In which water takes a defining role

The end of summer brought some low key weeks with it (as if all summer hasn’t been low key, but…) around here. Doc and I went on a nice long trail ride with a friend a few weeks ago (where we played in the water), then Finny the Dog and I packed up and spent a week with my parents at their house in Florida (next to the water) where we did a lot of iguana stalking, crab chasing and reading. I’ll let you guess who did which.

We got home just in time for football season to kick off with a big Auburn win (yes, this is not horse related, I do not care, it’s my blog). And then for it to start raining (water from the sky).

#CFB

And basically never stop. I was pretty sure I needed to trade my car in for a boat this weekend. Instead, I lessoned Saturday morning, came home and drank pumpkin spice chai while watching college football all day. Not a bad way to spend a gloomy Saturday.

Lesson itself was good, but not great. We were just figure-8-ing over a cavaletti in the middle and I just could not. At the trot my body decided I was a walk-trot beginner. I tried (in no particular order): throwing myself and horse at the pole, getting behind the motion, acting like we were jumping 3’6″, falling on his neck and bouncing around like a disaster in motion. Cool, cool.

I love that this dork of a horse so much

I earned myself a lunge line lesson for that one. Yup. Reins taken away, two point on a circle, stand up, back to two point, figure out how to actually, you know, carry your own body. Weird idea.

So I’m like, cool, got this now. An exercise that most 11 year olds can do, but whatever. We’re cruisin now. Let’s canter!

HAHAHA.

Off the right lead? Great. I can do this. Look left, come around the circle, remember to sit up… and miss the cavaletti. Veer right.

Repeat 509349534 times. (No, literally it felt like that many times). FINALLY, I manage to not dive at it, sit in my right seatbone, keep my outside leg on and tap on the right shoulder and we, you know, canter over a 12″ cavaletti. Big accomplishment here guys!

By this time, by back is done. While it’s healed and I’m medically allowed to do whatever I want, I’m still so weak through my core that I can feel it get tired much easier/faster than it used to. A year ago, I would have pushed through it, but these days I’ve had to accept that it means it’s time to cool out. Riding through it either leaves me hurting for days after or just becomes unproductive. No point in really continuing to practice doing things wrong. So Doc got lunged over it to the left to prove to him that uh, he could do it, it’s just his uncoordinated minion who can’t.

The river was so high and moving so fast that day!

It finally stopped raining (insert hallelujah hands here) and was sunny and beautiful today. I’m (hopefully!) in my last week or two of funemployment, so I’m trying to take advantage of all the gorgeous fall weather we’re supposed to get here. Wouldn’t you know, I had an amazing flat ride. So much power and roundness from his hind end, really good canter work and some lovely transitions. I guess someone was as happy to have sunshine as I was.

I’ll be out of town for a bachelorette party the last XC schooling date in September here, but the tentative plan has us doing a CT and (finally) a HT in October, so I’m ridiculously excited and hoping things can fall into place. It’s been a non-existent show season and I’d love the chance to at least get out once before winter sets in and I have to hibernate.

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Riding a dolphin

There are two Docs: five-minute Doc and two hour Doc. They follow the 80/20 rule – so 80% of the time, I have five minute Doc who comes out ready to play ball and happily carts my butt around. But 20% of the time… I get two hour Doc. Doc who does not remember he is 17. Who thinks I am his minion and my input is unnecessary. Getting two hour Doc at home just means we work – a lot.

Last weekend weekend, though, we had the perfect storm of circumstances that meant I got 2 hour Doc… going XC schooling.

Even WTForecast decided to mock me…

It started when he pulled his shoe last Saturday and didn’t get it back on until Thursday afternoon. Nothing like a little five day vacay. Then, he got turned out Friday night without his grazing muzzle – and promptly gorged himself on grass all night long.

Add in some muggy swampy weather in there, a very spooky *empty* field next to the XC course…

I am v awkward

I spent the 2/3rd of my morning (sortof) reinstalling brakes. Including the one time we bolted clear across the entire back half of the course in some sort of Saddlebred American Pharoah impression that was independently decided upon without any input from the bipeds. I stayed on my the grace of Animo sticky breeches, God going, “well I guess one broken back is enough for a year,” and the willpower to know if I landed on the ground I was probably just going to send everyone on their way and lay there until I shrived up in the heat and died.

