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.
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?
And we’ve made it to the final day of event camp, excuse me while I go cry for a minute over here and miss it.
On our last day, we were allowed to choose what kind of lesson we wanted. For me, this was a no brainer – we wanted to go XC again. Stephen left after day two, so our final lesson ended up with Leslie Law. Bookend lessons with him, how perfect for the week.
We were back on our 8am ride time, which I was perfectly fine with considering we had to pack up and be done that afternoon and it was going to be the hottest day of the week so far. My group this day was one of the girls and horses I’d ridden with all week, plus two juniors who I hadn’t (and damn, those girls were brave!)
Leslie’s big on doing jumps strung together versus schooling anything individually on XC because that’s how we ride it. We warmed up initially over a log and then proceeded to immediately go jump log to blue rolltop. Where Doc decided that left drift we love so much was back and strong. So that’s how today was going to go.
From there we moved to the water, stringing together water, blue rolltop, baby log into the water, red coop, baby drop into the water. And per usual, if I saw a bad distance, I took it. Particularly coming into the water.
And for whatever reason, I decided that the appropriate way to enter the water was to ride like a monkey, lean forward, drop all contact and do nothing. Thank God my horse is a saint and was like, um, okay mom, I don’t know why you’re so dumb, but I can do this in my sleep.
Off we went to the other field, my poor saintly horse and his monkey rider.
Where we successfully jumped through the entire sunken road! Which I have no photos or video of so just use your imagination!
Coming off the sunken road, we came down and then back up a hill to a small grey house and then around to a rolltop. Well, down the hill Doc’s (as Leslie phrased it) brain left for another planet. He decided I was no longer necessary, he was a fast Saddlebred, he was galloping and he did not need a Captain.
This earned him about fifteen canter-halt-canter-halt transitions up and down this hill until Leslie was satisfied we had brakes once again. And from there, we were great – over the house to the rolltop which had a slight drop on landing.
At this point we had some discussion – Leslie gave us each some galloping tips (which I will be working on for sure) and position tips (I bring my heel up to use it and I pinch with my knee).
Some of our group hadn’t jumped the half coffin at all, so he had us back over there and over it. After two successful trips over each way, our group was calling it a day, but I had one more request. As the truest testament to my bravery this week – I said the rest of my group got to jump the full coffin on Tuesday, but I had chickened out. Well, I wanted to end my week doing it.
Day three meant I had a late start time (9:30!) so I finally didn’t have to be up at the crack of dawn which was amazing. Our lesson was a jumping lesson with Tim and when I went to pull Doc out of his stall to get ready, I’m not kidding, I got a look of, “You? Again?”
Apparently someone thinks two lessons/day is hell and I am the Devil.
Sure enough, when we got out to the arena, I had a horse who was pretty sure he had never ever heard of the idea of being in front of my leg. Drag along the ground like you were on your way to the guillotine? Far more accurate. Our warmup left… a lot to be desired.
Tim’s jumping lesson was totally different from Sharon’s in a great way – he sent us over one jump to warm up, told us our course and had us go ride, just like we would show. Of course, my first ‘warm up’ jump was a hot mess where I came in entirely underpowered, stared at the ground, my horse chipped in and I basically said JESUS TAKE THE WHEEL. Needless to say… we got a correction and sent through it again.
Our correction, which I’m writing down here so I have it for myself (probably need to tape this to Doc’s ears honestly), was simple, but powerful. You add power before and through the turn, really go get it! – and then a few strides out, you sit up, keep your leg on and stop micromanaging. You let him carry you to the jump. You also have to look up, that helps.
Once we had Tim convinced we wouldn’t, you know, die, that day, he sent us out over the course. Oxer to oxer bending line, rollback to a vertical plank five (I think?) to a vertical, around to the outside line in six, through the one stride, rollback to an oxer three strides to a vertical. Our first time through left some to be desired, but we got better. Which is, you know, what matters. As Tim said – the first half of my course was like, lalala, just going to sit here and let my horse jump and then I came through my first rollback, woke up and went wait, I’m going to ride today.
This would be the phrase my trainer growing up used to refer to as “Holly gets mad.” It’s not anger per say – certainly not at my horse. It’s more of this mental feeling where I grit my teeth and go, oh HELL no. It happens when I ride (see: Day 2 “Captain”), it happens in my regular life (Fastest way to get me to work my ass off and get something done? Tell me I can’t). I can tell you the literal expression my face takes on when it happens – I set my jaw, narrow my eyes a little bit, and it’s like my body kicks into overdrive.
Once that clicked on? Well, we got this ride.
Our lesson ended on that happy note and we toodled back to the barn to hang out. Wednesday afternoon we we able to do a mock stadium round or a dressage test, but we’d signed up on Tuesday. Well, Tuesday I was thinking I could use all the time over fences I could get, but Wednesday afternoon when I realized I’d be jumping the same course as that morning I wasn’t so sure. Too late to do anything about it, so stadium it was.
