Equestrian Analytics and Data Analysis

In my non-horsey life (wait, there’s a such thing?), I work for a school of medicine doing business intelligence and analytics. Which is a fancy way of saying I play in Excel and SPSS and Tableau and Power BI all day and try to turn our huge data sets of operational, financial and other things into actionable information. Which is another fancy way of saying: numbers.

I play with numbers. I geek out on numbers. It’s no secret I freaking love medicine – working in healthcare is my favorite (for reals if you ever want to talk hospitals, medicine, health policy, come chat with a girl). Now I get to make decisions based on actual data.

I haven’t been cool enough to start playing with horse numbers yet, but I love reading those who have. So here’s my lit review (lolz no) of blogger and other data analysis type projects as they relate to ponies – and if you have more, send ’em my way, both for my entertainment, but also as a way to assemble data in one place for others who may be interested. These are just what I had saved or stumbled across.

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Best for last: Event Camp Day 3

Day three was supposed to be a cross country lesson with Sharon White in the morning and a dressage lesson in the afternoon, but as it turns out, cross country would be our last lesson of the week. That said, as much as the next few days gave me anxiety, knowing it all worked out in the end, this was about as perfect of a cross country lesson to end on!

Sharon is so amazing to ride with – she understands how horse’s think so well, but also gets teaching and explaining things (that first vs second toolkit thing Jen talks about). We did some more practice over the same things we’d done with Courtney the day before – ditches and water – before moving over to the other XC field which is where the fun really began.

I’d mentioned I wanted to work on riding over terrain – get me going downhill and suddenly any nerve I have vanishes into thin air. This would be fine if I planned to only ever event in like… South Dakota. Alas, hills exist.

I honestly can’t remember how we even built up to the entire thing because the last line we rode is probably my favorite thing I’ve ever done and the most badass I’ve ever felt on a horse.

We rode this picture frame to a log on a downhill landing, in and out of the sunken road and a few strides to a blue house of barrels. None of the jumps were huge (BN/N) but it was easily the most technical line we’ve ever ridden.

That afternoon Doc came up sore on a hind leg so that was the end of camp for us (he’s jussttt fine, don’t worry), but what a way to go out.

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Directions are hard: Event Camp Day 2

How far behind at life am I? Well, this post is a month late. Yeah, we went to event camp a month ago and I’m just now getting around to part two. Which means… details are fuzzier. So you might be just getting bullet points (be happy you’re not getting an Excel spreadsheet, since that’s where my brain lives 99.8% of the time).

Days two and three were all about the jompies. We started out with a XC lesson with Courtney Cooper on Tuesday morning, who was great to ride with and I definitely would again. We worked over the trifecta (ditches, banks, water) where she really emphasized you can’t overdo teaching the footwork – walking in/out, up/down, over – or as she put it “dribbling” through them. I’ve totally taken it to heart and we’ve continued to use that in practicing over the last month. She talked us through riding a ditchy horse (lolz, mine is not), a water-averse horse (lolz, mine thinks he’s at the waterpark), and the unsure-about-banks-one (loz, mine thinks they are a playground). Great lessons, albeit ones I’ll be saving for future horses because mine is a real life unicorn. It’s cool. She also gave me my favorite takeaway from camp: she never counts 1-2 to a jump because you’ll literally change your rhythm to leave on 2. Instead, she counts 1-2-3-4 and I don’t know why it works but IT DOES. MAGIC. (Simple magic, but magic)

We moved on to jumping some combos including a half coffin, some stuff in and out of the water, the rolltop in the water (our first time!), and a handful of fun technical questions. Including where I nearly fell off, twice, cause that’s how I do it.

Was my horse misbehaving? Nope. Take a bad spot? Not really. Did I completely abandon steering, leaving my horse to jump over the side of a novice table? YUP. Yeah, I probably deserved to fall off, but once again, Doc the Saint saved my amateur ass and waited for me to put myself back into the saddle before continuing on.

Let’s focus on the fun part of that paragraph though: Novice. Table.

YUP. We jumped all kinds of novice questions at camp, including the (giant to me) blue box out of the water, the half coffin, the hogsback and the picture frame. And all of it was So Much Fun.

