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Forward, Always Forward

A few of you gave the suggestion that I start halting after fences to get Eeyore to stop being all “Talley Ho!” after jumps. I always love comments and suggestions so thank you for taking the time to read and type out a response!!! I feel a little bad when someone makes a suggestion and I’m all like “thanks…but no thanks” plus this is a topic I’ve been meaning to write about anyway, so here you go…my explanation for why I do not use this technique with the Orange Butthead.

Stupid, why is this even necessary, disclaimer: I’m not a trainer. This is not an expose on how to train your horse nor is it commentary on your own/your trainer’s methods. You do you. This is how my trainer is training me on this horse in this moment of our education.

Way back when I showed up to my first ever lesson with Trainer AB, visibly shaking in fear and doubt, she had me start my typical warm up routine so she could watch the dynamic. All of 30 seconds later she called me out on the root of my woes with Eeyore: he doesn’t go forward and my tactics of halting, backing, and making a million changes in direction were only adding to this issue.

Anyone else remember this from late spring? I do. I don’t miss it.

Yes, his feet were moving but not in a valuable way. Mostly his energy was going vertical and when I did finally ask for a trot he would explode into it, shaking his head in frustration only to then be asked to change direction or walk again or even halt. After he did that, I would ask for forward again and he would go sideways or backwards or up mostly because when I did ask for forward he wouldn’t actually be let to go forward, or at least not for very long.

Trainer AB explained to me that her theory of training a future event horse is to focus on the skills needed to be safe in the most dangerous phase: cross country. While most people spend the least amount of time practicing the skill on a cross country course, you can instill the basic tenants of that phase into the horse from the get go even when riding in the arena most of the time. In her opinion, the safest thing to teach a young event horse is to go FORWARD always, forever, no exceptions, no questions.

By doing this, you teach the horse that when faced with a new question or experience, the go to response will be to go forward. Never seen a ditch? No problem, go forward. Never tackled a down bank? No problem, go forward. Never cantered through water? No problem, go forward.

Never seen a black pipe of death before? Doesn’t matter. Go forward.

As such, my first task with Eeyore was to get him moving forward. She told me to stay along the rail and use the entire arena, no more circles, no more serpentines. Certainly no more halting. If he was feeling particularly fresh, get him in a canter, get up in 2 point and coast around. My job was to keep him going forward along the path I chose which sometimes resulted in cantering with his nose nearly touching his flank as he tried to cut across the arena instead of staying on the rail. She didn’t care. As long as he was moving forward and his feet didn’t wander off the chosen path, he could go around like he belonged on the short bus for all she cared. That was his problem, not mine.

Of course, as time has gone on we have been asking more of him. He is no longer allowed to canter when not asked to and we are working on slowing him down and getting his balance better, but she never wants me to sacrifice the forward for this.

Angry Eeyore at an early lesson when he realized he wasn’t going to get away with his usual crap

The same concept has been true in our approach to jumping. She has explained, probably more times than she should have to, that as long as I keep him straight after a jump I am to encourage him to move away from the jump on the back side. We approach, I let him get his eyes on it and stay out of his way, we go over, and then my job is to get my legs on, steer and keep him moving. She wants him to learn to look for what is next on the horizon, again with cross country in mind since that phase encourages a forward ride.

Even when he feels like he is running off, her solution to me is not to halt or circle, but instead to put my leg on and focus on getting a quality canter out of him as we ride away from the jump. This works for him because he is inherently lazy and once he realizes that he is being put to work, he will stop.

A reminder of how Eeyore takes to being ignored. Also, I do not miss this dirt aisle.

Last but certainly not least in this equation is me. Most of his back side issues are me issues. I tend to black out over jumps then sit on him like a monkey once we land. When I focus, sit up and you know ride the back side he does too. Circling would help me for the fact that it gives me something to do but so does combinations and gymnastics which is why most of our lessons start with a small gymnastic before moving to a mini course. I ride way better when I have a second fence to aim for.

So that’s the long of it. The reason we don’t halt after each fence. Or circle. Trainer AB has a method and I’m not going to buck that with the results we are getting.

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Jumping Away With My Heart

Folks. My heart is so full right now.

