up to. I have a dressage lesson tomorrow on Bo and then another jump school with Mosey on Friday. He'll have a light week next week for sure.

I. Am. So. Relieved.