I had these grand plans after jump judging last weekend – we were going to school all the fun BN jumps! Maybe some smaller N stuff! Whee!

More like ‘canter through mud’ vs water but…

HAHAHAHA. We made it over approximately 4 starter jumps. The actual jumping? No problem. The landing and immediately deciding to go full tilt Training 450mpm? Not really on my to-do list. I have discovered muscles I did not know existed from the level of sore I am.

My water bottle was gone by the first hour and at one point I actually had to get off and stand in the shade, take off my vest and helmet and attempt not to throw up from being so hot. It was warm and muggy, but more, he’d managed to suck every bit of strength and energy out of me by then. I finally got to a point where I was confident I wouldn’t pass out off the side of my horse, got back on and we headed to the back side of the course (okay, front actually here, we went backwards). Where my saintly horse returned and was more than happy to go happily jump over anything and everything,

when snax appear at perfect height

Where were you an hour and a half ago?! By this time I was essentially out of steam and Doc was straight up drenched in foamy sweat, so even though we now had the hamsters back on the wheel to go do fun things, neither of us had much left to give.

Where was this horse all morning?!

We had a blast jumping around and through the water, did a baby bank into the water, jumped an inviting little BN jump finally and called it a day on that note. The second half felt successful, but the first half of the day was… not fun. At all.

Good for the stories, but I don’t need to experience 2 hour Doc for like… ever again.

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Pros and Cons of Lawn Darting

Pro: My horse is athletic enough to leave from like, the next county over and jump clean.

Con: I am not athletic enough to stay on when this happens.

 

Pro: Head didn’t hit the ground! Nothing broken!

Con: Back muscles are very, very angry with me.

From Friday, where I forgot breeches and had to ride in jeans and WHY DID WE ALL DO THIS VOLUNTARILY CIRCA 2008 GUYS

Pro: Horse stopped and did not step on me.

Con: Ended up on ground, not on top of horse.

 

Pro: I can’t get a pair of pants on. Which means I don’t have to wear pants.

Con: I still  have to get dressed and go to work.

But my new keychain is the cutttteesssttttt

Pro: Ibuprofen and Acetaminophen are great!

Con: Might not have kidneys by the time this is over*

 

Pro: Got to catch up on a ton of TV this weekend

Con: Might not have any brain cells left

 

Pro: Got my money back on my show entry for next weekend

Con: Not showing next weekend

 

Pro: Only ruined my shirt, not the Animo breeches I had on

Con: Pretty sure my shirt was an omen for Carolina basketball

Pro: Not on video as evidence like uh, all of my other falls

Con: You don’t get to watch me lawn dart through the air.

 

Happy March Madness y’all!

*  Don’t worry I’m carefully monitoring my dosages!
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Doing my job

We actually got to have a lesson outside last weekend! And jump! Miracles, I tell you.

Of course, it’s snowing again now. Staahhhhpppp Indy-anna.

Saddle adjustment seems to have fixed our go button issues, thank goodness, and  the weekend before we had a great dressage lesson. Wherein I got to ride my first half-pass (at a walk, but STILL). Of course, I also leaned so far over in my canter circle I almost fell off, but hey, I never claimed to be good at this stuff.

The fun thing is that my dressage lesson translated over into my jumping lesson really well (like, imagine that?!). A better canter making things easier? Who would have thought…

This lesson marked the first time we’ve really jumped since we got kicked into the indoor, so I was pleasantly surprised to find that 2’6″ didn’t feel big at all. My steering is undoubtedly rusty (um, we took out an entire crossrail and my foot nearly took out a standard), but the actual jumping felt great. (Minus one bad-ASS inside turn I pulled off like NBD) I still need to work on not leaning at my jumps, because what do you mean, lean at jump and land in a heap isn’t a reliable strategy? Idk.

