Posted in Riding/Horses

Mega Breakthrough Lesson

Holy crap. Wednesday night was….well….super, uber, amazingly awesome. Even Trainer had a huge smile and recapped all the breakthroughs that happened during the lesson.

Lets back up a bit. Wednesday night was lesson night and I am really starting to love my summer evenings in the arena. I had my choice of either dressage or jumping and chose the latter. With jumping we typically spend the first half on flat work anyway, but then I get to work on jumping too and it feels like a bit of a reward for both Gem and me. Plus, I really want to work hard on beating down my fear when it comes to jumping and only practice will solve that problem.

Hot horse has no interest in working.

True to form, the first half an hour was spent working on the flat. I was really proud when Trainer complimented my posture and even said my elbows were loose and following. I have worked really hard over the last four rides on my own to get my hands to remain with steady 1 pound of pressure on the reins and follow Gem’s head instead of being stiff. I was so happy my hard work paid off. It still isn’t effortless to ride like that: if I stop thinking about it I revert to my motionless arms, but I can more easily return to it once I think about it now. Soon it should become automatic.

It was hella hot out, near 100F and humid, and the sun was still full blaze at 7:30 pm, so we stuck to the middle of the arena where the shade was and made a square. My first exercise was focusing on maintaining her rhythm around the entire square and making my turns without letting Gem fall to the inside. At first I floundered pretty hard. I’d put my inside leg on to turn, but it still wasn’t right. After many attempts I finally got it. After spending 7 years falling in like a motorcycle on every turn, having her weighted evenly felt so good.  I was giggling like a 12 year old again.

Breakthrough #1: how to approach and make a turn correctly. Trainer finally got me doing it correctly by doing this: when approaching my turn begin to turn just Gem’s ears inside, when I get to the spot I want to turn add inside leg to push her rib cage out, at the very end of the turn allow her hind end to follow. She told me to act like an 80 year lady driving on ice making a slow, long turn instead of jamming Gem into the turn and breaking through it like a sports car. In this way I was controlling her entire body in segments as we approached, went through and ended the turn.

Not only did it help make the turn even, but I also felt how she could maintain her rhythm throughout the entire square without losing it in the turns. After we made several circuits in both directions, she had me repeat the same exercise at the trot. The purpose of doing this on a square was to have purposeful bend at each corner and then make Gem get square again for the straight aways. In doing so, I really felt how I needed to block her movement out of the turn with my outside aides to get her straight.

The trot work took a bit more effort since Gem barely tolerates my leg and basically insists that any leg equals “go faster”, but we are slowly chipping away at it. As usual we started off braced and rushed, but then I had my next epiphany.

Breakthrough #2: allow my body to melt into my saddle. Sounds weird, but let me explain. Trainer is always after me to slow my posting down and stay closer to my saddle. Her words kept bouncing around in my head but never created any action. Well, this time she told me to melt like ice cream into my saddle and get sticky. I needed to still sit tall, but that “tall” should be in a melty sort of way. I don’t know why this imagery worked so well, but it did. I started to really feel what she was talking about and began posting the way she wants. This created two changes: Gem was much more responsive to my half halts since my center was closer to her and I was able to use my legs more effectively as they remained draped around her with a soft knee.

It was also a heck of a lot more work than my typical style. My legs were screaming for a break after a while and they never do that!

We both got a walk break after that and moved towards one end of the arena. There was a solitary jump set up and Trainer marked that as the center of the circle she wanted me to create. Since the footing had been recently dragged, she would be able to see my geometry perfectly. It was time for the dreaded 20 m circle.

We once again began at the walk and I immediately got called out for only looking with my head. Once I turned my entire body in the direction I wanted to go, Gem became soft and bent as well. I know this. Why I can’t just do it is beyond me. Then we moved back into the trot. We started going left which is Gem’s weaker side by default that it is mine. My left leg tends to want to drift forward. When I lost my bend, Gem lost hers and got tense. Trainer did allow for the fact that any time I put my left left back and on, Gem scooted forward and gave me a little allowance for that but it is something we still need to address. Going right was much better.

