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First AB Lesson Recap

AHHHH!! So much happened, so many breakthroughs!!! I started the lesson hyperventilating and visibly shaking with nerves and ended it with a grin and a thirst for more. What more can you ask for from a 45 minute long lesson? Nothing!

The large picture view of the lesson was not earth shattering. We did a lot of work in the trot and canter, then tackled some ground poles, and ended over a tiny cross rail that was maybe 18″. But the power was in the nitty gritty details that gave me the ability to change my conversation with Eeyore and have the tools to deal with his very strong personality without it turning into a fight. Now I am addicted and want more, more, more.

Eeyore loaded up at home fine and then proceeded to try to hide in the trailer.

The burning question of the evening was how he would handle the lesson situation as a whole and that answer is a bit hard to pin down. A lot of things were different about Thursday that separated it from previous experiences and I am not fully sure what all made the biggest impact. For starters, a boy on his young pony joined us in the ring. At first, Eeyore wanted nothing more than to crawl inside that pony’s skin, but he eventually got over it and settled in to the work at hand. Second, we were not stuffed on a tiny circle to quite literally spin farther and farther out of control and were instead told to use the entire arena to my advantage. Third, Trainer AB had me work him from the get go. No more walk-halt-walk warm up. She wanted those feet moving from the time I mounted with very little time wasted in the walk. It set the tone right away. Last, Trainer AB hopped in the stirrups after watching me trotting him around. She wanted to get a good feel for him to better instruct me on what to do and it gave us both a lot if insight into the inner workings of his brain.

Things never escalated. Sure, things weren’t always pretty and her end analysis is that he is very difficult on the flat, but workable and we should make huge gains quickly, but nothing ever felt out of control to me. I think this is tricky to explain because he wasn’t magically more compliant, but instead I was given a better way to respond and therefor I never got tense and was able to keep my own brain functioning to counteract his behaviors as they presented themselves. I wasn’t stuck in a negative loop of “don’t do a” and instead could think “do b”.

I swear he actually enjoys travelling one we get going

I really think that not being stuffed on a circle had the biggest impact on the evening. I always hated being shoved on a circle even when I rode Gem. I knew the point was to use the circle to naturally force balance and a slower pace, but when you lack the skill set to have proper bend, use your aides timely, and still remember to breathe, the circle spirals out of control pretty quickly. Yet every lesson, even ones in which I jumped her, I would find myself stuck back on that infernal circle for an hour without relief. This time, I was immediately told to use the entire arena and it gave me more time to react to him and get things back under control without the worry of having to concentrate on the bend and steering. Basically, it let me be the beginner that I am.

After Trainer AB worked him a solid while in the canter, we had a chat about him. She didn’t hate him, so there was that. Her analysis was that he is used to getting his own way and he does this by being a jerk which then creates a rider who is locked down and tense. Once that happens, he is free to grab the bit and run off to do whatever he decided was more fun be that bulging his shoulder, cutting the corner, or changing gait. When she focused on keeping him on the current path and ignored his back end so that he could canter sideways if that is what he chose as long as he kept on the rail and went where she said, he quickly returned to being a normal horse as it was way more work to canter around sideways than to just comply and go where she wanted. I had the opportunity to work on this a lot and it was much easier to do than I thought it would be.

Continuing along in the flat work, Trainer AB wanted me to stop focusing on perfection which ended up being another major breakthrough. When I would ask for a down transition, say from canter to trot, I would immediately get after him for a great trot which is how I was taught in the past. She wasn’t too thrilled with this and said that I need to break it down for him more. He isn’t a baby, but he also isn’t a highly trained professional either so we need to cut him a little slack. When I would ask for the trot, she didn’t care what trot I got as long as it happened when I said. After a few strides, I was then to package him up. So it would look like this: canter-ask for trot-get a flopping limb flailing trot-praise the down transition-3 strides later package him into a good quality trot-ask for walk-get a floppy walk-praise the down transition-3 strides later get a good quality walk-loose rein. I know in the future we will need to get higher quality right away but not where we are at right now. I’m not sure if this had that big of an impact on Eeyore, but it sure took a lot of the stress off me to have that perfection taken off the table. By the time we finished the flat work and moved on to ground poles, he was really relaxed, calm and listening.