(After I got over wanting to pee my pants, but turns out peer pressure in a group is a solid motivator)

The rest of my takeaways I’m putting into a list so I will publish this for once and for all:

  • Keep a record of lessons/shows – we don’t recall a good % of things, but if you write them down, your memory increases substantially. Even if it’s just highlights from how things went, what went well and what didn’t, etc.
  • Count to 4 on approach vs 1-2
  • Keep your upper body back HOLLY
  • Can’t overdo the footwork on XC
  • Ditchy horse – hands wide and low, stay in the backseat, tap behind leg
  • Banks – let them come up and it’s ok if they need a second to think

The afternoon on Tuesday was a stadium lesson with Leslie. My notes conveniently disappeared into the disaster that is my tack trunk, but the theme of this lesson was “wtf is wrong with your leg Holly?” which is a million dollar question. We started off warming up where he wanted us doing a transition every 6-10 seconds – which is hard! But damn, once I had him off my leg and tuned in like that, the adjustability came so much easier. We did a lot of work on adjusting the stride down a line – doing it in 5, 6, 7 and the line on the other side – doing it in 7, 8, 9, practicing feeling what our horses did if we just naturally let them find the distance themselves versus collecting up or pushing for the fewer strides. It was really about getting the rhythm and then sitting still – not continually messing with your horse all the way to the base (cough, I don’t know anyone who does THAT).

Later, we worked on coming off an oxer coming across the middle and making turns either direction – without throwing our body around. Weird, what a concept. This turned into a semi-figure 8 exercise where, as it turns out, you can just use your eyes and a slightly open rein and magically your horse knows where you’re going!! CRAZY. Eventually it turned into a short course that included a fun bending line each direction that I only managed to get lost in the middle of uh, twice?

Because if you don’t leave a lesson with Leslie Law telling your group of amateurs that you’re why he doesn’t get paid enough and that your homework is to learn your left from right, well… did you even go to event camp?

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Saddles for Shrimps

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Not these shrimp.
(Yes, that is Paula Deen riding a shrimp. The internet is a wonderful place.)

I think we can all agree that saddle shopping is just maddening on a good day. Add in the fact that I’ve tried NINE (yes, 9) dressage saddles so far and haven’t found one… I’m losing it.

Doc has a perfectly well-fit lovely dressage saddle. But… it fits his owner. Who has about 7″ on me, I’m pretty sure all in her legs. It’s basically impossible for me to use my leg in it. What the neverending carousel of horrors saddles has taught me is that I need a short flap. Like, 14.5″ or 15″ short. I sat in a barnmate’s and I swear angels sang because I learned I have LEGS! They exist.

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Sitting in a short flap dressage saddle for the first time

Unfortunately, when you add in short flap + not-a-kids-size-seat and toss in a side of princess and the pea pony – large wither, big sloping set back shoulders, curvy back and LOTS OF OPINIONZ, suddenly you find yourself being quotes $6000 for a custom saddle and you kind of just slither away to cry.

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Getting that quote…

Doing BN dressage in a jump saddle surely isn’t the end of the world, but… it’s also not my favorite. And now that I’ve experienced the magical short flap dressage saddle, it’s all I think about. And dream about.

So, uh, if you know of a magical 17.5-18″ MW or W short flap dressage saddle with half/short blocks to fit a curvy back that won’t mean selling organs on the black market, hit a girl up?

Or, if you know anyone looking to buy a kidney, that might work too.

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Event Camp 2019, Day One: Amateur Brain is Real

As soon as event camp was over this year, budget season started at work and free time became a concept of a past life, meaning actually doing more than talking to work friends about it until their eyes glazed over was not happening. But, it’s a Thursday afternoon, things are… creepy quiet around here and I’m taking full advantage.

Just like last year, camp was my favorite week of the year. Ponies and horse friends all for a week straight? Best summer camp ever.

An entirely unrelated photo of my mini donkey Sancho wearing a sombrero

Day 1 started with a dressage lesson with Sharon White and one other BN rider. I knew I wanted to work on transitions and our canter, because… well the struggle has been real this year. She had us warm up on our own to get a feel for the horses and then jumped right in, having me focus on keeping my hands in line to the bit and pushing Doc up and into the bridle. I took notes after my lesson and… have no idea where they ended up, of course.

We focused on getting him equally supple to both sides – using my inside rein forward and out instead of back while holding the outside rein and shoulder, getting him to bend around my leg. As we kept riding, she really focused in on the expectation that he should not take all my leg to keep going and he should respond to a “whisper” vs needing to shout. All things we’ve obviously heard (many times) before… but how easy is it to forget that I’m not his engine and don’t need to be “pedaling the bike” every step. By the end of the lesson, he was going as well as he ever has with me and it felt amazing.

The afternoon brought a stadium lesson with Tim Bourke. I loved riding with Tim last year, although apparently as he informed me this year, I “scared the shit out of him” when I casually revealed I’d broken my back and been on my horse for a week mid-lesson. Oops? I assured him I had no surprises to drop on him this year and off to work we went.