First, we split a bag of Goldfish at the barn.
And then off to warmup we went.
Tim was acting as our mock trainer in warm-up and I happened to get there as the Novice riders were finishing up… so he sent me over all of their warm up jumps. Nothing to get things feeling good like that. Three jumps and he sent us into the ring. Where I noticed the jumps suddenly looked so… small. Yeah, the course that I thought looked normal and totally do-able moments before? That was the full height Novice course.
Uh, guess we’re ready to jump full size BN!
And damn if we didn’t put down the best round of our freaking lives to date. Tim told me all morning how I needed to be my horse’s cheerleader – not because he was nervous, but he needs all the energy I can give him. Well, between this and my little Captain moments, apparently this means I now keep a running commentary going.
After this round? I’m not changing a freaking thing. Horse can have all the Goldfish he wants and I’m going to be out there chatting away like a 14 year old on the phone (wait, do teenagers talk on the phone anymore, I guess they just text so idk, chatting like my grandma or something).
Some people are really good about writing recaps of things while they are happening. I am not one of them. Each night after camp, I came home, made an effort to play with the dog, showered, scavenged for food and fell into a coma. Repeat. So, you get day two’s recap four days later.
We had a bright and early ride time of 8am on Tuesday morning, which I did not love when my alarm went off at 5:45, but did love when it wasn’t 90324 bazillion degrees outside. My group went XC with Stephen Bradley this morning, something I was nervously excited for. The extent of my XC schooling on Doc to this point has been the logs in one of our back fields, where he decided to become a cutting horse around a tree and I yelled a lot of four letter words. After our gridwork lesson the day before though, I was feeling comfortable with some height.
Stephen immediately shortened my stirrups another two holes (um, ouch) and sent us out to go warm up around the field. To which Doc said, “yeah, nahhhh” and stood there not moving. Have I mentioned this is our latest trick? Not moving no matter what I do, including kicking, clucking, tapping with crop, tapping harder with crop, pulling head around, backing up, setting off dynamite, doing gymnastics, blasting an airhorn… Super awesome. Stephen had me pull his head around while tapping his hind end to get his feet moving in the tiniest circle of all time, gradually adding to it and changing directions constantly. While minorly mortifiying, I was actually really happy this happened so I could get some input on it.
(Yes, we have had vet check, bodywork, saddle fitted, Holly checked, etc etc etc. It is 100% attitude.)
Doc finally seemed to realize we were doing XC and oh, he loves the jumpies and oh, okay he could go now and off we went. We started out over a small Starter/Intro level set of steps, around to a small rolltop, back over a set of BN steps.
Immediately, it was a confidence builder. It all just clicked – my horse knows his job, he’s going to take care of me, I can do this, we got it. It helped Stephen was so so encouraging. The entire lesson, he wasn’t afraid to help correct things, but was quick to praise a good ride and when things went well.
Eventually, we cruised around jumping all kinds of things – essentially the entire BN course (out of order) at this farm.
We went splashing through the water, where Doc decided it was his own personal waterpark.
Eventually we headed to the second field to school the ditch back there. Doc, per schoolmaster status, was basically like, yeah, k, ditch cool. I had slightly more issues getting my shit together. But we did. This ditch is actually set up as part of a full coffin, but we started out schooling it by itself. Then we added in the rails on one end, back and forth.
As we started to head down to it, Doc finally woke up, realized where he was and decided he wanted to go Mach 10 for this half-coffin. Um, no.
In my previous riding life, this would have had me off my horse. Walking back the barn. Opting out of jumping. In this life? I laughed at him, growled and told him (what I thought was quietly), “DAMNIT I AM THE CAPTAIN NOW.”
And then you know what we did? I sat up, put my leg on and rode the shit out of that thing. And I was damn proud of myself for it.
Little did I know, what I thought was my quiet rev-up was not-so-quiet and had been heard by a number of observers. Which is how, on day 2 of event camp, I became known as Captain.
And yeah, I’m 120% having a XC bonnet made with that.
Tuesday afternoon brought a stadium lesson with Sharon White (seriously even writing this all out is like pinch me, did that really happen?!). All the other trainers made fun of her/us because she warms you up on the flat for what feels like 2823 years. But damn if it wasn’t worth it – every horse in our group was sharp off our aids after that. So many transitions. Short, mini ones – three steps of walk, back to trot. Three steps of trot, back to canter. I can sum up my entire flatwork lesson as, “Open your hip flexors, relax your elbows.” We got lots of good first toolkit stuff. From there, we moved to two ground poles. Her entirely philosophy – jumping is just ground poles with height. If you can do it there, you can do it over height. Guess what? It works.
