Ditches don’t have hot tamales (June Schooling HT XC)

After my genius moves out on the stadium course, I was bound and freaking determined I was NOT GOING TO GET LOST on XC. Like, that was my goal. What’s that saying, “aim for the moon, even if you miss you’ll be in the stars” – this is something like “aim for making it to your gd space shuttle, even if you miss, you might make it to Target.”

Spoiler alert: I didn’t get lost! WOOHOO!

I did, however, do the following:

  • Talk through my entire course (I really need to get a Cambox if only for the audio recording)
  • Sit up and ride at the first (big) ditch, getting over it beautifully, only to completely not ride to the second (not even real) ditch and have a stop
  • Convince Iggy that, yes, there was a rollback in this XC course and yes, he was going to do it
  • Gallop the last two jumps completely out of stride because I am a minor adrenaline junkie, I love my pony and it was SO MUCH FUN
So much fun
Image by Grace Waggoner

Essentially, that sums it up. The stop was dumb-dumb-dumb, but entirely my not riding. It was a half coffin, ditch to coop and others had issues there, mostly with the coop, but Iggy could have cared less about that. I honestly think he likes to look in ditches to check for hidden treasure. Like, “Oh, a ditch, I wonder if someone hid some hot tamales in here for me!”

Needless to say, I will be riding every single stride to every single ditch forever now. He can have hot tamales after the finish flags.

Even with my dumb 20, we easily finished inside the time (honestly, without the penalties, we would have been cutting it a little close on speed faults, OOPS) and it was a fantastic experience. Overall, my goal for the weekend was to finish on a number, and that we did! We ended up 11th out of 15, but honestly I could seriously care less about it. It was about getting our first completion together under our belt and that we did!

Next up is camp (!!!) the 6th-10th of July and then off to IEA, assuming we get in. I sent entries in on opening day, so fingers crossed.

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Lost human: between jump 4 and 5, reward offered

Our barn holds a schooling HT every June and with all of COVID going on, it was unsure if it would be a go for a while, but it ended up happening two weekends ago.

It’s a one day HT on Sunday, so we run some little mini derbies on Saturday evening which is a fun way to stretch legs and get some saddle time before Sunday. We went out and just did the BN derby and had a blast.

Our course had three stadium jumps to start, five XC jumps and back to the arena over two SJ jumps. Iggs felt awesome going in and while there were some jumps we hadn’t jumped out there, I wasn’t over concerned about anything; mostly just so excited to finally get out there with him! We had a great, albeit slowwwww, round. He thought realllllly hard about stopping at the same ditch he had in our lesson with Tim just a few days earlier, but I had predicted that and with a tap and a cluck he realized it was just easier to do as I asked. Good pon. We took some really long routes because I wasn’t concerned with ribbons (it was closest to OT), mostly just wanted a good, confident run before the next day. Mission accomplished, he was lovely and it was the perfect setup.

Dis my pony he cute

Sunday morning was literally… chilly. Like, we had jackets on. It was so bizarre, but then again it’s 2020 so I honestly shouldn’t have been surprised if it had snowed or something. We had great ride times so we had a nice, relaxing morning before our dressage test.

LOOK WHERE MY LEG IS! NOT SOCIALLY DISTANCING ITSELF FROM MY BODY!

I really wasn’t sure what to expect from our test – I had no real baseline with Iggy. We’ve taken some lessons, but we hadn’t actually run through the entirety of BN B except for the Wednesday before (which was an actual rodeo when two horses got loose and Iggy immediately said “F DRESSAGE, THEY ARE RUNNING WHY ARE THEY RUNNING SHOULD I BE RUNNING I THINK I SHOULD BE RUNNING TOO IS IT GOING TO EAT ME I JUST KNOW I’D BE AN APPETIZER OMG”). Fun times. Luckily, Sunday we had our brains between our ears (mostly) and were feeling good. Our test was certainly not my best, but also wasn’t my worst. We ended up with a 35.3 with a test that scored consistently at 6.5. Essentially, it came down to an unsteady connection which was no real surprise because I haven’t entirely figured out how to maintain it. I can get it, sure, but then I lose it, get it back, lose it… Rinse, repeat. All in all, I was happy to get through without any major mistakes and with something that had good feedback to build off the rest of the season.

Video still, better than nothing

Our stadium round was absolutely lovely and beautiful and smooth until it, uh, wasn’t.

“Iggy, please come to the front of the store to retrieve your lost mom.”

But hey, I finally got a decent stadium pic?