One of the issues I isolated on Saturday boiled down my own lack of miles jumping. It had been 3 weeks since my last lesson and I haven’t been jumping at home since starting to ride with AB early in the summer. Which is fine for the level I’m at but it also poses the issue of fitness and muscle memory. After it taking a few fences to get my body sorted out, I decided that I needed to jump at least once a week meaning that on my non lesson weeks I need to be jumping at home.

With that in mind I searched online for an exercise I thought was doable, fun, and would also address the other big issue of him taking off after the jump. I knew I didn’t want single fences. I’m also not super comfortable at setting up combinations since I’m not quite sure what distances to set and I don’t want to punish him by setting up something wonky.

After a few minutes of scrolling I found exactly what I was looking for:

The first jump was removed because I couldn’t find my 8th jump standard. It worked out fine to have the top three only and took the guess work out of striding between 1 and 2

Yesterday evening was cold and windy. Eeyore had every right to be up but he wasn’t. In fact, he was a bit pokey and I joked with M (built in jump crew is pretty awesome) that I need to invest in a crop. Because of this I kept the warm up pretty short. I did a couple laps of trot and canter each direction and then got down to the exercise.

The two far fences are set on a pretty steep angle but this picture doesn’t really show that. It made for a fun bending line between each fence.

AB’s words of wisdom ran through my head as I came off a left bend to the first fence: sit up, make him wait, keep him balanced in the turn, once he looks at the jump get out of his way, go over.

And you know what? It took some core strength but he stayed waiting until the base and then we popped over no big deal.

He tried to take off after but again her words came into my head: sit back, leg on, keep my core engaged and bring him back to me instead of me leaning forward into him and be patient.

Love this guy with every fiber of my being

And you know what? It worked. He definitely thought about running off into the setting sun but I kept myself strong and my body patient and he came up in front and waited. We went over #2 like it wasn’t even there.

He landed in a nice canter but I have zero clue how to influence which lead he lands on and flying changes are not in my repertoire, so I brought him to a trot for the bend to fence 3, kept him balanced in that turn and patient to the base and over we went.

He was being so good that Wyatt asked to ride him for the first time ever. Eeyore wasn’t thrilled with this task. I led him at the walk a little bit and called it a night.

He knew the game by now and immediately locked onto fence #4 (previously fence #1), trying to take off in the process but I just repeated everything I had before and it worked like a charm to give me a lovely effort over the last fence.

I was so thrilled!!! We did it one more time but he was being so darn good I didn’t want to drill it. M hopped on for a quick walk and trot both directions and then Wyatt did a short lead line walk before he got to go out for the night.

Being a Bestest Good Boy

This ride was so stinking fun! I loved the exercise because it really highlighted everything we need to work on: balance in the turns, patience to the base, a quick recovery on the backside and then refocus for the next effort. Eeyore finding his brain again really helped in the success of the ride but so did the fact that my own brain remained functional and I listened to my inner AB. It was really rewarding to feel him respond to me in the 5 strides between fences.

I can’t wait for my next lesson to show AB that I did learn from Saturday’s outing!

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HT on the Horizon

Jinxing myself big time here, but…I’ve sent in my entry for our first ever HT!!!!!!!

My original plan was for a mid November HT that Bette is also attending because everything is better with a friend, but that plan derailed pretty quickly when I saw the classes were either 18″ with Intro dressage or 2’3″ with BN A. What I really wanted was 2′ with BN dressage.

Why be so picky? Well, Intro dressage was walk and trot only and I want to canter. I can canter, maybe not at an 8 and maybe not always that well put together, but I can canter and have worked really hard this year to go from being afraid to not only enjoying the canter but also being able to remain functional. However, 2’3″ is too much for me right now. We are working over 2’3″ fences randomly, like the coop at the barn and that house out on xc, but not a full course. The entire single day format is going to be a bit taxing on both of us as it is, I don’t want to add height as well. I was prepared to do the 18″ division anyway to enjoy the show with friends, but then Trainer AB said she was already scheduled at a different venue that weekend and well that was that.

Wyatt had a fantastic lesson last week and ended it by riding off on a trail ride with the other girl in the lesson. Without me. On his own.