The ground poles were really funny. Honestly, by this point we were both caked in sweat and breathing hard so I was surprised we moved on to something else. She did chastise me a bit for calling him lazy. In her opinion he is not lazy and actually has a huge engine and endless supply of fuel. He is just really good at faking it. She set up 4 trot poles on the long side sorta left of center. She warned me that everyone messes this exercise up (spoiler: I didn’t!! Though I did then mess up the next one pretty bad so karma) and to not worry if I did. You can see my awful paint rendition of the exercise below. It was focused on riding away from the poles, bending right, changing bend left, riding over poles, bending left, changing bend right etc…

I know this is awful but you get the gist of the exercise. Lots of changing the bend and keeping his feet moving and brain guessing

We started heading towards the gate and he clobbered the crap out of the poles, scattering them everywhere because he was focused on where the pony was and didn’t even see the poles. We bent right, then argued going around left but I kept in mind her instructions to wiggle the reins and let him swing wide if he wants to make life harder and we got around on the path I wanted without wavering and came back through the poles. This time he turned the 4 poles into two jumps with a bounce in the middle. He charged forward, jumped the first two, landed in between 2 and 3, and then immediately jumped out over 3 and 4. She laughed and we came around to do it again. He clobbered them once again going towards the gate, stayed in the trot and didn’t argue about the exit strategy but then once again bounced over them heading back through. She told me that he is a cute jumper. I really liked how she didn’t get upset, yell or criticize me at all through these baubles and instead remained calm, pointed out the positives and had me approach again. It kept me calm and ready to try again instead of dreading the next trip around. It took about 5 or 6 cycles through but eventually he calmly and politely trotted through each way although she helped me cheat a little on the approach that he preferred to canter through by oh so non nonchalantly stepping in front of the line of poles as we came in to them and then just as slowly and non nonchalantly stepping to the side which helped break up the line for him visibly and kept me more focused because running over your Trainer is a bad thing. It was little things like that where she interjected so tiny and quietly that had a big influence and just blew my mind.

Once he went through that exercise no issues, and I was proud of myself for making all the proper turns, I thought we were done. But no. She asked where I was at in my jumping him. I explained that I like to add jumps as a reward for all the flat work but that I generally trot into them all, canter out when I feel ok, and have only done mostly single fences. She said that jumping a course would be extremely difficult on him since his flat work is so complicated at the moment. We couldn’t just do flat work between the fences since well…sometimes it takes us a while to get him on the same page. She did want to do a cross rail though to end it so she kept 2 ground poles and made a tiny cross rail at the end. We came at it towards the barn since that was his better direction over the poles and she wanted me to bend right after. Well, my brain was still thinking of the last exercise, so we cantered away, bent right, bent left and came at it on the wrong lead since I have zero idea how to get a lead change and he didn’t magically offer one up on his own. She laughed and said to just continue going around to the right to approach from the same direction, so we came around again.

Hot and sweaty at the end of a great ride

She also wanted me to ride the back side stronger which is a big weakness of mine. I get so focused on getting to and over a jump that I sorta stop riding and let the horse do whatever on the backside. Not good. The last time I approached, we hopped over the tiny cross rail no issue and then wonders of wonders I rode him away from that jump like a normal person and then turned once we hit the rail. She let us stop after that with sweat running down both our bodies.

After all of that we had a bit of a chat as to my goals and for the firs time in my adult riding life I had a Trainer tell me “you are a lovely rider and you can do more than you currently think”. She does agree that we have some issues, but she thinks they should be easily fixed with some reconditioning on both our ends and that she may not let me do an amoeba level HT instead hitting starter next spring once we have polished up the flat work a bit. She thinks he is super smart and once he figures out I won’t let him get away with his crap we will make a lot of progress together. I drove home grinning like a fool, had verbal diarrhea all over my poor unsuspecting husband, then repeated the experience to poor Emma who texted me about something else altogether and finally passed out because I was past my bed time. What a great first experience with Trainer AB!

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Welcome to the Tribe, Trainer AB!!!!!!

Believe what you will, but I like to think that the Universe is on our side. There have been way too many instances in my life for me to personally think otherwise. The week after the Hunter Pace with Bette and KC, I ran into a friend at Chipotle. I hadn’t seen Barbara in close to two years and we eat at Chipotle a lot. Anyway…we got to catching up and she asked me who I was riding with these days (after telling me a harrowing tale of her last event with a separated shoulder hanging useless against her side. Eventers are a tough breed) and I told her I was in between trainers at the moment. She got real excited and told me she knew of the perfect person for me. I contacted AB and had my first lesson with her last night.

No related media so have some pretty pictures to look at in general

It was AMAZING. But…you will have to wait until the next post for those details. Today I want to talk about the overall vibe and her training methods. I’ve been on the hunt for a trainer to call my own since returning to riding in 2009. I never could find what I was looking for and was beginning to think I never would. Maybe I was just being too picky. Until I met AB. Everything felt right. Everything clicked. I know training styles and methods vary greatly and this post is not a treatise on the correct way to go about learning how to event nor is it a backhanded dis on anyone’s methods because all roads lead to Rome and all that. But for me and for this horse and in this moment in time, this is the only method that has made sense to me and I am oh so thankful to Barbara for the recommendation. I owe her a burrito or something.

My riding instruction to date has been pretty negative overall. Everyone I’ve ridden with has always focused on what not to do. Don’t pull. Don’t brace your lower leg. Don’t go around so straight. Don’t post so fast. Which is fine. I did need to stop doing those things, but not only did it give the entire lesson a very negative feel it also didn’t provide me with what to do in place of those things. Great. I’ll stop pulling but now he is zooming off or cutting the corner or doing whatever and I obviously have no idea what else to do so now I’m back to pulling and getting scolded. There was no other options provided.