We came off four and were supposed to come around and jump five which was across the short end of the arena and I just… cantered very nicely right on by it. Until I spotted the jump I was going to was six and thought, “Waaaait. I know I can count to 5 and that’s six and I’ve only jumped five jumps so….” Cue loud exclamation of, “Oh SHIT.” (Apologies to underage ears in warmup) We proceeded to do a lovely 30m circle and jump five and the rest of our course beautifully. And so, my should-have-been clear round had 6.4 time penalties because I CAN’T STAY ON COURSE THIS IS A PROBLEM.

Can someone install GPS on my horse?

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Pants are a problem

It started with my old Airowear XC vest – it used to give me bruises on the inside of my upper arms. I figured it was the downside to boobs + XC vest and lived with it until I upgraded to my Champion. Magically, that problem was solved overnight. Life was good.

Spoiler alert: life never stays that good, not in 2020.

Then it was the breeches. First, the beautiful Carma Italia’s that are my absolute, favorite summer breeches. The fabric. The fit. The color. The grip. The… seam across the shin that has never bothered me before? Yuuup. Then the brand new Ariat Pro Tri Factors – OMG finally a breech with a tech-y European fabric I can afford! But wait. Seams.

Despite this never being an issue before in 27 years of my life, apparently if there is a seam on my shin under my boots now, I will get a nasty, awful, painful (bloody, ew) rub. No matter where my socks go or what boots I use.

This is painful

What. The. Hell.

Thank GOD most of my fancy ass Animos are just fine to keep riding in, but it means I’m down to five pairs of breeches and one pair of whites. This should be enough, but I also despise doing laundry. It also means I’ve sold a really large number of beloved breeches recently and just resigned myself to riding in my workout leggings all summer.

I’ll spare you more photos of my legs for cute pics of Iggy

The realization is I am the human equivalent of the Thoroughbred you know who gets rubs, scratches, scrapes and hair falling out if you so much as look at them wrong. Is there some kind of incentive program for me?

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Move the feet: Tim Bourke Lesson

Quarantine meant nothing happened and then suddenly… everything happened at once and now I have 32235 things to write about and catch up on? Two weeks after our Sharon White clinic, Tim Bourke was at our barn for a clinic. It filled basically the day it opened and I didn’t get my act together fast enough, but luckily he had a few spots for lessons on Monday morning before he left. I snagged one of those up real quick and took the morning off work for a XC lesson (best use of PTO).

A recent hack with a barnmate

I audited all weekend as well, so my notes from the clinic are in somewhat haphazard bullet points that are a mix of my own lesson and others, but the points are consistent.

I didn’t have a stadium lesson, so I’ll just throw all those notes in at once, because writing them down = helpful.

One of the barn mom’s took this of me while I was auditing and I love it
  • Don’t jump your last fence like it’s your last fence: keep riding like you have to go jump something else
  • If you don’t get the change, half halt/block the outside, teach them to do the one stride/skip change. If it takes you 3-4 strides to change every time, you’re costing yourself time and rhythm (hiiii it me!)
  • Check all your gears and change them up before you get to the first fence – make sure you have forward, collected and can move between them. Obviously applies to XC too!
  • He doesn’t mind a miss on the way into a line because that’s information you can use to adjust, but a miss on the way out means you didn’t listen or use the information you got on the way in

Tim is big on making sure you have your transitions within the gaits before you ever jump so much as a ground pole. Lengthen, shorten, lengthen, shorten. They all have to be available at the touch of a button (leg?) and that’s where you want to start. Iggy is decent, but we definitely have to remember to do this in warm-up every time because it’s not a given that he’s going to remember this is something he has to do every time. Like reminding men that dirty socks go in the hamper. They’ll do it, but they’re not going to remember…

Video screenshots are all I have sadly

I know he’s made the example before, but I always love coming back to his basketball example – if you bounce it softly and take your hand away, it just fizzles out. But if you bounce it hard, it bounces more frequently and if you remove you hand, it keeps bouncing (aka horse’s legs keep hitting the ground and you don’t miss).

This one was a miss

He also talks a lot about making it subconscious – because if you have to remember to do it, when you get to a show, you’ll probably forget. What was fun to see, because we’ve talked about this concept for two years now, were the things I used to have to think about consciously that have evolved into subconscious. While my actual visual riding skill may not look a whole lot different now vs two years ago, my mental skills are totally different. Tim is also big on making a decision. Do something. Even if it’s wrong, you’ve learned something (like… don’t do that). If you don’t do anything, you can’t learn from it. Two years ago, I was the QUEEN of doing nothing. These days, I actually have the ability to think and make decisions on course (more on that soon!) now as opposed to just using all my mental capacity to make it around and not make any decisions at all.

But I made decisions to this one!