She ended up inviting me to a show she already has a group going to the following weekend. It will be at Jumping Branch Farm a couple hours from me in Aiken. They don’t allow cross country schooling the day before which a lot of the other schooling shows allow. I’m a little bummed about that but Eeyore isn’t a spooky horse so we should be ok without seeing it in advance. The plan apparently is to head down there Friday, set up stalls, then trailer over to a local venue to cross country school and head back over for the night at Jumping Branch to show the next day. We may not be schooling on the actual course, but we will school something and maybe that will help? We will find out!!!

This doofus is going to see some big dreams of mine come true. Whether he wants to or not 😂

I’m super excited and a whole lot nervous already. I have zero competitive goals, so I really could care less if we end up last. I do want to finish though and I’m not sure what will happen out there. I’m a bit queasy even writing about it!! My tasks for now are to get into a real dressage court to practice the test at least a time or two and maybe try to get another xc outing under our belt as well but we will see. I’m going out of town for continuing education the second weekend in November so that limits things a bit plus my surgery schedule is already filling up solid for the end of the year rush which limits the Fridays I can take off to ride. I still have 6 weeks though, so I refuse to let myself panic.

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Full Steam Ahead

Want to know the perfect recipe for an amazing cross-country outing?

1) Start with a horse who has decided that he is the bomb and no longer needs input from his rider

2) Add a rider who is riding as if they have never sat on a horse before

3) Complete it 10 minutes after mounting with a surprise appearance of your period which isn’t due for 2 more weeks and explains the headache, back pain and nausea you’ve been fighting all morning. Be thankful you chose your dark riding pants and have a dark saddle to avoid mortal embarrassment.

Off for adventures!

In all seriousness, even with some major issues it was a great outing filled with a lot of big deal firsts for me and while I did want to kill Eeyore a few times, he had his big boy pants on and well..I couldn’t ask for a lot more than that. Ok, I could ask for some brakes but details.

The water complex was surrounded by banks everywhere

Eeyore has been a bit of a tool lately. I’m going to say it is the cooler weather, the lack of exercise, and the fact that 30 year old Pete has awoken from his summer slumber and is picking on Eeyore non stop to play, play, play. It all has Eeyore a bit amped up. Trust me, he isn’t in any pain and his mystery right canter lead issue is a thing of the past. He is literally vibrating with excess energy which has resulted in the return of his cross tie pawing, trying to tear apart the trailer when asked to stand still and when I take his halter off to release him back to the pasture he flings his head and gallops like he hadn’t worked at all. I’m looking forward to a more consistent routine again and in fact he got ridden Friday, Saturday and Sunday and by the end of the ride Sunday he was a lot more polite about life once again.

M wanted to come watch and I tasked her with pictures. We warmed up over a simple small log hidden behind this larger log.

Trainer AB had invited another woman on her OTTB to join us for the outing and I was a bit concerned how Eeyore would behave. The last few times he has been with another horse he has decided he can not function more than 3 feet away from his new BFF. He must have learned something with our previous outings because this time he was a perfect gentleman about warming up far away, passing/being passed by the other horse, and waiting in the shade while she did her thing. He earned some big brownie points in the warm up which he then consumed during the rest of the ride.

Weee…Trainer AB is rather tired of telling me to stop hunching my back. It took only twice and I stopped so…progress.

It was pretty obvious from the start that Eeyore was happy to be out jumping and cantering around. He really lives for cross country. His exuberance and abundance of energy came out as a nice celebratory buck after each jump (ok..not a real buck more like dropping his head between his knees and faking it) then grabbing the bit and running into the sunset. He was jumping everything and anything just fine, it was the backside of the jumps that had me worried.

Look, I’m not that brave and I’ve finally gotten over wanting to puke looking at a jump. Eeyore has taught me that he will go over and that has boosted my confidence a ton. This new behavior really rattled me, I wasn’t riding all that strong and was fighting nausea and well it kinda turned into a battle of wills which isn’t a great idea.

Our first baby down bank. I think it is going to take me some time to figure out what my body should be doing

Still though, we did a line of three logs set at 4 strides which was a lot of fun. The first log was doubled and it caught him off guard a bit causing a stop the first time. After that he was game on though and tackled it with gusto. The line was a bit hairy because…well running away and all…but we did it each time both uphill and downhill and got a nod of approval from Trainer AB with a “well, sure you were getting run away with but you stayed the course and did each jump so it was good!”