I was still in giggling school girl mode as Gem was listening so well. Yes, she sometimes got too fast or sometimes went super slow and heavy but she was easily brought back to where I wanted her. Trainer commented that it was the most rhythmic 10 circles we have put down to date and that we were working together and not at odds with each other.

I would have been happy to call it a day after that, but then Trainer said the C word. Wahwahwah. I really, really, really need to get over my concerns with cantering. I can canter all day long on the trail. I can canter after fences. It really isn’t the cantering I mind, it is the transition. I suck at them. I make them tense. I make it so that I spend the first five circles fixing what I created. Ugh.

Back on the circle we went to the right, my stronger side, and I did my best to ask for a nice canter transition. I sat tall and leaned back a bit. I gave with my hands. She cantered. Then I threw her away and we went careening out of control. Seriously, I can chew gum and walk at the same time. But then I did it again and this time I forced myself to look where I was going, keep my damn legs on her and steer. And you know what? It led to

Breakthrough #3: steering during the canter produces a nicer, more relaxed canter.  Odd how not abandoning your horse actually helps things, isn’t it? But honestly, when I forced myself to stop thinking “cantering, cantering cantering we are going to die!” and actually rode by keeping my posture upright and stable and then maintaining a path of travel in which I looked 5 strides ahead of where we were to give Gem a clue as to what we were doing, she moved into a nice rideable canter that was nearly fun to do.

Left was harder, but again my left side is weaker and it is predictable. Trainer was really pleased with it though. She said it was the best canter work we have done. I told you it was an amazing lesson!

After the canter work it was time for the fun part: jumping! I was determined to not let my nerves get the best of me. She set up a solitary cross rail that was set off the rail and required a very particular approach to get it right. We came in at the trot off the rail going left and I made the turn at the correct spot, but let Gem get buried in the turn and she ran out of gas. Then she was so focused on me nagging at her to trot while simultaneously having a death grip on the reins, that she never saw the jump coming and slammed the breaks on right in font of it.

Coming at it from the left I needed to turn at the start of the gate you can see in the background. The first couple times I stuffed her and let her lose all momentum in the turn which made the jump poor.

Yeah. My fault. Sorry, Gemmie.

We approached it again and this time I rode her through the turn and did my best to tell her I wanted to jump. It was still a bit stilted because I stared at the ground and held her back, but we went over it. trainer had us approach it from the other direction and then she added in a 2′ vertical. I was to come at the crossrail going left, aim for the rail on landing, sneak between another fence and the rail then loop back going right to hit the vertical. True to form, I freaked before the vertical because it was a new fence and Gem ran out. Again, my fault.

I’m pretty sure Trainer was screaming inside at this time. I mean, I say I want to jump and I am on an honest horse, but then as soon as I see a jump I freak out. Sorry, my brain is messed up.

Anyway….

Trainer set up three jumps all easy enough on their own but with tricky, tight landings. The point was to get me focusing more on where I was going and not at the jump itself. The first jump was our old friendly green and blue crossrail with a tight turn left off the rail, this led to a red and white cross rail set on a bending line which if failed would cause us to run smack into the rail, coming out from jump 2 was a longer approach with a loop to the right then hitting the red and brown vertical which required close attention to thread the needle on landing between the rail and another jump.

The red and white cross rail was jump two on a bending line then I needed to turn right and come over the vertical coming towards the camera

Breakthrough #4: Quit caring about the jump, it is a non event, and focus all your attention on the landing. By doing this, Trainer forced me to quit staring at the jump itself or else my landing was awful and we ran into things. By changing my focal point, I was able to keep my legs on and take the jump as it came and then immediately take control on the back side to get us to point B.

The first time through I was still a little hesitant coming towards the jumps. Gem was perked right up and taking me right to them and it was a new sensation for me. It felt like she was speeding way up, when in reality she was just locked on to her target.

The second time though?? Magic! I looked where I was going, kept my legs on the darn horse, let her take me to the base of the jump without holding her back, and then kept my position after to steer.

If felt amazing!!!!!! Like 20 million exclamation points amazing. Gem was up and willing, she was obviously having fun and even dragged me at a canter over the bending line. I had SO MUCH FUN!