We started with a grid of trot poles – five if I remember correctly. Trotted through, then started building them up into jumps, eventually becoming a full grid of one strides. We had an outside line set for 6 we did in 5, 6 and 7 strides, focusing in on adjustability and eventually added a full course – grid to a single oxer, down the outside line in 7, back up the grid the other way, single vertical, rollback, outside line in 5 coming down – needless to say, the only way I remember that is because I texted it to someone that afternoon. I was also nearly dead when I finished, but talk about worth it when you hear Tim Bourke tell you that it was “nearly perfect” and the best stadium round he’s ever seen you ride. Um, air punch celebration much?

Also unrelated, but pretty

It definitely wasn’t perfect – I botched a distance coming into the grid spectacularly for instance, but when I said as much he brushed it off with a great lesson – things won’t always go right (in fact, never), so what makes it perfect was how you react to it and keep riding. Which, for one of the first times, I was able to on a stadium course.

And that’s a “nearly perfect” way to end Day 1.

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Underwater XC and the HT that wasn’t

Indiana is underwater – seriously, it feels like it has rained damn near every day for the last… month? Two months? Seventeen years? I don’t even know at this point, except I wouldn’t be surprised to see Doc grow gills and people kayaking to work.

This meant that our HT last weekend became a CT because the ground was way too wet to safely run XC. We were able to run a derby course on Saturday before the worst of the rain, so the weekend wasn’t without any xc jumps, but not quite what we were expecting.

Saturday’s derby course saw some of the same problems we had last month – namely, ducking out to the right. If you remember, we’ve had a left drift FOR-EV-ER so this “fun” trick is.. new. It was still a much better course than we had last month (in which the summary is I rode backwards to everything, my horse refused to help me and we hated each other by the end of the day). This time, I overbent him in a bending line that wasn’t as uh, bendy, as I walked it and then he opted to not go up the bank because my right leg was hanging uselessly, my crop was in my left hand and Doc will always take the option with less energy required.

Needless to say, I could have done without the XC jump penalties, but it’s always a learning process and this is what schooling shows are all about. Plus, it meant I had a great idea of what/how to ride the next day.

I’m not giving the next day’s HT it’s own post because honestly, I have 0 media and it ended up running as a CT.

Our dressage test honestly felt like one of our better ones, right up until the end (USEA BN B) – I was finishing my walk work and going back to trot LITERALLY AT C IN FRONT OF THE JUDGE when my left thigh got this awful cramp out of nowhere and I nearly came out of my skin and off my horse. Dressage, the sport of elegance. I managed to grit my teeth and ride through the last trot and centerline, but my left leg was essentially useless. Still, I figured, everything went pretty well until those last 3 movements.

Well, once again our dressage is our downfall. I’d like to say I wasn’t disappointed to see a 42 when I picked up my test… but I was. Our dressage feels so much better than it did last season, yet we can’t seem to put down a decent score in the sandbox. The highlight was our highest marks on the canter work we’ve ever had (7.5) which reflects the breakthrough I’ve had in the canter in the last month. (Also the reason I’m shopping for a dressage saddle HAH do you hear that sobbing it’s my bank account)

Yes, I am aware this is flagged backwards – it was set for the next day already

I had a few hours to kill before jumping so I watched some of the Training rides go before heading back out. Where, in the warm up, Doc decided that the crossrail and vertical were fine, but the oxer was way too much work and much easier to go around. Trainer C wasn’t at this show with me, I was working with K (who worked with us at the HT last fall) and she buckled me down. Swapped my crop for her longer jockey bat and told me to hold that rein and make him go over. No ifs, ands or buts. Sure enough, those two things had him cruising over the oxer and off to the ring we went.

Our dressage may have felt great, but not scored great, but our jumping round felt great, scored great and (apparently) looked great. Double clear and I can confidently say it was one of the best (if not the best) rounds I’ve ever ridden. It was a crazy course with two (tight) rollbacks, a two stride and the same bending line as the day before. Add to that a horse who was definitely making me ride for every jump and let’s just say the smile on my face at the end was pretty damn big.

So, maybe not a perfect weekend, but good enough that come Monday this week I sent in our entries to run our first recognized BN in July!

Oops?

And promptly went on a shopping spree, because duh.

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Chaos and Oxygen

We have been doing a lot of cheering for Auburn!

Long time gone around here, still alive though, promises. Turns out things like uh, buying a house and moving into said house, trying to keep breathing and working insane hours put blogging into the back seat.

Long story short, riding has been iffy. My allergies decided to actually attempt to kill me this year and two inhalers later and a few doctor appointments, I think I’m finally at a point where maintaining O2 sats isn’t questionable. I took a week off of everything – work, riding, all of it, to move into the new house. Helpful, but it’s still 75% chaos and I need another 3 days in the week to get it all done. It’s getting there though! Mostly unpacked (minus my office hahahhahah don’t open that door), fence for Finn the Dog goes in this weekend, and things are locateable for the most part.