After that line we moved to the bank complex which has a ramp leading up one side and then banks all around the other sides of the mound. They all looked huge to me. Trainer AB had us work on coming up the ramp then bending and going down the tiniest baby bank off it. The first few times Eeyore stopped at the lip and looked hard but he always went down without a fuss while I tried to figure out how to not be too far ahead yet not left behind.

Sorry for the quality but here we are doing the down bank

After that I thought we were done with banks because the others all looked above my pay grade, but nope. Trainer AB has more faith in me than I do. She had us trotting up the ramp then off over the bank at the far side of the complex. The first time Eeyore simply stepped off like a trail horse and Trainer AB said “Well, he made that way too easy on you. Come in with more power to encourage a jump off next time”

Which I did….

Heheheheh…

Ok..well…lets try that again….

Much better

By this point Eeyore had really decided that he was much better at this whole cross country thing than I am, which isn’t totally wrong, and really peaced out on listening to me. We would land and he would snatch the bit then run off. Trainer AB was telling me that I needed to sit up (always the answer), and kick on when he did that. We had a huge field to work with and where were we going to go? Make him work hard when he did that except I couldn’t convince myself to do it. I knew it was the right answer. I knew he would give up sooner or later because no matter how fit Frat boy thinks he is, he is lazy at heart. But feeling like I was already getting run away with and then kicking him was just not something I could convince my body to do in the moment.

She set up a nice little course for us next to help keep him thinking and responding to me versus tearing off. Fence 1 was a house, make a sweeping turn left to come to the bank then over the ramp’s tiny bank, then forward 4 strides to a log. I looked at her and blinked. The house? This house I was standing right beside? The house that is the biggest jump I have done to date? That house?!?! Yup.

I approached and uh…took a unique approach by clamping down and shutting my eyes hoping we’d make it to the other side. Probably not the best approach. We never did make that sweeping turn to the left because I had stopped riding upon the approach and Eeyore took full advantage of that crap. We stopped before we left the property though so yeah…proud of that HA!

You mean pointing at it and closing your eyes isn’t a good xc technique??

At this point I was really frustrated. I wanted to jump and I wanted to try that house again but I was really unsettled with his behavior. Trainer AB said he was having the time of his life and enjoying it and maybe it’s time to not be doing xc in a single jointed full cheek snaffle. She asked if I wanted to try another bit right then but I knew we weren’t going to be out much longer so I passed.

She wanted me to do it again but wanted a better approach to the house so she switched it up a bit. We did the double log jump we had done before then turned right to the house then left after to the down bank and the log. It went ok. I rode the house way better and we managed to keep it together but even Trainer AB agreed that Eeyore was only half listening to me and was charging forward like a horse going to war.

From there we had two more simple exercises to go. One was simply walking up and then down the huge, steep mound which he did without issue and the other was the water complex. We walked through first then trotted and then I got to canter through my first water complex!!!!!! It was so much fun.

Eeyore was pissed about the water complex. He loves water and he was hot. He wanted to swim and roll and was not pleased that I made him pick his damn head up and move

I don’t know. We’ve only been out xc once before and it was all new and I really don’t think he was being a jerk as much as just having a lot of fun and wanting to show off how brave and awesome he is. Which is fine just maybe tone it down a bit?

I had left the boys to their own devices at home. I returned and went to put my shoes away to find this in my shoe closet. Next time I’m taking the credit card with me.

Overall the outing was successful. We did our first down bank, jumped a large house and cantered through the water for the first time as well. He was game, brave and handled the stop and go format of a group outing way better than the last time. The jumps didn’t scare me at all but darn that behavior afterward sure did rattle me quite a bit.

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Let’s Play….What Is Wrong With My Horse?

Ugh guys.

I’m not panicking. I refuse to panic.

Temps over 100F combined with a hiatus to study combined with cementing myself out of the barn all added up to over 2 weeks without riding. Eeyore occupied himself in the pasture galloping around, playing bitey face with Pete, rearing and having a good time.

Went to a friend’s house and she has a goat named Lucy who has the run of the place. Now I want a goat.

Last night I finally got to ride. The temps were cool, overcast and windy. Watching him vibrate in the crossties didn’t instill a lot of confidence in me so I plopped him on the longe and let him rip. Literally at times.

