It’s officially the off season for us, which means mac & cheese on the couch under a blanket dressage and equitation bootcamp. The dressage part should be self-explanatory. If not, uh go back about three posts and that should do it. The equitation part is a little more… interesting? Not necessarily the right word, but I’m too lazy to think about the one I want to use.
Let’s dive on in.
Background for anyone missing this piece: grew up showing western pleasure/breed show stuff. Took 4 years off for college (2010-2014). Rode casually in grad school flatting two hunters, but nothing serious and no lessons. Took a year off for fellowship. Started riding again seriously in July 2017, taking lessons, eventing, the whole nine yards. Came off and broke my back in March 2018. Back on and riding in June 2018.
K, now we’re here, October 2018. All my eq issues are definitely related to each other and Trainer C is really good at uh, fixing me, but I like recording things, thinking through things on paper and bouncing ideas off smart people (that’s you).
I really struggle to keep my leg underneath me – in fact, there’s hardly a photo out there where my leg is far enough forward. I am the opposite of chair seat.
I am told allllll the time – get your leg forward, think of pushing it forward, push from the ball of your foot, etc. I’m about 85% sure it’s mostly a hip thing – I know I have tight hips and the best I’ve come up with is my hips (?) aren’t letting my leg come forward and under me.
The logical consequence to this would be I’d be leaning forward and balancing on the front of my pelvis. While I’m certainly not immune to leaning at jumps, I’m much more likely on the flat to get left behind the motion. I sit on my back pockets like I’m riding saddleseat.
Now let’s toss in the fact that I’m 5’1″, not exactly long in the leg, and not really built like an A circuit equitation star. More like… Dolly Parton. I need all the leg help I can get, but what do I do? Oh, I scrunch myself up as tight as possible. You know, making my leg even shorter. The worst of these habits is that I raise my heel to use my leg. But y tho.
Add insult to literal injury, my lower back is now incredibly tight at the beginning of my rides. Stretching certainly helps, but I can’t help but think it has to be impacting how I ride. My saddle is fit to both of us, so that shouldn’t (isn’t) the main issue here. Posting two up, one down seems to help. Two point.. helps, but not with keeping my leg under me. It’s not like it just slips back when I start going – rather, I have to physically move it forward at a halt/walk to put it in place to begin with. No stirrups helps with leg, but hurts with scrunching, actually making that part worse.
Exercises? Ideas? Thoughts? I’m dead determined to get this sorted out this winter so I’m just gonna crowdsource here.
What I didn’t mention is that Saturday the farm hosting the HT also held a derby. In order to get out on the XC course and jump some things, we did the starter (2’3″) and BN derbies the day before. This ended up being a great idea because by the time XC rolled around on Sunday, I was totally feeling game and ready to go vs being a hot mess of nerves.
The course was set up so you had quite a few places to gallop and settle in, which I really liked. I was a little nervous that Doc was going to tune me out and do his best racehorse impression, but after two good derby runs the day before and a good stadium course where he was super tuned in, I started to think maybe we’d be able to really go for it and have some fun gallops.
Warm up consisted mainly of being told to put my hands down and shoulders back – which apparently my body can’t do at the same time. I always thought I was cool because I could pat my head and rub by stomach, but the real world application has failed me. I can have hands down and shoulders leaning forward or I can have hands up and shoulders back, but both at the same time is a mental struggle.
Oh, and the person who started singing Baby Shark in warmup. Thanks for that one.
We left the startbox (to the tune of do-do-do-do-do-do) and had a short little cruise into the next field for our first jump, a red stairstep we jumped a few times at camp this summer I felt good about.
He was a little behind my leg until he locked onto the jump and went, “OOHHH doing jumpies, OK” and then it was like, game on.
Two, you came around through the field to the fence line to a red coop, set really nicely to just gallop out of stride and he did just that. I did make sure to have my inside leg on so someone didn’t opt to take the lazy way out, but he just cruised on over.
Around the end of the field and back out to three which was on the slightest bit of an angle, but still just a fun galloping pheasant feeder.
Coming into 4 was the first time I really let him out and was going to find out if he’d come back easily or if this was going to be a fight – it was going back towards home and you came right next to warmup and where everyone was hanging out.
Needn’t have worried – half-halt, shoulders back, about five strides out, and he just came up perfectly – the way Trainer K described our feel for the course was ‘bounce the ball’ – like the horse was a basketball underneath you with power. It was as we came over this jump and past everyone in the warmup area (to cheers because Indiana eventing is chock full of the Greatest People) I settled in and went, “OMG we are doing the thing and it’s fun.” It is also where everyone on course heard me talking hilariously enough, because when I talk, I breathe. So I talk through my entire course. To Doc, to myself, to the jumps, to the world.. I’m chatty Cathy up there. Add in galloping and breathing and I’m also… loud.
