If you think the blog has been quiet the last few weeks, it’s because it has. Because life in general has been quiet. First, we had an easy week post-camp where we did a lot of toodling, some bareback hacks and general summer activities. Doc took care of his favorite human, C’s son.
Then, we did some dressaging – good, solid work, but not the most thrilling to write about… “Cantered on a 20m circle. Stop collapsing left. Trot transitions. Trotted on 20m circle.” NYT Bestseller, right there.
I volunteered and jump judged at IEA Leg Up Horse Trials last weekend and had a blast. They only ran three divisions (Starter, BN and Novice), so we were done with XC by.. 1pm? I hung out and helped set SJ courses for a while and was still home by 3pm.
I had this cute little combo, of which you only see A. Unicorn was double clear XC, obviously.
I had the fun jump of the only refusals of the day, but everyone got over and had a good time.
Doc promptly ripped off his shoe and half his front foot with it and earned himself a week of vacation, along with his nice case of scratches. Cool story, bro. I spent my birthday washing legs and slathering on Desitin, although I did turn him into a couch while we grazed out front of the barn. Because nothing says cLaSsY eVeNtErS like running shorts, tennis shoes, tshirt with who-knows-what on it, bareback grazing in a halter in the driveway.
Just keeping it real around here so nobody starts thinking I’m fancy or something.
As of this morning, Doc has shoes on, my accomplishment of the week involved finding a brand new Patagonia Capilene top at Goodwill for $3, I am still interviewing for jobs and therefore have negative horse budget or fun budget or any other budget. But we’re going XC schooling Saturday, I’m now closer to 30 than 20 but still got carded this week and I only had to pull one stick out that Fin the Dog managed to get stuck in his teeth like the genius he is.
It’s a glamorous life we lead. I’m just going to keep pretending I’m on summer vacation.
I’ve had this draft sitting here waiting to be finished for a while when I realized how perfectly it fit with the In Others Words hop, so I just kind of combined and threw them together and last minute cause why not?
It’s summer so the only sport on is baseball and while I can’t watch an entire baseball game without needing distractions, I absolutely love going to games at great minor league/college ballparks. I mean, I grew up with this one, spent many a college afternoon here, and a few grad school spring’s here. I love the food, the beer, the fireworks post-game, the company, the ability to sit and just relax (because there is no relaxing when I watch football come fall). But my favorite thing? Players’ walk-up music.
Which, combined with the fact that I love riding to music, had me thinking – what if we got walk-up songs? Like entry circle in the SJ or waiting in the start box on XC? I’m 100% in support of this, just saying, okay?
I have a wide variety of music interests… like, I listen to a lot of different genres. And while I’m no music-hipster (I like Top 40 pop and Taylor Swift waaayyyy too much for that), I do have a talent for putting together a great playlist. I do mine seasonally, with additions for anything special. Mostly, I ride to whatever season’s playlist I feel like, but for this, I finally put songs together for a riding playlist just for Doc and me.
Explanations for 75 songs might take a while (too long) so I just pulled a few.
Nice For What (Drake): my current favorite trot set song – the perfect beat and in general I love doing conditioning work to rap
The Champion (Carrie Underwood): One of those ‘get out there, blood, sweat and tears’ songs. Perfect for pushing through no-stirrup work when I want to die.
There She Go (Fetty Wap): Okay, bear with me… this is one of my favorite dressage school songs. It’s like, make that shit fancy.
We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together (T Swift): Reserved for when Doc is being a princess and I can’t deal any longer. Sometimes involves yelling-singing.
Magic (B.o.b.): Dressage. For sure. Trots across the diagonals right here. Makes me feel like I’m riding Valegro.
Good Feeling (Flo Rida): Warm up music here. The title says it all.
Taking Care of Business (Bachman-Turner Overdrive): Trot sets/conditioning work. Getting business done. To a fun beat. Singing included with package.
GDFR (Flo Rida): When I need a pump up. The last bit of two point and my legs hate me? Get psyched up before a big jumping lesson? This one.
Red Hop Lollipop (mash-up Red Hot Chilipeppers, Lil Wayne & Kanye): One of my favorite mash ups – totally a beat I would go out to XC with
Drake & Diane (mash-up Drake & John Mellencamp): Another top favorite and one I love dressaging to. All those DQs appalled at dressage to Drake and I’m like, “yeah, and?”
So, then what would be our walk-up music? I seriously can’t decide…
(PS if you have tiny human ears around, my playlists aren’t exactly… child friendly)
It could totally be Jump Around – would there be a better pre-SJ round song?
But I also feel like there’s not much that says “eventing” like Tubthumping…
I was lucky enough growing up to have my horses at home, right in my backyard. My dad built my mom and me a little two stall barn with a tack room and wash stall, later adding on a third stall and hay storage area. We also kept a lot of our daily tack in the trailer and just walked over there to tack up, so needless to say, there was no lack of storage space. (Sidenote: this is also why I never had a tack trunk and never understood them.)