He bucked and reared and farted and had a good time getting his wiggles out to the left and then I asked him to go right and he tried to nope his way right out of that. I got him to go but he was sulky, barely picked up the canter and only kept going because I forced him to. I didn’t think much of it. He had had his fun going left after all.

I tacked him up and hopped on to find a very compliant and content poneh under me. Really guys, we have come such a long long way from this time last year. We trotted and cantered left to warm up then turned to go right and he refused to pick up the right lead. He never has an issue with leads. Ever.

Wyatt trotted in his lesson last week for the first time. He was petrified but he did it. I was so proud of him.

Eventually he got the right lead, then swapped then got it again then sulked and got angry ears. It was obvious he wasn’t happy but was he not happy in the right lead or just because he was working?

Back to the left and no issues. Picked up the left lead, held it, worked on the 20 m circle. No issues.

The right? Same pissy, not wanting to pick it up, lurching into it behavior that told me he was not happy.

Well damn.

In the trot he was fine. I couldn’t detect anything off and he was happy enough to move forward and we even didn’t completely suck on the circle, but he did not want to canter right.

Well damn.

But I’m not panicking. You are panicking. Not me. I’m not having flashbacks to all last year dealing with right side lameness. Nope. I’m moving forward towards my HT debut in November. Yup. I’m fine.

Being a mom means doing trash pick up on Saturday morning with your kiddo. I will miss these days.

My game plan is to get under Trainer AB’s educated eye and maybe her butt too and see what she thinks. He was perfectly fine 2 weeks ago when I rode him last which was a flat school at home. He has been looking happy as a clam running around in the pasture. I couldn’t palpate any pain, swelling or heat anywhere and I made sure to really palpate hard around his left hip and SI area as that has been touchy before though it didn’t show up as any gait abnormality instead showing as a sensitivity to being groomed in that region. I found nothing. No reaction at all. I don’t know.

He is due for shoes next week and I may put pads on him. The ground is concrete though my arena is soft and fluffy. Maybe he is just sore from that???

Maybe????

If he is still weird tonight I’m going to make an appointment with the doc who did his lameness stuff last year. At least she will have her notes as a comparison. It may be a one off thing. Maybe he is sore from his pasture shenanigans or the hard ground or from his playing on the longe or maybe he got kicked by Pete or Gem or maybe he fell or maybe a few hundred other scenarios and he will ride perfectly fine tonight. Hopefully it isn’t anything and I’m just being paranoid but I have a gut feeling I’m screwed. We will see.

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Dumb

So….uh….yeah I did a dumb.

Want to hear all the excuses first??

I can’t recall another time in my life where I felt so stressed, stretched thin, and run down. I’m distracted. Pre occupied. Barely making it through my day without a panic attack.

Medical boards are Monday. I’ve been studying for 2 months. If I don’t pass these, I lose my hospital credentials. If I lose those, I lose my ability to accept insurance. If I lose that, I’m out of practice.

So it’s a bit important.

But I’ve taken important tests before and I can typically handle the study pressure. Only this time everything is piling up against me.

Pete can’t wait for the cooler weather to finally arrive this weekend. He doesn’t do heat very well.

Last spring Dusty signed up for a surgical wet lab. He asked if I had any plans or reasons he couldn’t go. Nope. I knew my boards would be in October but the previous 9 I have taken to qualify to take this one (this crap is a money laundering racket) have all been on a Wednesday so I figured him being gone for a Fri-Mon wasn’t going to be an issue.

Then they released the date for this 6 weeks ago and it isn’t just on a Monday, it’s on the Monday of the weekend he is gone.

Ok….I can work around that. Wyatt gets basically no screen time but when given it he will be zoned for the day. I’ll be that parent and plop my kid in front of a movie and study. My anxiety level dropped.

Me last weekend studying while I sent the kids and Dusty off on a hike to get out of the house

Except I woke up in the middle of the night a couple of weeks ago with the realization that I have to be at the testing center at 715 am that day. Wyatt’s school doesn’t open until 715 am and I haven’t figured out a way to be in two places at once yet. Panic level: crucial.

Thankfully my mom agreed to get up at o dark thirty to come to get Wyatt ready for school and drop him off for me. Crisis averted.