Through the gate to the next field and over the lincoln logs at 5 (which we’d jumped the day before) and then a sharpish right hand turn to the ditch at 6.
Per usual, Best Horse Ever didn’t bat an eye at anything and gave the ditch the most half-hearted jump effort ever. I have felt bigger strides out of this horse over ground poles. At this point, I’m audibly laughing because this is holyOMGfun.
We came around the corner, downhill and then back up to jump the trojan horse at the top of the hill. Fun fact: this jump was set on a different hill at camp and it is the jump I got run away with to… about 6 times in front of Leslie Law. So when I walked it, my mind was like, “UGHHHH Y” Literally everyone else doesn’t like 8, I’ll jump 8 anyday. I hate this stupid jump. It looks big and dark to me and I don’t like it.
Well, guess I should say didn’t like it, because I just half halted at the bottom of the hill, remembered to keep my damn shoulders back and rode a little deeper like K suggested and it came up basically perfect. Jokes on me.
Around to the left to 8 which is a table nobody else likes, but I think is a badass fun fence (as badass as anything at BN can be…) that was set on a slight downhill.
It’s amazing how when you listen to smart people and remember how to ride, things work. From 8 we cruised downhill to the bank at 9 – half of the sunken road we jumped through this summer at camp. Doc had a split second he thought that jumping up this thing was dumb when he could just go to the right and around it, but some leg and a little tap nixed that idea.
If there was going to be a fence anyone had problems with on course, it was going to be at 10. You had to come through a gate at the end of the field and make an L to the tires at 10. Well, no worries here. It’s at this point I’m realizing we’re on the second half of the course and it’s going better than I could have ever imagined.
Through those two gates ahead, to a small ditch at 11 to a rollback left to the distillery, which is also one we jumped at camp.
From 12, we came back through that gate to the adjustable bench which when I walked looked stupid big. Luckily since it was set as 13 and we’d had 12 basically perfect jumps up to it, I just went, “Welp, here we go bud,” and quietly jumped it out of stride.
Hah. More like I yelled myself over that damn thing. Literally was like a damn high school cheerleader psyching up an entire football team. He jumped big over it, but instead of going, “Oh shit,” and being unseated, it was this moment of, “Oh my GOD that was fun, I want to do that AGAIN!” Like.. there was air time. And I landed off it and galloped on and was like YEAH REAL EVENTERS.
Reserved and quiet, I am not.
Between 13 and 14 we cut through the arena to to the end of the course. 14 was this new jump – a big cut out table that had freaked me out the day before, but Doc didn’t blink at. On Saturday, I pulled to it, he added and we chipped which is a super fun feeling to a big ass table. Knowing that, I consciously added leg and Did. Not. Pull.
And of course, Perfect Horse jumped it Perfectly.
From the table around the back of the water to the left and a few strides to the last jump on course, a blue table we jumped at camp and the day before.
I came through the water on the line to the last table and couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. I remember just sitting up and telling Doc, “let’s go buddy!” and we just galloped for that jump.
I was giggling like a little kid as we came over that last jump and through the finish. Cheering like I’d just finished a freaking 4 star. I was almost in tears I was so happy, as embarrassing as that is to admit.
We ended up being double clear XC (I didn’t wear a watch so I had no idea what our time was like – turns out we were spot on at 5:21 with OT being 5:41 and speed faults being 4:51. It was enough to move us to finish in 11th despite our other, uh… mishaps, but I could care less about that ribbon.
I don’t have words to describe the feeling of finishing that course. It was the most fun I think I’ve ever, EVER had on a horse. I’m pretty sure running XC is a drug because I’m addicted.
After a… less than desirable dressage test, I untacked and let Doc chill in his stall for a bit while I walked over to watch the Training riders ride SJ. The trainer I was working with this weekend (Trainer C was out of town) and her daughter (who is like 12 and a better rider than I will ever hope to be) both had horses in the Training division I wanted to see go and I wanted to see how the course was riding.
I don’t have a photo of the course, but it was bending line 1 to 2, left rollback to a vertical at 3, 5 strides to an oxer, right to 5 on the outside, around the end to a tight bending line from 6 to 7, left to a two stride on the outside set as 8A and B. The first four jumps were the same as the derby course we rode the day before, so I felt good about them. The rest of the course seemed to be riding well, save one exception – that line from 6 to 7.