My eye got better throughout the lesson, but will just need more repetitions (gonna be playing a lot of the ‘counting’ game) all spring. And you know, remembering that my horse has a lead change and on the occasion he isn’t automatic, like… asking for it? Not ‘panic, panic, where do I do, what is happening, why is the sky blue’. You know, what happened immediately after the video above stops.

And I didn’t kill anyone who was doing groundwork in the arena either!

The part not shown on video (not because I don’t want to, but because all the technology rebelled) is when we turn left after that jump, come around the end of the arena to jump two flower boxes + barrels set without standards. And miss them. Because riding all the way through the corner and keeping your inside leg on is too difficult for me to comprehend or something. While Doc may be a saintly creature who carts my butt around, it was a good reminder that I still have to sit up, ride and steer. That when jumps look like uh, not jumps, he still needs me to do my job and set him up right. Straightness, corners, not-leaning-around-turns-like-I-am-a-racecar.

Our dressage lesson also pointed out my extreme weakness when it comes to my inside rein. I just cannot let go of it. Trainer C actually had me pushing my arm/hand forward to an extreme – like 6″ forward for 2-3 strides at a time just to get a feel for it. My brain just can’t comprehend how I can be on a circle/have contact/have even reins/insert something here and not be on my inside rein. UGH. I keep practicing physically pushing that hand forward, trying to overcome my muscle memory, but it’s like my brain overtakes and yells at me “NO DON’T DO THAT.” Seriously, I’m at my wits end with myself over this issue – if anyone has ideas on this, please toss them out. It’s 100% a mental block at this point. I need to work on it though, because it’s only going to be a bigger issue as we progress. Halp.

Riding is hard, guys.

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Mental Walls (Literally)

Friday afternoon the sun shined and it was 60 degrees and it was GLORIOUS. Like, Vitamin D, yes please and ponies and seriously, I don’t think I realized how grumpy I’d been until suddenly I was seriously giddy happy. Sunshine, it’s a good thing. The arena footing was still a little more wet than I would have liked so we stuck to walk and trot work, but it’s not like we have any shortage of things to work on at those gaits.

I’m bad about my flatwork rides being the same old walk/trot/canter both directions so I spent some time on Friday morning reading up on ideas and other things to do and it paid off. I really focused on doing something every eight strides or so, trying not to go any length of the arena without doing something – transitions, shoulder-in, circles, leg yield, sitting trot, collecting/lengthening. It was awesome to feel the change. What started as a ride where Doc was behind my leg and pulled his nice ‘ears-pinned, kick at leg’ every time I asked for more turned into one of my favorite flat rides I’ve had on him.

By halfway through the ride, he was moving off my leg so nicely, working in a frame, really in the bridle in a way we struggle to get to. It wasn’t necessarily 100% consistent because #workinprogress, but it was a definite improvement over a lot of our rides this winter. The best part was the horse who refused to trot and only acquiesced with a sloth, legs dragging jog early on was light as could be off my aids and giving me awesome transitions. Definitely telling that I need to be doing more during my rides as opposed to just going around and around.

I saved you from having to listen to my baby voice, you’re welcome

Saturday morning was my usual lesson, although we were back in the indoor thanks to rain. Ugh. Still, I’ll take rain over snow and ice any day. Not quite as good of a warmup as yesterday, but neither of us likes riding indoors as much.

We worked on an exercise we also did last week with four poles/cavaletti.

To start, we rode through the bounce, picked a direction and went over both end poles in a sort of moon shape, and back out over the bounce. My biggest issues here are sitting up and keeping my collarbone up, surprise surprise. Once we got that done, we added a circle over the two end poles. I needed a lot more collection to get that done which is something that’s an ongoing work in progress too.

so far, so good

The last way we rode it was (is?) the most challenging for me: bounce, right pole, left pole, inside turn towards the wall, back over the right pole, left, out over the bounce. Theoretically, not awful. And most of it was fine, since we’d already ridden it two other ways. Until we added the inside turn.

An inside turn towards the rail in the outdoor? Fine. Don’t love it, but I can do it. Add an arena wall? Mental roadblock times 1000. Even though I know we’re capable of making the turn, I zero in on the wall, stare at it and convince myself we’re going to just, I don’t know, run into it? Crash and die? Looking past the wall and focusing on where we’re going helps, but there’s still that moment I see the wall as we start the turn and I lose my marbles.