And the best part??? All the butterflies were gone from my stomach. I wasn’t scared. I wasn’t even nervous. Now if only I could go out that way the first time, but baby steps. I felt like we could have jumped anything at that point.

It was the best lesson I have ever had both on the flat and over jumps. It felt like a major breakthrough happened and we all of a sudden reached a whole new playing field. Gem was happy and relaxed and I enjoyed every single minute of that hour. So much so that I did something maybe a bit stupid – I penned us in for a cross country outing next Friday the 28th!!! Eeek!

I’m not 100% sure where it will be yet, I think at FENCE for those local. All I know is that Trainer mentioned working on water, ditches and banks. All of it sounds scary yet fun so here is hoping it works out.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Riding/Horses

Floating on Air

Did I mention that Trainer is not only awesome at training, but is also the kindest person on earth? Well, she is.

One of the unexpected issues with bringing the Dynamic Duo home has been finding a farrier willing to come out for trims on two horses on an evening or weekend when I could be there to hold. Most around me don’t even work weekends and evenings are also hard to find. The ones who do need at least 4 horses. I reverted to doing them myself which is a whole lot easier when they are home and I can do a little at a time, but I really want an actual farrier.

I asked Trainer a while back for recommendations, but kept running into the four horse minimum. She has her farrier come in every five weeks all the way from Aiken and told me I could bring them in. The problem was that he always comes on a Wednesday when I work. I thought it over and shot her a text with honestly little hope it would work out. I figured I could trailer them in on Tuesday night after work, pay a stall fee, hope someone would be willing to hold them for me and then grab them Wednesday after work (maybe sneaking in a lesson too). She was unavailable for a lesson, but told me I could plop them in a spare paddock without any fee and she was more than willing to hold them. My jaw dropped. I owe her big time!!!

Tuesday night I got this when I tried to get Gem to load her up:


After the two idiots nearly ran themselves to heat exhaustion, it was 98F with high humidity, we hosed them off and headed to the barn. Pete was put into the pasture and I tacked Gem up in her dressage gear to see how she would be. I was a little curious to see what I would be dealing with. The last few times I tried to school her in any way were just downward spirals of tension and bracing. Since then she had the IPE ride and two trail rides just for fun.

I hates dressage mom. Why must you torture me?

I went to the dressage court with no real plan. All I wanted was a relaxed ride with walk and trot. If we could add in some 20 meter circles to work on bend that would be a bonus.

She was in an unusual mood. I wouldn’t call her relaxed, but she also wasn’t tense or racing around. She listened to small cues, halted spot on when asked with no fuss and did walk to trot transitions agreeably enough. But she was also looking for reasons to spook and spent time staring at anything she thought would allow her to get away with spooking. I just ignored her and carried on. Half way through she got insanely heavy in my hands. I am working really, really hard to get my position better and to not let her break me out of it. Or as trainer always says to me “be greedy with your position”. When she didn’t get away with anything, she just leaned. It felt like all 900 lbs of her was in my hands and her head was nearly dragging on the ground. Having never dealt with this from her, I wasn’t really certain what to do. I knew she was sucked way back behind my leg, but I was concerned that booting her forward would result in her getting tense and bracing. So instead I kept my position where it was and began working on lots and lots and lots of bending in every direction all over the place. I figured that she would eventually have to start carrying herself or she wold trip and that was exactly what happened.


I ended it after that and let her out in her overnight paddock to await the farrier the next day.

I don’t hates eating grass with my BFF

On Wednesday I got the info that the farrier thought everything looking great which is always good to hear when you have been the one trimming for the past 6 months. I had taken the truck to work so I could go get them afterward. They were both ready to come home, but first I wanted to ride again. A kid free night at an empty barn? Who could pass that up?

I only had my dressage saddle with me, so it was back in the dressage tack again. This time I headed to the jump arena where the jumps were all set to sky scraper height, but it would give me obstacles to work around.

So shiny!!!

Gem was AMAZING. Light in the bridle. The perfect balance of forward but relaxed. She halted. She walked. She trotted. She was so good that it felt like we were floating on air around that arena. I could barely feel her feet touch the ground. I was grinning like a fool.