Waggy thinks the ground poles are really fun sticks

I read an article several years ago about the human brain. Apparently, according to this author, the brain doesn’t register the negative such as DON’T. When you think “don’t spook” all your brain registers is “spook” and so you do. If you change the internal conversation to “walk calmly past the tree” you will. Going around and around a 20 m circle for 30 straight minutes being told “don’t pull, don’t brace, don’t etc….” was a whole lot of don’t-ing.

You know what AB never did, not a single time in an hour even when I messed up? She never said a negative word. NOT ONE SINGLE TIME. She never said “don’t pull against him” Instead she said “act a little silly up there, be loose and get him confused so he refocuses on what it is you are up to”. Instead of “don’t brace your lower leg” she said “can you bend your knee a little more to bring the leg back?”. Everything was spun in not only a positive reinforcement type manner, but with an action I could perform to change the conversation. It felt empowering instead of degrading. The end result was similar – I stopped pulling – but instead of feeling bad about my ability to ride, I felt encouraged and like I could make a change.

She had a similar approach to training Eeyore. I’m a control freak wimp and my warm up is centered around walk-halt-walk transitions until I feel like he is dialed in and listening. She wasn’t really a fan of that approach. She explained, and I will probably get this a little wrong in my translation, that in her opinion everything we teach the horse has to be with cross country in mind as that is the riskiest phase. She doesn’t want to teach Eeyore something in the arena and then have to undo that out on course. This all boiled down to one simple fact: the answer should always and forever be forward. We want to teach him that his “yes maam” should always be seen as forward momentum, looking ahead, wanting to move.

Old picture but I love him and I love this face

In regards to warm up then, she would prefer if I didn’t spend so much time teaching him to anticipate me shutting him down and instead teach him that from the moment I mount, we are going some where. So let him canter instead of trot if he breaks. Who cares? I need to control the direction and the pace, but if I say walk and he trots? Ask myself this: is he moving forward, is he going where I want and is he in front of my leg? If the answer is yes to all those, then let him go and slowly bring him back after a lap or two. In so doing, he will expect a forward ride every time. Breaks to canter from the trot? Same thing. Is he moving forward, in front of my leg, where I want to go? Then let him canter a lap or two then bring him back to the trot no fuss.

This came up again when jumping. I told her that he gets a bit rushy and that I like to use circles and halting after a jump to settle him. She wasn’t a fan of that again saying that forward is the answer. She didn’t want me to teach him to get nervous in the air or shut down wondering if this time I’m going to make him halt on the backside. Instead, she wants him going over every jump thinking about moving forward away from it on the back side. She said this all teaches him to be brave and bold out on the cross country course which is what we want in the end.

Pay attention to me!!

I’m not saying this is the only method of training an event horse or that it is even the best, but I can tell you that by the end of that lesson I had a much happier, forward and easy going gelding than I had starting it and I was a much more relaxed rider as well. The entire vibe of the lesson was uplifting and building confidence and skills instead of past experiences where I would leave dejected and questioning whether I should just return to the trails and give this whole thing up. Which was pretty magical if you ask me.

I’m sure I’m leaving some stuff out but these were the main philosophies that really stuck with me. I think she will be an excellent fit for us and I can’t wait to lesson with her again. Stay tuned for the actual lesson recap which will be jam packed with info!

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Rock…….Me…….Hard Place

What do you do when you want to improve your skill set and ability?

Take lessons.

What do you do when you want your horse to improve his skill set and ability?

Take lessons.

His new Eponia bridle came and it is lovely. Rich chocolate brown with white stitching and the cob fits him well. I need a bigger brow band for his block head and I want to order a bit with smaller rings as I can’t raise the nose band any more and the bit rests on it which is less than ideal.

What do you do when the one thing that sets your horse off the most is taking a lesson?

I don’t know.

Eeyore came from a lesson barn situation and not the best lesson barn situation either. I know he had been there about a year though how intensely he was used is unknown to me. I can take some wild stabs though at how those lessons went down from some things I witnessed while there.

A larger brow band would stop the crown from being pulled into his ears. It was a lovely weekend to get two rides in in to days.

Since being home with me I’ve noticed a strange pattern emerge and each time it reared it’s ugly head, sometimes very literally, I could easily blame it on extraneous matters but the saddle fitting debacle has brought it front and center and now I have to figure out what to do in order to move forward.

You all may think I’m crazy but the moment someone walks into the arena with us and it starts looking an awful lot like a lesson is about to go down Eeyore loses his ever loving mind. I’m talking jigging, bolting wildly and at random, curling his chin to his chest, snaking his head violently around and eventually rearing. His whole body becomes rigid and it’s like he is prepared for some intense battle when all I’m asking for is a walk in a large easy circle.