DEFINITELY almost fall off your horse because you can’t SIT UP omg

I know it’s 100% mental because I managed to get it done today. It wasn’t pretty, but I sat up and wheeled that horse around like we were in a reining pattern and it felt good to end on a positive note.

That all being said, it definitely pointed out a mental weakness I need to work on. I’ve gotten over a lot of my fears and insecurities this last year, so it feels interesting to discover a new one, so to speak.

Also, SERIOUSLY STOP LEANING HOLLY this is why you eat dirt. Damn ground poles.

 

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Learning to breathe

I have been avoiding taking a dreaded bareback lesson for basically weeks now. It’s not like I didn’t ride Lucy bareback all the time, I think it was mostly I knew it would be hard and I didn’t want to work hard. Should probably find a new hobby if that’s the case…

Last Wednesday night was cold though. (If you would like to comment in any other way than commiserating with me, DON’T. I was cold. STOP MAKING FUN OF ME.) It was only 45 when I got to the barn, the sun was going down and when C said, “bareback lesson?” I basically just didn’t have the fight in me (it was frozen). I also figured that was fewer straps for non-glove hands to do, closer to body heat and riding in the indoor meant soft footing if I decided to just bail and fall off.

Turns out, I… enjoyed it?

Yeah.

I mean it was hard, don’t get me wrong. My butt is sore two days later, my hips are like, “hey girl can you go back to yoga plzzzz?!” and my abs are having fun reminding me there are muscles there even if I pretend to ignore them and cover them in ice cream 87.5% of the time.

But it was also fun. We worked on using my breath and hips to change the pace of the horse – something that if you had told me before my lesson I could do, I would have said, “sure” and rolled my eyes. BUT I DID IT.

(From here, this is record for my own knowledge base so beware stream of consciousness and boring.)

Essentially we worked on the swing of my hips at the walk following in the figure 8 motion of the horse’s steps. Keeping my arms at a 90 degree angle, so I’m maintaining my own arms, not letting them be dead weight, and pulling my bellybutton to my spine without dropping my collarbone. Letting my ears drop away from my shoulders (story. of. my. life. it’s a miracle I still have a neck), and using my core to balance and follow. NOT clamping my leg down or letting it creep up and get shorter.

To increase, we added energy to breath, maintaining the same pace and rhythm (four count in through nose, four count out through mouth), making it louder and actually using it to lengthen my spine, making me lighter in the seat. It sounds ridiculous, but makes a lot of sense in context of yoga classes I’ve taken. Breath + hips added pace, all the way through to some really nice upwards trot transitions.

Downward, we quieted the breath. Still the same four/four, but this time being quieter and adding weight to my seat, sitting down. At one point, I got really nice trot-walk-halt transitions through nothing more than seat/breath. Not a single touch on my reins or a ‘whoa’ or anything. Crazy.

Sitting the trot was definitely the challenge of the lesson. It was really hard for me to sit. I would immediately go to clamp down with my legs, which made them shorter, made me actually bounce more and pissed off my horse. Go figure. By relaxing my leg (counterintuitive!) and tilting the front of my pelvis up, Doc actually (kindof) raised his back, got round, and I was able to sit it. At one point we even got a, “You look like a real dressage rider!”

Basically the best comment EVER.

I’m super sore, but have a total new appreciation for riding bareback as more than just toodling along on my horse. I have a feeling there’s going to be a lot more bareback rides in my future this winter.

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Grids and pep texts

Last weekend would end up being the last of our super nice, gorgeous fall weather lessons apparently since I promptly had to turn my heat on on Monday.My usual Saturday lesson was moved to Sunday morning, so after a ridiculously easy hack on Saturday afternoon it was apparent that Doc had been planning on having a lazy-watch-Netflix-couch-potato weekend and I was very rudely interrupting this. Nothing like having non-horse friends in town watch you look like an idiot who can’t get your horse to do… anything. Like trot. Even going out on the track and letting Doc go full out (aka where he usually runs away with me at least once because OMGSOFASTSADDLEBRED) didn’t do it.