We jumped a whole assortment of things, including the trio of banks/ditches/water. Iggs didn’t care about banks or water, per usual, but definitely wanted to stop and eyeball the ditch before jumping it. Funny enough, one of my prouder moments was when he stopped and I actually reacted the way I’m supposed to – make him move his feet, think about it, don’t just turn away. After that, he didn’t care and popped right over it like no thing. However, this ‘I want to look at ditches I have already jumped many times before’ should have been a lesson that stuck with me…

Water however… “IGGYGOSPLASH”

The other big theme of the day was timing. Knowing where to collect before a fence as to not slow the feet down too much and understanding where that sweet spot is on your horse. On a hot one with a big ass stride? A little earlier. On Iggy? A little later. We played with it and sure enough, the timing got better each time (no pun intended).

Down into the sunken road – he rides through this so well every time

It was a fantastic lesson and I was so glad to ride with Tim on Iggy before camp starts in a few weeks. We left with some homework and some things we put into practice right off the bat.

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Sharon White Clinic, Day 2: Cross Country Day!

Sunday was everyone’s favorite: cross country day. I just had this feeling Iggs was going to be a blast and I was… not wrong. Holy crap, he’s like riding a little rocket. A rocket with OPINIONS, but definitely feels like you’re on that Space X ship. (Was my horse also designed by Elon Musk? It feels… like a question I don’t want answered…) Yet, there’s something about taking a brand new horse XC for the first time where you have those nerves – what’s he really like out there?

Spoiler alert

I was nervous about the heat from the get go – it was only the second truly hot day we’ve had and our weather had (in classic Indiana style) bounced between 55 and 85 that week. We ended up handling it better than expected which is a good sign since IEA’s HT at the Hoosier Horse Park has been rescheduled to the first week of August. Gulp.

Image may contain: 1 person, sky, horse, grass, outdoor and nature
Spoiler alert: we good

We warmed up over some little starter stuff and right away Iggy had his game. face. on. Those ears were SO FAR FORWARD, he was like “FINALLY THE HUMAN ALLOWS ME TO DO MY THING” after weeks of hacking out in the fields. Two jumps in and I had a smile like a kid at Disney World – like OMG this horse is SO FUN. He did decide the tiny raised log we added in was not worth his time or effort and we nearly fell on our faces when he DIDN’T PICK UP HIS FEET WTF DUDE, but otherwise after those first few I knew it was going to be a good day.

We meandered over to the bank and just like last summer, Sharon had us just easy goes it cruise on up and down it – Iggy was like, “I got this bro” and put on his best western pleasure horse impression, getting a laugh out of everyone. We strung together some little courses with our little group of starter jumps and banks and hung out while everyone went through it. Iggy promptly tried to eat the steeplechase brush and was highly offended to discover it was fake.

From there, we headed to the water. In and out, walk, trot, canter, cool, not a problem. Up the little bank out of the water? Sure thing, mom! Down the tiny bank into the water? “HOLY HELL WHAT IS THAT THING I HAVE NEVER SEEN IT MONSTERS DEFINITELY LIVE THERE”

“Oh god oh god oh god OKAY FINE”

This damn horse convinced Sharon White he’d never gone down a drop into water (he has, in face, done this multiple times, complete with video evidence from his owner). I have 6 minutes of video of convincing this horse the only option was down and forward. I will spare you. It was ridiculous. Opinions, I tell you. So many opinions.

And then of course, we hopped in and it was, “Well if that’s all you wanted you should have said so. GOD, why did you make such a big deal out of this?” SAYS THE CHESTNUT PONY.

Once that was resolved, Sharon had us each pick our own little course so we could do what we felt confident about. I was feeling.. perhaps a little too confident, but set out a fun course – down the bank, through the water, out over a little red coop, right turn back through the water, out over a decent size log, blue table to some steps finishing over barrels heading home.

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This should give you an indication of how it started. It was.. dramatic? Like, is this jumping into the head of the lake at Kentucky or a (barely) BN drop, Iggy? I swear this horse embodies #diditforthegram.

Image may contain: one or more people, horse, sky, outdoor and nature
“Just gonna jump this like a hunter, it’s cool mom”

Somewhere in the midst of this drama, my figure 8 noseband came completely undone. Sharon saw my hesitation and basically said, “Don’t you dare stop!” so, uh, I rode the entire thing with half a noseband. The photos look like I don’t know how to tack up my damn horse, so that’s fantastic.

Image may contain: Holly Usiak, riding on a horse, horse and outdoor
LOOK AT THOSE HAPPY EARS

Noseband or not, Iggy had the freaking rocket boosters on and off we went. He’s so sensitive sometimes, I forget I’m driving a Ferrari now, not a limousine and my first turn nearly had me on my ass. I got a nice correction for that one, which I fully deserved. Gotta keep those eyes up and not make turns like I’m coming around the track at the Indy 500.