How he goes when nobody is in the arena with us. Yesterday morning he was butter in my hands. SO MUCH FUN. I yelled over to Dusty and asked him to come grab some media for me. We were at the far end and Eeyore had yet to realize Dusty had entered the arena. .

It gets worse and worse the longer it goes on too. There is no talking him off this ledge. It happened when he was first with me and TrJ came to my house. I blamed his questionable soundness and the saddle. It happened when the saddle fitters came to fit him the first time. I blamed the saddles. It happened when I trailered him to TrC. I blamed the 45 minute wait for her to decide to show up. It happened at this last saddle fitting appointment and there was nothing left to blame.

This isn’t reproducible at my home rides. Sure we aren’t perfect and he throws his opinions in from time to time and our bend isn’t great and my steering isn’t always on point but he always, always remains calm. Maybe a bit defiant but always calm, cool and level headed. He doesn’t rear. He doesn’t jig. He doesn’t snake his head around in angry protest. None of it.

Then we came around and he saw Dusty standing there. Seriously its a wonder how he is able to trot froward while his head is parallel to the ground and not fall on his face. Or kick himself in the head. You can see in the last picture that he is staring Dusty down hard core and paying zero attention to me on him. Once Dusty left the arena? Back to being easy going and lovely. We went on to have a great ride with some of the best bend I’ve ever gotten.

I was so very proud of him Thursday too. He traveled well in 90F heat over 2 hours to unload at a brand new facility after hours with not another soul in sight. He unloaded, looked around and then got busy grazing. No screaming. No fuss. He wasn’t even nervous.

He stood still for her measurements to the point where she told me he was a most excellent boy. And he was! When we tacked him up, I walked him next to a picnic bench and mounted from there. As far as I know he has never seen a picnic bench before let alone be mounted by one and he never batted an eye. Just did what I asked.

Back to being a regular horse. This happens every time I try to get into a lesson with him. He melts down.

And the shittiest part is that if she had not been there I could have taken him to the jump or derby or even xc field and had a blast. The fitter went to her van to make notes while I mounted and began walking him around the empty parking field. I had decided to just ride him there for the fitting as it was grass and fenced in. He was fine. A little distracted by the sprinklers that came on, but he marched forward with a relaxed and swinging back.

We walked in a circle getting warmed up after the trailer ride and he was fine. It didn’t even cross my mind he would be anything but A GOOD BOY given his amazing behavior at home and his outing at the hunter pace. I didn’t even think about his past performances because I had blamed those all on things I have since eliminated. But the moment the fitter came walking over and said “ok, please circle to the right for me” it was game over.

He became a rigid steel beam. He curled his chin to his chest. He refused to do anything but jig or bolt. By the final time she made an adjustment and I got back on he went straight up in the air all four off the floor and I called it a night. I never even got to canter in the saddle. He was a lathered mess. She was a bit shell shocked at his behavior and tried to make excuses: the ride over, the fact he was alone.

But in that moment I knew. It was none of that. It had never been any of the reasons I thought. Had she stayed at her van everything would have been fine. I could have done anything with him. But the moment he recognized a lesson type scenario he was gone.

I told him he doesn’t deserve all the fancy gear I’m buying for him, but he does. I do adore my Orange Butthead even with his quirks.

I have been thinking about this a lot since then. I need to take lessons. I need to learn more skills and improve. I want to clinic. I want to go on adventures. I’m going to have to figure this out but it’s hard when lessons are the one thing he flips out about.

Some friends, who are probably tired of hearing me talk about this, have given me a lot of suggestions. Try a lesson using a head set and a trainer not in the arena. Try a lesson while the trainer is also mounted. Try a lesson where I’m given an exercise, perform it in full while trainer disappears, then go hang out and talk about how it went while the trainer gives treats and pets Eeyore letting him rest. Make the trainer a good safe spot.

The issue is finding a trainer willing/able to do any or all of those things. It’s useless to trailer him out to a lesson just to have him crumple in a heap and then spend the hour pleading with the trainer to believe me, he isn’t like this at home. You all have seen the videos. Lots of newbie rider errors but a calm and steady horse. I don’t have that horse with me when I lesson. And boot camp? Unless boot camp puts him in a lesson string it won’t help. Having a pro take time to ride him in an arena alone won’t do it. The only benefit would be him knowing the trainer better and maybe feeling more comfortable? I don’t know. That’s an expensive experiment I’d like to avoid if possible.

Its been an oven around here lately. The pond comes up into the pasture the horses are currently in and they are taking full advantage of the cool water. Pete and Eeyore have both come in for dinner having obviously rolled in the pond. Gemmie acts as lifeguard and is above such shenanigans.

This is not something I know how to deal with. It’s new to me. I’m going to give it my all and I have two trainers that are highly recommended by friends that I am in touch with and will hopefully be able to figure out a scenario where things don’t suck. I’m hoping to get a lesson scheduled in the next week or two, but need to discuss how to go about having a successful lesson and not a stressed out brawl which gets nobody anywhere.