Sunday’s lesson ended up being grids, probably further cementing thoughts of, “seriously she spends how much time riding and still looks like that?”

Above video is case in point, where I came around the corner to see everything has been moved up and went WHAT THE HELL THOSE LOOK BIG and Doc said, um I don’t think she wants to do this guys.

We haven’t done grids together before, so this was a new experience for me. Doc, per his usual self, took care of me through them. And yes, I still managed to drift left. Like, here’s an exercise where you literally don’t have to steer Holly and I still manage it. At this point it’s going to be on my headstone: Here lies Holly. Drifted left over an oxer. RIP.

All being said and done, it felt (pretty) good. It’s so comforting to have a horse who I know will get me through (even when I underpower him oops I’M SORRY I FELT LIKE I WAS GOING FAST).

Please ignore the point where I just fall over on my saintly horse’s neck

With that, entries for the last show of the season went in today. CT at 2’3″ starter and gulp… CT at BN. My reasoning being that it’s a schooling show and if I get in there and want to trot everything or just not everything, then I can do that.

Olivia also inspires much confidence. Pep talk (text?) of the century guys (there’s literally no sarcasm in that statement).

Well, Trainer C miiiiight kill me, but I also get to do two dressage tests and GOD KNOWS I need help on those. I’d just like a score less than a mid-life crisis here. I guess we’ll either end the season really high or really low. Aim for the moon, land in the stars basically = aim for BN, chicken out and jump 2’3″ right???

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A lesson in which I cannot steer

Last Thursday my mom happened to be in town for my lesson, which would be my last jumping lesson before our CT last weekend. An 8am lesson unfortunately meant a 5:45am wakeup, but she was a good sport and I bribed her with Starbucks and we were off. Of course, despite all the days surrounding being gorgeous, it was misty and grey out. I’m basically the nicest daughter ever.

Quick warmup, Doc felt really good, and other than being told to get my leg forward like 4543 times per usual, everything went pretty swimmingly.

Our course was still up from the week before, so we had real jumps to go jump too! First couple warm up jumps went well and then she made up a course for me to go jump.

Fun fact: I’m terrible at remembering things told to me. If I can see it on paper, I’m good. Just hearing it? In one ear, right out the other. You can imagine how fun this makes having courses told to me during lessons. It usually involves my reciting it back about 7 times and still getting lost the first time.

This rang very true on Thursday. I got lost on my rollback (..twice?), got lost from the oxer to the yellow (um, every time?) and generally just needed additional caffeine apparently.

I also had an inability to jump the oxer straight. Left drifts are my thing I guess?

Then you get guide poles to make you jump straight

The best part of this lesson was directly influenced by said inabilities to jump straight and remember where you’re going:

Yeah, genius over here jumped crooked, got lost, couldn’t decide which way to go, decided the answer was “put all your weight in your outside stirrup and lean” and add a loose girth… No Hollys or Docs were injured in the making of this film.

We eventually got it (sortof mostly) together, but it definitely lit up some issues that carried forward into this weekend and that are on our winter to-do list. Like… jumping straight? Weird.

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Always better when it’s fun

Ever have those rides where you’re like, well damn, that’s the best that’s ever been? Where you can really look at it and see improvement, know you couldn’t have done that (or at least done it as well) amount of time ago?

That was this weekend’s lesson.

It. Was. Awesome.

We don’t often get to have courses set in our arena, due to the sharing of it we do with lots of other disciplines, but leading up to our CT next weekend (!!) we get one to school over. It was a total freakin’ blast too.

Was it perfect? Oh absolutely not. Among other things, I:

  • Forgot to rollback the first time through
  • Tried to make a turn to the first jump that the laws of physics do not allow on the second time
  • Completely lost all pace down the first line at one point… like, I think we were moving backwards?
  • Put 6 in the 5, like almost every damn time, even when the 5 was RIGHT THERE and SO PRETTY and DAMNIT HOLLY RIDE
  • Am physically incapable of keeping my leg forward

But, when I think about the fact that I’ve been riding this horse since mid-July and hadn’t jumped a course in 10 years until the last few months?