Inspired by a handful of other bloggers, I joined a local CrossFit gym that I love. I’ve been going consistently and having a blast right up until my lungs revolted. Per doctor’s orders I’m not allowed back until we get my breathing situation figured out, which I would protest, but like… air. I like it.

We did a CT/Derby two weeks (I think?) ago at a local farm to get out for the first time this season. We had our best dressage test we’ve had, by far (although the score was about where we averaged last season), but the wheels fell off on the jumping. I couldn’t stop riding backwards to ev-er-ey-thing. Pull, pull, pull, pull, pull. Everything felt like I was being run off with (I wasn’t), I never found a good rhythm, I couldn’t see a distance to save my life. Doc about had it with me and we had three stops on course, all my fault. It was… ugly.

We had a lesson two days later and I got on ready to just quit riding. There was more than a little bit of self-hate going on and in the span of 48 hours I’d basically convinced myself I was horrible at this, my horse didn’t deserve this and I should just quit now.

Because I’m never dramatic at all.

My trainer saw my face and said, “nope, no lesson” and took me out on the track where we just hacked out for an hour. Which ended up being pretty much exactly what I needed… along with a drink or two, a crying session and some motivational sports psychology reading.

We had our best dressage lesson last Monday and we’re entered to go to our first full HT of the season this weekend. Things seem to be finally settling down and getting back into a semi-groove. Here’s to hoping I can catch my breath (figuratively and literally) soon.

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What is daylight?

Oh look, another blog post where I talk about all the riding I’m not doing. UGH. New job is fantastic/amazing/wonderful, but to say I got tossed into the deep end and told, “SWIM” would be an understatement. No easy going orientation week here, more like 10 hour days from Day 1 and a huge project to complete. My brain and body are in a minor state of shock going from casual everyday life to wake up at 5:30am, home at 6pm, bed by 9:30pm.

That to say, riding has not happened. Barn has not happened. Anything other than work, shower, food, sleep has not happened. My bedroom light bulb is out – haven’t replaced it. Wore two different earrings to work yesterday. Ate cereal for dinner on Wednesday. Ply the dog with peanut butter. This is now my life.

Add to that 6-8″ of snow expected tomorrow and highs all weekend in the low teens and I’m pretty much just done with all of it. I’m off Monday (YES SLEEP) but it’s supposed to be like, 10 degrees, no exaggeration.

Wake me up when January ends? Until then, I’ll be over here in sweaters, not seeing daylight and up to my ears in Excel PivotTables.

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2018 Blogger Secret Santa

While I was gone for Christmas, a most fun package arrived in the midwest. And what’s more fun than coming home post-holidays to more presents, right? Yes, my Equestrian Blogger Secret Santa gift arrived courtesy Emma and Charlie!

I immediately know it was going to be good because the card featured one of Emma’s famous jumper silhouettes. Upon closer examination, I realized it’s Doc and I over a XC jump in one of my favorite photos! (#datSaddlebredtail gives it away every time) I mean, personalized card?! Amaze.

Then to open up gifts and find the most perfect zipper case from Amanda at Bel Joeor in grey and blue, complete with galloping horse and rider (um, it also totally reminds me of said-favorite galloping XC photo which is amazing). I freaking love keeping things in pouches and containers so this was perfect. It’s already become storage for hairnets and hairties in my backpack because I had a habit of tossing them into the same compartment as gloves and destroying them with velcro. Immediate life improvement.

This totally would have been gift enough, but inside the bag Emma included two gorgeous little pouches (more CONTAINERS YAY) with unicorn socks (totally becoming my new XC socks) and a hand warmer (how u know me so well thx), plus peppermints for Doc (he says thank you, need moar, ate all).

All in all, an amazing and perfect Secret Santa gift and thank you as always to Tracy for hosting!

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Back home again in Indiana

Finally home again and not dying (thanks bronchitis, you were SUPER FUN) – so far, 2019 has consisted of taking down the pony Christmas tree, watching football and half-unpacking my suitcase. And complaining I should have stayed in Florida where it was warm and not raining. I did come home to a secret santa gift (hi Emma!) so update to come soon on that.

Unrelated photo of First Mate Finn over Christmas

I’ve been musing over goals for 2019, finally ready to have a normal, consistent year. I now have a horse I’ve been riding for a year and a half, a great supportive trainer, a new job (!!) to support said pony activities, an apartment I love and (knock on wood) no broken bones or lingering injuries. Can we just say, it’s about freaking time?!

In the interest of keeping it real around here, this about sums up 2018

2018 was uh, not, my year. To say the least. It had a few high points (event camp, new apartment, first BN) but it was definitely a low year. But I figure that means ’19 can only go up.

This feels like a good omen for the year

Keeping up here is definitely on the 2019 goals list, so stay tuned for things to come!

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