I don’t know though. This isn’t a snag I was prepared to hit.

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The Tribe Expands

Horse people can be a little crazy. Fortunately, I’ve been getting better at weeding those folks out and surrounding myself with knowledgeable, kind folks who make me feel important even though I’m not.

The Black Country fitter is one of those and I am so glad I found this saddle so I could add her to my network of people who are helping me succeed.

Everything about this appointment was amazing…from her early communication to her getting special permission to use a facility after hours to her hands on exam and expert advice. She even kept her cool when one certain Orange Butthead most certainly did not and did his best to show off his airs above ground. It was everything I wanted in a saddle fitting experience.

We me tat a schooling facility called http://The Vista. Wow is pretty much all I can say. This is probably the nicest facility I have ever seen. The driveway entrance had a red and white flag on either side welcoming all.

She services the entire east coast so even though she is based 2 hours away in Aiken, getting with her was looking a bit hairy. An unfortunate need to meet with the mental health counselor at Wyatt’s elementary school granted me a Thursday afternoon off and the ability to trailer down to her last night. I was a bit nervous about the whole ordeal. My experiences in the past left much to be desired and saw the fitter throwing saddle after saddle on the horse and asking me to ride and tell them what I thought. No measuring. No hands on. Really, the only benefit was being able to try numerous models without paying shipping.

I was pleasantly surprised when the first thing she did was palpate his back, watch him walk in a straight line and then took numerous measurements. She explained that she prefers to do all of this before looking at a specific saddle so as to remain unbiased. She asked me a ton of questions about my riding as well: which bend was harder, what was my natural leg position, did I tend to hit long spots or chip in while jumping, did he have issues in up or down transitions? I felt a bit like an imposter answering these. I’m no greatest gift to riding over here and I generally attribute everything to my lack of skill versus gear or horse issues, but I did my best: left bend was harder, I tend to brace with my lower leg in front when nervous or tense, I chip in all the time, transitions don’t seem to be an issue. She then wrote down everything she would want in a saddle had I been ordering custom before laying her hands on the saddle I brought with me.

Diagnosis? I was one lucky mother when it came to purchasing my used Wexford.

The grounds were perfectly manicured too. They have a grass jump arena, dressage courts, a derby field and too many xc fences for me to count.

The saddle had everything she wanted in a saddle for him, the tree size was spot on and the only issue was bridging in the center of the panels. She took the saddle off to work on the flocking. It was much fuller upfront and softer in the back and she wanted to remove all the flocking and level it out to start with a neutral saddle. When she got inside the guts she was surprised to find that it had recently been strip flocked with all brand new wool inside. She told me “You won’t have to strip this saddle for the next 10 years”.

Once she had evened it all out and fixed the bridging issue, we tacked up and I got on. I have a lot to say about Eeyore, but that will be a train wreck post for another day soon. Lets just say he was not on his best behavior Thursday night and I have a lot of opinions as to why and what to do next. But for now, we stayed on a circle and did walk and trot only because cantering was not an option or I probably would have died. In fact by the end, trotting wasn’t even an option. But…

The first go around she wasn’t happy with it. She said that the saddle was shifting left and that if my left bend is the harder side for me naturally anyway, the saddle could not shift left at all or it would make it harder. Centered or slightly right would be better. She also noted that I do have the bad habit of bracing my leg forward when tense or nervous and had a trick up her sleeve to help me with that too. Off the saddle came and she wen back into her van of wonders.

Since it was after hours, my little rig was the only one in the parking area. They close at 5 pm for schooling. they are hosting their first recognized event this fall having only done schooling shows in the past.

We tacked back up and I hopped on again. This time the saddle was more centered, felt more secure side to side and I stared at her with my eyes the size of dinner plates and asked why the seat all of a sudden felt twice as deep and more secure. She apparently had added more wool just in front of my seat bones to force me to rock my hips back under me, sit back and up and stop the leg bracing. I had zero idea that you could do all that with a minor flocking adjustment but there it was. My mind was blown.

She still wasn’t happy enough with the front flocking and thought it was just a smidge too left again, so off it came and she added more flocking to the front left panel. The last time I got on was short and ugly, but it confirmed the saddle was dead center on him. I felt like I was being pushed a bit too much to the right, but she assured me I was perfectly straight for the first time. I guess I will need to grow accustomed to being straight and even in my saddle for once.

She did look at the Bates as well and it was pretty clear from the start that there was a big pressure point right behind his shoulder where I had been seeing the dry spots after rides of late.

Don’t let his expression fool you. He was anything but sweet.

Overall she kept telling me what a great find this saddle was. I paid $1200 for it and she told me that new it would be $4,000 to get the same thing plus she had never seen one in this condition used for under $2,500. I guess if things don’t work out with Butt head I could at least make some money on this saddle.