Feels pretty damn perfect.

This was fun

Nothing felt big or intimidating or scary, which is a fantastic feeling. I have so much trust in this horse, more so than I’ve ever had, except with Lucy, who is basically the exception to all rules ever.

Our first CT course back in August (at crossrails lolllzz) was a little bit of a hot mess – I leaned, he ignored me, we had no half-halt and we kind of just ran around on the forehand over small bumps. We had a rail. At 18″. Due to Doc being like, “Woman. This is THE DUMBEST. NO. I AM NOT PICKING UP MY FEET OVER THAT. It does not deserve my respect.” 4 faults… at crossrails.

It’s hard when your horse is like 11 feet long guys

We r gud eventers guyz.

But this… two months later (almost to the day actually) and things were so much better. I (sort of) remembered to sit up, we had a half-halt (!), we did not careen around anywhere, I was able to have input and it really felt like, whoa, damn, I’m doing the thing.

In case you like watching starter level courses for some reason?

A good start would be um, fix your freaking equitation!!!!

Takeaways?

  • Sit the eff up Holly. Collarbone. UP.
  • Leg. Underneath. Self. Forward.
  • Better collection/pace – get the horse underneath himself so he’s not just pulling himself over with the front. Fine at this level, but let’s fix it now.
  • If you see the freakin’ 5, get the freakin’ 5!
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Making adjustments

Last weekend’s dressage ride was one where we had multiple disagreements about things like, “Why can’t only 3/4 of the circle be round and the last 1/4 be a dive straight across?” and “I decided I’m done working so I am exiting the arena.” Super awesome.

I couldn’t. Doc couldn’t. Finally, I trotted a halfway nice 20m circle and called it a day. No point in staying on just to argue if we weren’t going to get anywhere.

Someone is super thrilled about wearing his BOT boots pre-ride

The next day, C took Doc camping with her family and some friends, meaning my next ride was my lesson last night. I was anticipating something better than the week before, but not entirely sure exactly what I was going to get. I probably should have ridden in dressage tack (God knows we need the help), but I also needed my 2ptober baseline beforehand, so jump tack it was.

Turns out, I did not need to be worried because apparently a few days in the woods (including a nice long booty workout the first day) had given me this very pleasant, fun to ride horse back. We did our warm-up and 2pt time out on the track (so much easier to 2pt when you don’t have to steer!) and then met C in the arena for our lesson. Doc was totally game to work, which was so fun. He just immediately settled into this great trot, really reaching and moving along so nicely. It was a huge relief, but also so much fun. I’m not sure we’ve had a ride yet where we didn’t have to work-work-work to get there, but just came out immediately there before last night.

After working on my own position for a bit (I’m seriously incapable of keeping my leg out far enough forward) and some solid flatwork figures, she set two ground poles for 4 strides. First time through, do it in four. Then five. Then three. Change direction. Repeat. Change direction. Five, three, four.

This should not be so difficult. For anyone who can feel a decent pace, it probably isn’t. Spoiler alert: that’s not me.

Getting four was manageable. The three we really had to push, but we got it. Five? Oh five.

Video shot not from last night

We’d get the right pace, then go to turn a corner to go down the line and we’d pull a lovely drop-the-inside-shoulder, dive on to the forehand and lose all pace move. Back to four. Not even a pretty four.

Finally, C had me think about keeping my body still – occupying a “smaller part of my saddle,” with my movement being more up/down than back/front, to get the stride compact, but lifted. That made a world of difference in getting it established (plus, you know, shorter reins, cause my life). For the corner, focusing on holding with my upper inside leg, keeping my hands up, and pushing him around that corner (making it almost a square corner) to prevent the dive-accelerate move. We finally got the five both ways a few times and called it a night.

I’ve definitely got some work to do on stride adjustment this winter. Doc doesn’t actually have a huge stride, but he’s really, really good at pulling you forward so he can accelerate off his forehand, and I’m already weak at holding myself up and prone to getting pulled forward. It’s definitely a weak spot for us right now, making sure I stay up and balanced, so I can adjust and hold better. I know we can get over all the jumps at this level, it’s getting everything right in between them that is the challenge.

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