Ok…things were looking settled. I’d be able to study all weekend and make it to my test.

Then the cub scouts schedule got published and Saturday is a major community service project that Wyatt needs to attend. There goes my morning of studying. Frick. Still….it should wear him out so that l can study all afternoon while he naps and then watches a movie. Sanity still intact.

If only I could be this relaxed

You know what’s coming don’t you?

Except…M then told me that homecoming is Saturday night. Are you kidding me?!?!! It goes until 10 and Wyatt goes to bed at 830 and well I couldn’t take it anymore so I told her I’d take her but she needs to find a way home. I’m not waking Wyatt up at 10 pm to drive to pick her up and I can’t leave him home sleeping alone and I can’t ask anyone else to do it so screw it. I just plumb can’t do it.

So that’s where my mind has been. Frazzled and distracted and crammed full of useless medical information that only comes in handy for board examinations.

Which leads me to my dumb.

The cutest scout there is

Dusty had the contractor out to give an estimate for the aisle on Sunday. It was under budget so we jumped on scheduling it and were surprised the guy could do it Tuesday. Great! Not being able to handle anything else on my plate, I left Dusty to handling it and walked away to return to my books.

They came, they did a great job and were done Tuesday night with instructions to keep the horses off it until Saturday. Ok..no biggie. We have fed in the pasture before they can handle 4 or 5 days without coming inside.

A couple weeks late but still funny. It was 98F yesterday. It will be 97F today. Where is fall?

Except….

I didn’t take the feed out of the barn.

Or any buckets.

Or any hay to supplement the dead pasture in this horrid drought.

Or any of my tack.

Or any brushes, fly spray, first aid items.

Basically, the horses are feral and PISSED OFF right now.

Eeyore is throwing things around in the pasture and giving me the nastiest looks I have ever seen. That horse does not take to being ignored very well. Gem is happy we have left her muzzle off for now and Pete is just miserable that he has his winter coat and it is remaining near 100F still and I can’t hose him off because the hose is…..inside the barn.

So uh…yeah…I’m dumb. Don’t be me folks. If you know your barn is going to be out of commission, please prepare….take feed out and buckets and your tack and grooming supplies and fly spray needs and your sanity as well.

If Eeyore lawn darts me for my ride Monday after boards, I will have deserved it.

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15 Years: The Cementaversary

15 years ago today I said “I do” to Dusty. Nobody could have predicted the trajectory our lives would take and even with the down moments, I’d do the whole thing over again.

I was 22 and he was 27. Such young kiddos.

Since that fateful evening we have lived in 8 different cities scattered throughout 4 states. It took 13 years but we finally managed to get our dream farm.

I decided to go to medical school, attended surgical residency, became an associate then opened my own practice. My eyes are set on a new path but it’s moving slower than I’d hoped so we shall see what life brings for me there.

Our honeymoon week long horse ride from the French Alps to the Mediterranean coast. The best trip of my life.

Dusty left a good associate position and entered the emergency work force, has dabbled in relief work, returned to the associate life and now has his own practice. His eyes are set on adding additional associates and practice locations. This weekend he is off learning a new surgery technique in the knee to offer his clients.

We have been through infertility and adoption together which marked both the darkest and brightest times in our marriage.

A hand print in cement isn’t as strong as the print he has put on my heart. Wyatt is the best part of my life.

Dusty started running while I was in residency and hasn’t stopped. I think he found his true love. He has gone from barely completing his first half marathon to having multiple ultras and a 100 under his belt. He continues to push himself and find new challenges.

You all know my hobby story quite well.

Now sitting here looking back over the last 15 years I’m wondering how it all happened so fast. It seems like yesterday but also like a lifetime ago that we were two young kids building a life together. It hasn’t been easy or a given. Life throws some shady stuff at you. It also isn’t a fairy tale, romantic movie or field of daisies. Marriage is work. It’s a conscious decision to remain with the person you love, to remember to love them in dark times when everything seems piled against you, and to look towards more than yourself and your dreams for the betterment of the couple as a whole.

Dusty got me a cement aisle in my barn. It’s honestly the best gift ever. No more dirt everywhere. I love it as odd as that seems to most of the people in my life. No jewelry or flowers for this girl.

I’d do it again a million times over and I’m looking forward to the 15 and where life takes us.