As for the half pad debate: no half pad needed. In fact, she said I shouldn’t even need to buy a new girth now that it was flocked better for him and I still had one hole I could go tighter, but I’ll probably still buy a shorter one for my own piece of mind. She said that if he loses a bunch of weight this summer and gets more fit, I may need to get a half pad to help the fit of the saddle since right now he is pretty fat and the saddle is very wide, but as long as his shape does not change from where it is right now, a half pad is not only not needed but would be detrimental.

I’m excited to hop in the saddle at home and give it a real spin and see how it feels. With his atrocious behavior, I really could not get a good feel for it last night but I am optimistic things are going to be great. She wanted me to text her an update after a few rides and said we can always meet up again sometime to adjust as we both get more used to it.

Overall, I was so so pleased with her and her knowledge. She was just the type of professional I adore: kind, smart and willing to answer my one million insane questions without getting frustrated with me. I’m happy to add her to my list of support crew in this stupid endeavor.

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Educate Me!! – Half Pad Use

Ok, folks…I’m having a tiny bit of a mental melt down over here and need some information from you all.

A bit of background. Eeyore is extremely sensitive to most things in life that surround working. He is the Princess and the Pea personified and will not hesitate to inform me when he disapproves of something. I had tried so many girths on him including fleece, cool tech, chafeless and leather and all were met with an inappropriate amount of displeasure. I finally landed on a ridiculously overpriced EquiFit memory foam lined anatomic leather girth that he adores. No more pinned ears and trying to bite me when I tack him up. No more issues under saddle (well, no more tack related issues under saddle) and all is right with the world.

No relevant media, so here are more from the hunter pace. Eeyore had just tried rearing at the trailer and I had grabbed the dressage whip and smacked the side of the trailer. This was his response. If looks could kill.

He goes in a 50″ with the Bates and it was always a bit too small. Nothing major – I could get it on the 3rd hole from the bottom both sides without having a hernia while tacking him up but it always took a minute and required him to suck it in a bit and was difficult. I debated getting a 52″ but the price tag stopped me. 2″ and a little less grunting wasn’t worth it.

I’ve long drooled over several different half pads and see a lot of bloggers out there riding with a half pad under their saddle to help with shock absorption and comfort. I know which brand I’d buy and what color, but the deal breaker was my girth. If the 50″ was a struggle without a half pad, adding that bulk under the saddle would make it not usable and I couldn’t see shelling outing about $600 for a half pad plus a new EquiFit girth when things were going ok with my set up and I’m not jumping anything major over here. So no half pad for us.

KC on Eeyore!

Except…..

The Wexford, which I absolutely adore in every way shape and form, must have exceedingly long billets because the 50″ is now way too long. It is on the absolute top hole and uh…KC almost slid right off his side after he got super sweaty and shed a few ounces out on the hunter pace and the saddle slid right down his belly while she was cantering him. Embarrassing.

I now absolutely have to do something about this. But here is where my overly taxed and over thinking brain is getting fried.

I could purchase a new EquiFit girth in a smaller size and continue on with life as is. Or….I could spend that same amount of money on a half pad and keep my current girth which should fit with the additional bulk of a half pad. This has the added benefit of having a girth that would still work with the Bates since if I go the route of buying a new EquiFit I’d probably need to sell my current one to make up for it and then I wouldn’t have a girth that would fit that saddle at all. Ugh…my brain hurts.

Got a major sunburn during the ride and I love it. Bring on summer!!!!

But I’ve never used a half pad before and I’m not even sure I really need one beyond…wanting one really badly. Which is where you all are coming in.

If you use a half pad of any brand, why? Does it aid in the fit of your saddle or are you using it for concussive reasons? Or both? Do you always ride with one or just when you jump? Please educate me!!!!!

Finally being chill while still managing to give me major side eye to make sure I’m still paying attention to him

I do have an appointment with a Black Country rep on Thursday evening to evaluate the saddle and re flock it for me. I’m going to ask her all these questions and since there is a 0% chance of me getting a new girth before Thursday (the only tack stores that carry it are over an hour away and close at 6 pm which makes it impossible for me to get there on a weekday), I’m kinda stuck with a too long but works ok for now girth for the fitting anyway. I will be picking her brain regarding the use of a half pad with this saddle for him. Don’t worry! I will be working with a professional, but I also love the hive mind of the blogging community so please chime in here and educate me on your own use of a half pad and the reasoning behind it!!!

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FENCE Spring Hunter Pace

Nothing beats a sunny day on the trail with friends. KC and Bette met me at a gorgeous nature preserve in NC for a hunter pace yesterday and it did not disappoint. I was a bit worried how Eeyore would handle the controlled chaos of the parking area and spent a lot of time Saturday night debating on hauling him tacked or not. Dusty eventually told me “treat him like the good boy he is and tack him up at the ride like you prefer”. He was right. If I want him to be the way I want, I need to start treating him that way.