These days, it’s just Lucy living her best retired life at home along with her mini donk Sancho. My arena is still there, but has seen better days. But the last time I was home, I snapped a few photos of the barn and thought they’d be fun to share (because I love seeing photos of other people’s barns!)
New Mexico means sand and sand means dust and dust is why our barn will not ever look like some east coast (or uh, anywhere it rains) barn. Luckily our barn stays relatively cool in the summers (perks of no humidity) and moderately warm in the winters (not that the horses take advantage).
Both stalls open out into large paddocks and then Lucy’s actually opens into a big turnout. She paces in a stall and will walk the fenceline into a ditch in the paddock, so she just has free roam which helps to curb it… some. She’s still a pacer at dinnertime, but she’s also 20 at this point and we’ve given up. We refer to her being out in the “field” but again… New Mexico. There is no grass. It is dirt.
Opposite Lucy’s stall is our grooming/wash stall – it has cross ties and then shelves for collecting dust organizing.
The aisleway leads to the second stall (really the first one because you pass it when you walk in…) and the tack room.
There’s the mini tour of my home barn, in all its glory. Sometimes I really miss having it all right there, but mostly I love being at a barn where there are other people and horses and friends to talk to and ride with. I spent so much time growing up riding completely alone or in a private lesson, that I really craved that social interaction.
It’s so surreal to me that I’ve been riding this horse a year. A year. With a three month break so really more like nine months. For years I was the most nervous rider – I wouldn’t go on a trail ride, even on my dead broke QH. The slightest thing was enough to make me want to get off, much less my horse deciding he didn’t have brakes that day. I had reason to feel this way, but I thought that would be why I’d always be a QH rider or maybe if I got brave, I’d go do the hunters.
An eventer? Me? Never in a million years.
And then this week, here we were. Galloping around, having the time of our lives. Trusting the hell out of my amazing chestnut opinionated Saddlebred (who got like 59053809 compliments this week and deserved every single one of them). Feeling like I’ve found my place. Where I can be brave and do hard things and challenge myself a little bit more every day.
There’s a line in the Auburn creed that says, “I believe in a sound mind, in a sound body and a spirit that is not afraid, and in clean sports that develop these qualities.” The last line of my RoadID says “& a spirit that is not afraid” because sometimes I need that little reminder. (And I just love that line, okay?)
My friends may tease me (lovingly) that I went to pony camp and that I’m always at the barn, but this makes me the best version of myself. It makes me braver, it makes me grittier, it makes me happier. And it may be dressage or jumpers or endurance or western pleasure for you, but for me right now? It’s eventing.
It’s a reminder that I can do hard things.
2018 has been a year of hard things. I broke my back. I left my job the beginning of June, under less than ideal circumstances. I’ve felt lost and sad and useless and I’m simultaneously overqualified and underqualified and I’m “not the one” and I’m ‘just not the priority’ or “it’s not you, it’s me”. But this week was a week where a group of people I’d never met stepped up and cheered and said, “Yes, you can!” and celebrated when I did.Where people laughed at antics, cheered when you conquered something (hey, I see you coffin jump), never let you leave the barn without a, “Have a great ride!” Where I was told, “You are enough, you are good, you have this” and I believed them.
It may seem deep and emotional for a week of pony camp, but the things this week taught me run a lot deeper than the barn. I did this week on my own – I hauled myself, unloaded, tacked up, fed, hooked up the trailer, hauled home, parked (!!) the trailer. Things I never had to do all by myself because I had the world’s greatest horse show mom. But at the same time – I didn’t do it on my own at all – I did it surrounded by a village of people.
I got through grad school knowing I could do hard things. And then somewhere in the last two years, I lost myself a little bit. I settled. I stopped challenging myself. I didn’t know what I wanted – in my career, relationships, living situation, hell, I didn’t know what I wanted for dinner most nights.
So it may just be a stadium oxer or a blue rolltop in a field, but this week it was a lot more to me. It was the stretching of muscles that haven’t been used in a while, the getting back out there, the getting back on the (literal and figurative) horse. It was deciding what I wanted and going after it, full steam ahead, teeth gritted, not afraid of a little blood, sweat and dirt.
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.
Still here, chugging along with broken back recovery 2018. It’s about as fun as it seems.
X-ray as of 5/15
The good news is the fracture has stabilized, meaning no more brace and all things holding steady, I should be cleared to ride and assume my regular life at my next appointment in June.
Halle-freaking-lujah, cause I’m officially going stir crazy. I moved into my new place last weekend, officially cutting my barn commute from an hour to 20 minutes (do you hear angels singing those are angels singing).
I think I’m officially changing “step on a crack, break your mother’s back” to “pick shitty distances and break your back idiot.” Catchy, right?
I leave you with “trying to drink a beer and pose with a JRT/Corgi” because it accurately sums up my life right now.