We did those two, eventually adding in a single vertical and then an outside line. Circle at the end, back down the line, over the poles, circle. Added it into a full course (we’ll see if I can remember it) – outside line, vertical to vertical bending line, oxer across the middle, vertical to oxer bending line. The trick was we added a circle after every line. The idea being the circle gave us the time to get reorganized, breathe, get the canter we wanted, and rebalance. Eventually we took out the circles and actually added in a second oxer off the middle oxer on another bending line (originally we had circled around it). It was amazing the feeling we had – it was actually easier to make the bending line than it had been to circle. The feeling of using the circles in between stayed and being able to take our time and get the canter we wanted.
I walked out of that lesson about ready to keel over and die (she will work you!) but also feeling like a million bucks. Had I just rode my horse around an entire 2’9″-2’11” course without feeling a hint of nerves? Hell yeah I had. Suddenly courses didn’t just go by in a blur of cantercantercanter jump don’t die cantercanter turn jump and instead I had the time to think and proactively make decisions and ask for what I wanted.
And I can’t state it enough but Sharon is freaking amazing and positive and encouraging and hard as hell on you in the absolute best way and I can’t wait to ride with her again.
Well we are halfway through the week at Event Camp and I’m obsessed and don’t ever want it to end. We started Monday morning with a semi-private dressage lesson with Leslie Law. We did a ton of work at the trot – really focusing on transitions within the gait with circles tossed in every so often. Since Doc loves to just hang out behind my leg and not go anywhere (seriously, sometimes it’s like riding a county fair pony whose quarter ran out), it was really, really good for getting him tuned into my aids and in front of my leg. On our circles we really worked on getting him to stretch down through his neck more. While he may have never been trained as a ‘Saddlebred’ per say, we still have genetics to overcome and any stretching we can get him to do only helps to get his back lifted and rounder.
Leslie gave a fantastic example about building up energy like we were doing at the trot too – he said you have to think about being in a car and turning the AC on. If you do that, but open all the windows, all the cold air just immediately goes right out (not keeping that energy between hand and leg). But if we close the windows and cycle it through the car, we can keep it going. Eventually if we need to warm up, in a car we’d have two options: turn down the AC or crack a window. He said on most horses (definitely on Doc) we don’t ever want to turn down the AC (energy), just crack a window and let it out a little bit until we have him where we want. I’m probably not describing it very well, but it made a ton of sense to me in terms of getting the energy I need and then keeping it and using it for good vs evil.
We did a small amount of canter work, mostly working on again, getting him to really stretch down through his neck, but I’d say 90% of our lesson was at the trot.
Later in the afternoon, we rode grids with Tim Bourke. I seriously don’t think I have a bad thing to say about any of my rides/lessons/trainers, so excuse my gushing over the top here. We started small – just a ground pole to a crossrail to a ground pole – and then gradually built from there (gee Holly, no kidding, it was a grid, imagine that).
When we added the second crossrail, those became a bounce, so we had to make sure we had enough trot coming in to let them actually bounce it vs add a stride in between. From there, we added one stride to a vertical, and then one stride to an oxer. Doc was awesome through the grid and when I let him figure things out and don’t pull to the base micromanage, he makes it so easy for both of us.
If I have one theme for the week so far, it’s circles. Coming off the grid, Tim had us make a big circle (I got scolded once for not using my arena to it’s full advantage and then am happy to say, never made that mistake again!) and then continue down either the outside line to the left or outside line to the right, depending on which time through. The left was an oxer to a vertical set in 5; the right was a vertical to an oxer set in 6. We did the add stride on both sides and rode them both on the correct striding as well. Super useful to work on getting the right canter in and being able to adjust within the line as needed. We may not be the best at leaving one out, but we can get the add stride done.
The left drift is still going strong and that won’t be a one week fix, but it’s getting better. Minus the one time we came like half an inch from taking out a standard, but um, it’s fine. We didn’t so that’s a win?
We finished that lesson up going up the grid, circle, down the outside line, circle, up the grid a second time, circle and down the outside line again, in the regular strides. It felt so great to get it done and was a perfect confidence booster going into Day 2.
Trainer C got to watch the end of our second lesson and got to hear Tim call Doc “a really genuine horse and a schoolmaster” and I think both of our hearts just completely swelled with pride. He’s just the best guy and takes such amazing care of me. I started out the lesson a little nervous, having only jumped once since my fall (oops) and by the end, I think Tim could have pointed us to any jump in the arena and I would have said, “Sure!”
It’s been a blast to just hang around the farm, watch other lessons, and be able to talk PONIES 24/7 with people who are equally enthusiastic. Everyone is insanely nice and there’s not an attitude present – it’s constantly “Have a good ride!” and “You looked awesome!” and “What a cool horse!” and “Do you want me to ___?” It’s forgetting something and people immediately are hopping up like, here borrow this, here follow me, here drink this. Horse people may get a bad rap, but I’ve seen nothing but helpful, supportive new friends this week. My group of 4 who ‘travels’ to lessons together (minus our dressage we jump together all week) is awesome – they’re all on harder horses to ride and make them look amazing. They all give me the bravery to go jump this and try that and we cheer for each other and celebrate our wins.