He loaded up and was ready to go without a fuss. I swear he wasn’t grouchy about it. He hates me taking pictures because it means I’m not giving him attention

I planned my arrival an hour before our agreed meeting time so that I wouldn’t feel rushed in registering and tacking up. He was surprisingly pretty nonchalant unloading though I think having horses in every direction really helped him. The only time he lost his cool was when others were mounted and rode off in the distance without him.

Teaching him to wait patiently at the trailer was not quite as hard as I thought

Unfortunately Bette had some trailer issues and ended up pulling in just over an hour late. Eeyore was keeping it together as best he could but by then he was pretty hot and bored with the whole thing and most of our neighbor horses were out on trail. I ended up taking him into the field a few times to do ground work and help refocus his brain.

He is weird and uses his front legs to scratch by crossing one over the other and rubbing. I didn’t even know horses legs could do that

Once KC and Bette arrived and got checked in, it was time to hit the trail! Being a hunter pace, we had no clue how far the trail was or what to expect. This was the first time on these private trails and all I could see was an uphill start.

Eventually he settled enough to eat his hay bag and glare at me

The start was backed up a bit with large groups of riders and I got a bit nervous about how he would take other groups riding off. He wasn’t perfect but after I parked him beside Bette on Mason he was ok enough while we waited our turn.

Big boy got to learn all about being in the back. It will take some time for him to learn spacing, but you can only teach that by doing

Then it was the count down and we were off! It felt like we should kick them into a gallop with the count down and all, but I wanted Eeyore to learn to control himself so I had asked KC and Bette if it was ok with them for us to walk and they were cool with it.

Eeyore prefers to lead on trail and is brave and bold however he makes bad decisions regarding flying forward to join other groups of riders so he got to spend a lot of time in the back

The trail itself was a gorgeous mix of wide mowed grassy paths and winding wooded trails. We found plenty of opportunity to open them up in long canter stretches and Eeyore was a very good boy throughout. He was a bit bargey when another group passed us and moved out ahead but really at 8 years old and with his last trail experience being in October (7 months ago) I’d say he was darn good.

Riding on the buckle!!

We chatted about life, horses and future plans as we wandered along. There were several pretty scary bridge crossings that were basically elevated cement platforms with moving water underneath and no side rails and Eeyore went over each without hesitation even leading over a few of them. Really he never said no except at the very start when he was in the lead and saw the first ribbon.

The paces around here have some of the most beautiful views of any trails I’ve ever ridden

By the time we hit the mandatory hold, he had the wind knocked out of his sails a bit and was really hot and tired. We waited in line at the water trough and he drank some good deep drinks while I poured water over him with my drinking cup. Only a few people were obnoxious and rude and we managed to get out of there without me killing anyone so that was another win in my book.

Gorgeous views everywhere

We all got ready to remount and tackle the last section of trail and I wasn’t thinking much as I grabbed the saddle and got ready to swing my leg back over Eeyore. KC had asked to ride him and the plan was to switch at the hold. Well, she had not forgotten that even if I had and politely pointed out that I was mounting the wrong horse. Hahahahaha!!!

I’m not sure I could have stopped KC from riding Eeyore LOL! She looked good on him

I happily handed her his reins, kicked Bette off her gelding making her ride KC’s borrowed mount Finn (also owned by Bette so it wasn’t like I made her ride an unknown horse so I could steal her saint of a gelding though I might still have done it LOL) and we all left the hold on different horses to finish the ride.

A different set of ears for me

Eeyore was a really good boy for her, not a surprise – she rides fantastically, and we found plenty of places to open up so she could experience his lovely canter. For his part, my new ride Mason was a saint and I surprised myself at how comfortable I felt on a strange horse in strange tack cantering down the trail. Not that long age and I never would have done that.

A happy day out on the trail

The hold had been at the 2/3rds mark so we didn’t have much more to go. The trail got pretty steep and I wanted KC that Eeyore has zero sense of where his feet go and sorta just relies on gravity to get him to the bottom of hills not really caring if he ends up there in a heap. She did get to experience this though it was made worse by some idiots coming flying up behind us without warning.

I did threaten to send Eeyore back with KC and steal Mason but he doesn’t jump and I’m still hoping to do xc some day so that ruled that out. Plus uh well Bette owns Mason and so me stealing him and giving KC Eeyore wouldn’t really work our for Bette. 🤷‍♀️

He was too tired at the end to care about being on the trailer with no other horses around. Also, I had debated which saddle to use and ended with the Wexford. Besides needing a smaller girth it worked really well, was comfy even after all those hours and he was not reactive anywhere at the end. It’s a keeper!

We arrived back safe, sound and while hot and thirsty, happy. Eeyore got a bucket of water with Cool Down in it back at the trailer which is my favorite way to end a hot ride for my horse. He drank deeply from am offered bucket and dug into his hay bag before dozing off while I got everything put away. He was pretty tired but happy and I’m hoping he learned a thing or two during that outing.