In watching the Training riders go, I watched multiple people have misses or near misses at 7. No problem, I figured, my jumps are a lot smaller, I’ll just really ride for 7. Famous last words.
I got him tacked up and we got warmed up – popped over the jumps in warmup a few times until I had a great one at the oxer and we went on that. He felt really good as we got into the arena and the bell rang and I was feeling great about the course.
The first four went beautifully – the distances were just coming up perfectly, he was in front of my leg and responsive, I remembered not to pull and things felt great. Down five felt good, he started to get a little tuned out, but having two corners at the end gave me exactly what I needed to get him back and set up for 6. So I thought.
We went to head for 6-7 and I got so damn focused on Not Missing 7, that… we missed 6. Yup. Just completely went right of it. I can’t blame it as a runout or a refusal, literally my horse was going where I was aiming him. That just happened to be… at the standard.
Circled around, actually like, remembered to ride 6 and keep my outside leg on and whatcha know, it worked and the line rode great, as did the last combo at 8.
Even with that dumb rider error, it was EASILY our best SJ round to date. We ended up with 9 time penalties so I think we would have been close to double clear if not for my dumb miss. I can’t be too mad though because it was just a fantastic round otherwise. Every jump just came up and felt perfect. It was like the culmination of everything we worked on all summer and fall and camp and everything else. In other words, it was the perfect setup to go XC off of because I finally felt the nerves settle and realized that we could totally do this.
The day didn’t even start at the crack of dawn thanks to a 10:27am ride time, so it should have been a good omen. I got to wear my sparkly white Animos for the first time! These were good things!
I made sure to get on with plenty of time to warm up, knowing he likes a longgggg walk before being asked to do anything these days. We did just that, then added in some long and low trots before moving into the warm up arena for Trainer K to finish help putting it together. I started to pick him up and push him forward and he responded well, adding in some canter transitions upward. The last few weeks have been a total breakthrough in our canter work – I’ve had some fantastic lessons where it finally (a year and a half later) feels like I can influence it in a positive way, as opposed to being an unbalanced lump on his back. He was feeling amazing and when we came back down to trot, it was even better, having now really warmed up. I had just enough time to let him walk a few laps and then it was time to go.
It started out with such promise.
The beginning felt good – he tried to get a little wriggly on the centerline, but we stayed straight and the scores/comments reflected both of those. A 7.5? I’ll take it. Nothing was perfect, but we were solidly in the 6.5s range, which is basically where I am right now. This winter is going to be dressage boot camp.
And then came the second canter circle. Beginner Novice B has you trot a half circle before picking up the canter on the circle – sounds great, right? I was feeling good, we had this. Well, I went to ask for the canter and felt him suck back behind my leg. Instead of taking a deep breath and adding some extra leg and keeping him bent, I panicked, saw E straight ahead and tapped him with my whip (literally barely a tap). Which earned me a sassy kick/mini buck and One Pissed Off Doc. Who was now on the wrong lead. I was flustered from All That, so it took me three or so strides to fix it and then it was basically time to trot. Well, now Doc was like, “Yeah RIGHT lady, you had the audacity to touch me with your crop to canter so now I will ONLY CANTER FOREVER.” Thx. Got dat 4.0.
Late to trot. Late to walk. Judge literally CIRCLED the movements on the test. Like, I am aware I was late, I was just trying to STOP CANTERING. Medium walk became more of a ‘wrestle-with-giraffe-in-corner’, to the free walk where I went, “Oh dear God, please just take this moment to RELAX.” At least that was a 6.0, a small flicker of light in a dark dressage world. Back to medium walk, with my Angry Llama who I am not helping with my tense ‘well fuck’ body language. Our trot transition earned the remark of, “prompt” which just makes me laugh because uh, yeah, he was ready to get the hell out of there so going faster was not a problem. It was also “hollow and counterbent” but really, not the biggest problem here now.
We pulled out a 6.5 for coming down the centerline at least and a final 6.0 because someone halted square. Needless to say, when the 6.5s are the HIGH points in your test, you’re not exactly going to be like top of the class. No worries, we weren’t. A 40.5? No, that is not the dressage court speed limit or the number of times this weekend I was told to bend my elbows. Yes, it is unfortunately our dressage score. It’s never good when your score is closer to ‘midlife crisis’ than ‘legal drinking age’.
But! It was over and it was time to jump the jompies and we like doing that more anyways.