Off that turn though – the best part of my entire weekend. Through the water and out over that log and hot damn if Iggy didn’t blast off. I’m pretty sure I landed off that one laughing and yelling.

The rest of the course was a total blast too, but I’m not sure I’m going to forget the feeling of that air. I asked Sharon when we were cooling down if she thought I should drop to Starter for my first HT in a few weeks and her response made me squeal: that horse loves the bigger jumps (can you call BN bigger? Asking for a friend…), take him BN. You’re ready.

This is my new all time favorite gif

When I watched the video later, one of the other ladies from my barn looks over and goes, “She’s kind of an adrenaline junkie, isn’t she?”

WHOOPS. They found my secret. Glad I’ve got a rocket partner in crime.

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Sharon White Clinic, Day 1

Originally we were scheduled to ride in a Sharon White clinic at our barn around the end of March – needless to say, that didn’t happen and it ended up being rescheduled to last weekend. I didn’t have nearly as many rides leading up to it as I would’ve preferred, but work got crazy and… alas, it is what it is.

We had a good dressage ride Thursday and went for a fun road hack on Friday, before our Saturday morning SJ lesson. The morning started with two ground poles, set at a longish 5 strides and just going over them. First at a trot, then cantering. First time, in 5, next time trying to get as few strides as possible, then as many, alternating which direction you were turning at the end and adding a circle if you needed to (ahem, spoiler alert: we always needed to). Sharon’s big on having intention – so have your intention be, “Go for it, get up there, stretch it out,” or “Come back to me, sit, shorten up your step,” and really maintaining it in your head the whole way. It sounds a little like a hippie yoga class, but it works. We managed to do 4 (hey, 4 in a long 5 is pretty good when you’re 14.1) and all the way up to 7 before she turned them into a crossrail and an oxer.

This look was referred to as “Preppy Bank Robber” as I watched earlier groups

Once we started jumping it was trotting in, canter out, just keeping it nice and straight and even and getting the 5. Not because the “number” was important, she explained, but because it was just something to focus on – that pendulum in the middle. The idea being you have a pendulum of energy and it may swing too far one way and it’s too much, then it comes back and it’s too little, and then the next time it’s still too much, but it’s less than it was the time before – and soon, with repetition, it’s in the middle.

THIS HORSE THO (insert all the heart eye emojis)

I have a bad habit of coming in weak to my first line and this Called. Me. Out. Trotting in and cantering out over a BN oxer is not a big deal, my horse is honest, I’m solid in the tack, but for whatever reason coming into that first crossrail, I have this moment of mental panic which physically results in taking my leg off and throwing my horse and hands at the line and saying, “Jesus take the wheel!”

Which is not really, like, helpful.

I didn’t fix my issue by the end, but it was better – all about having that intention from the beginning and maintaining it. It also helped when I remembered something Trainer C used to tell me – “soften your eye’s focus.” Not, look down or away, but I tend to get laser eyes where I’m staring at my point in front and burning holes into it (like, you can literally see my eyes narrow in videos). Just letting everything soften and my peripheral vision open up helps me to just relax and everything just gets… quieter? I have no idea how it works if I’m being honest, but I’m glad I remembered it today because it was great tool to have in my pocket.

Don’t worry, my release is a work in progress

We ended doing a course where we essentially added circles into the end of every line. We actually did a nearly identical exercise with her two years ago at Event Camp and I remember the course we had after without any circles was the most flowy, huntery course I’d ever had on Doc. We definitely needed our circles today.

Head flipping seen here

Essentially we come off a line, I ask for a simple/skip change and Iggy goes, “FALSE LADY WHO U I ONLY LISTEN TO IGGY.” Fantastic. (Told you there was ponytude involved) When I insist and force the issue, I get all the head flings because OPINIONS. As Sharon put it – “it’s you, but it’s him, but it’s you” which is hilariously true. He chooses to blow through my quieter aids, so I go to my hand, which he protests loudly by flinging his head around. Needless to say, we have a lot of circles and downward transitions in our future… (He also doesn’t do this flatting – only when he’s excited because WE ARE JOMPING PEOPLE WE GO ZOOMIES)

That moment you realize you have no idea where the f you’re going

The course was fairly lovely, minus the place he needed an extra circle and I got so focused that when I looked up, I… had no idea where I was going next. Fabulous. Got that fixed and off we went.

And SPACE BOOTS

The day was a total blast and was the perfect lesson I needed going into XC the next day. He’s such a game little guy and definitely a different ride than Doc, but so much fun.

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