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Life Lessons

Having the right equipment makes life easier.

I remember back in my competitive whitewater days, I had a very old, very well travelled closed canoe that I purchased for $75 and fondly named Fugly. That thing was old school and even after spending many a summer evening covered in resin and fiberglass, that boat never did fit me right.

The first year I attended Jr. Ntl. Championships in South Bend Indiana was with Fugly. You can see why I named her that.

Then one day my coach convinced me to stop being a tight wad with my money and buy a boat better suited. My eyes were set on the Junior National Championships for a second year and the thought of showing up with Fugly again wasn’t appealing. We found my Norma Jean, a smaller, newer and more streamlined vessel that I still have to this day.

Norma Jean. A better fit to my body type and size.

The first time I took her in the water it was like coming home. All my technical flaws didn’t magically go away, but some did and it was easier to execute everything. My turns between the gates was quicker and better timed. Upstream gates were more easily ducked under saving precious seconds. She cut through the water cleaner.

It was my first lesson in making sure your equipment is the best suited for your own body type and athletic style in your chosen sport.

Because I’m now down memory lane and miss this dog with every fiber of my being after four years without her, here is Bones enjoying the river inside the kayak

Last night I threw the Wexford up on Eeyore. For a brief moment I debated riding in the Bates since it had been nearly 10 days since I last rode him and after that much time he is usually pretty expressive. Then I thought that would be the perfect time to test this thing out and see how secure it really was. Sure, it may leave a few questions as to his comfort but by now I’m pretty familiar with his attitude and figured I could tell the difference between “I always assume I’m fully retired after any time off at all and now I’m angry that I’m back to work” and “Ouch! This is pinching me! Take it off!”

The ride went about as expected. He started off pretty amenable to life, coasting around at the walk and trying to look at anything and everything that would avoid having to pay attention to my requests up on him. Typical Eeyore stuff.

The fit was really lovely. The flocking needs some adjusting but the bones of it fit him nicely

What I did notice right off the bat was that my lateral aides were not only easier to use but were also getting through to him louder and clearer. My legs naturally dangled straight down and I wasn’t fighting the need to constantly bring them back to use them. I always tend more toward my legs being forward and braced so it wasn’t necessarily a Bates issues but it also wasn’t being corrected in it either. In the Wexford I never had to remind myself to bring my leg back under me.

In fact, at the walk at least, he gave me some of the best bend on a 20 m circle to date.

Until he realized this was going to be work and flipped me the bird that is. I have his number on that one though. Typically I will let him canter. A lot of times once he gets moving and gets his initial ADD knocked out of him he settles into “OMG I’m going to die! Can’t breathe. Can’t move” mode and life gets good again. Not always though. Yesterday he needed more of a reminder of who is boss here so after we careened around a while fighting each other, I made him do rapid fire transitions between walk, halt and trot randomly and allowing only 3-5 steps in each before changing.

Wither clearance was spot on too. I’m a bit worried t may be too snug around his large shoulders and fat deposits but again, some flocking changes should help and weight loss would be even better

That got his attention real fast and soon enough he was once again pliable. He never fully settled but again it had been 10 days and I gave him some leeway there.

What I loved though was that in the Wexford my posture was naturally and easily more vertical. The Bates always has me slightly forward which made getting out of the tack to jump easy but made things like sitting the canter really hard. Plus I naturally tend to tilt forward in a defensive fetal position so it isn’t necessarily the fault of the Bates but again it wasn’t helping either.

Post ride. Looks the same as pre ride. That folks is a big deal. Even with the anatomic girth the Bates tends to slide forward a bit during the ride and always gave me some ruffles hairs when I took it off. This saddle has an after market customization that includes a point billet and a rear v billet that keeps this thing exactly where you put it.

In the Wexford, my legs hung down and my back sat straight. In fact, I was so vertical I worried I wouldn’t be able to get out of the tack to jump. When we did canter, I wasn’t magically relaxed and flowing with him but I also wasn’t posting and fighting to just get my butt down and in the seat either. I was connected and being connected allowed him to lift his front end up and slow down so I wasn’t feeling like we were going nowhere very fast.

I did manage to pop him over a few jumps and liked how I could follow him better to the base and didn’t feel like I was already half way up his neck before take off. It wasn’t hard to get out of the tack either.

Overall, I’m as in love as I remember from my trial last fall. The structure suits my anatomy and helps ease some of my natural flaws and tendencies without creating new issues. I’m not all of a sudden a Grand Prix rider but I’m also feeling like I’m not fighting my tack either.

Having the right equipment matters. I learned this decades ago but can’t seem to remember it.

I’ll ride again today in it to try to see how he goes and if he has any sore spots from yesterday. I’m trying to get in touch with the BC rep in the area to have it checked and the flocking redone as well but I think we have a winner here folks!!!