With her being so responsive, I went back to working on my favorite exercise: sending her forward and bringing her back with just the rhythm and speed of my posting. No change in the pressure of my reins at all. And she listened so perfectly. I let her out into an extended trot down the long sides and brought her back by tightening my core and slowing my posting down when on the short sides and she hit it right every single time. I was giggling out loud and I am sure the barn crew thought I was insane.

I’ll just go to sleep here thank you

It was the type of ride I never want to end, but it was another insanely hot night and I had to load them up to go home eventually. I’m not sure if it was the location, the fact that she got her wiggles out with galloping like mad for 20 minutes the night before, the three fun rides she last had or what, but I’ll take it. This is the Gemmie I had before the CT and I am so very glad to have her back again. Our next lesson is Wednesday night, so hopefully this is the horse that comes to play.

Don’t forget to take me home
Posted in Riding/Horses

Breach of Etiquette Makes My Blood Boil

I shouldn’t be allowed out of the house. It just pisses me off.

My mom offered up to watch the kiddo so we could go ride. I wasn’t going to pass an offer like that up, so Dusty and I loaded up and hit the trails on the 4th. Any trail time is good, but on a typical work day? Even better.

We go ride again. Ok.

Turns out we weren’t the only ones trying to beat the heat and get a ride in before the festivities began and we pulled into an already teaming parking lot. Of course, it wouldn’t have been so bad if people actually parked with any thought outside of themselves. It was a bad omen for the rest of the day when we saw several way too large rigs pulled in diagnonally taking up multiple spaces and making the trail head a maze.

Dusty told me not to let it ruin my day, a bad habit I have of letting things like this get to me. So I did.

A gorgeous day to be out on trail

We headed out to repeat the same loop we did a couple of weeks ago. The footing was even better and we made good time when we could before Pete got tired and asked to start walking more. The big old guy is starting to wonder why he was pulled out of retirement.

Things were going well until we came to an access road. We were walking along due to the gravel footing and I just happened to look behind me and saw a woman running. She showed no signs of slowing and never called out that she was coming up behind us. Had I not looked back I wouldn’t have known she was there until she spooked the crap out of the horses.

When she nearly ran smack into Pete’s butt she turned and called her off leash dog to her. I won’t even get into my complete hatred of dogs and horses mixing here because that would take a while, but this woman didn’t even apologize. Instead she stood right next to us shrieking for her loose dog and then proceeded to take off running again once he was in sight behind her. She was darn lucky our horses are both idiot and dog proof or they could have had some serious injuries from getting trampled or kicked.

The only time the extremely affable Pete gets upset is when Gem gets even a hair ahead of him on trail. I love that I caught his glare while taking my favorite shadow picture

From there it went down hill although we still enjoyed the ride immensely and the horses were most excellent. Pete handled the terrain better than last time although I think he was a bit foot sore with all the rain making his dinner plate hooves soft.

There had been a deer up ahead in the large field

The trail has two road crossings at the end and both can be a bit hairy as cars tend to go flying down the country road. We came to the second one and saw a large group of six riders on the other side immobile. We paused on our side and watched for a little bit but the group were just chit chatting and effectively blocking the entire trail on the other side making crossing the road impossible. Our side wasn’t safe for just chilling out at: a small clearing right at the road without any shoulder and with a deep ditch on either side. We were growing restless and needed to cross but no amount of nicely asking them to move away from the road was producing results.

We did a lot more trotting which Pete handled very well. A few more times out and he may get in shape yet

Dusty hates confrontation and while I don’t go looking for it, well depending on who you talk to, I won’t back away either and started ramping up to tell them they had until we crossed to move or get bowled over. Dusty asked me not to make a scene and fortunately for him they deemed it time to move right about then any way.

At this point I was a bit tired of dealing with stupid, rude and self absorbed people. We ended up back at the trailer with two very sweaty and hot horses and stripped tack quickly to go use the single hose available. We walked over to find three of those same ladies already there. We settled in to wait for our turn while the horses enjoyed grazing.

Hot and sweaty at the end of the ride

I was doing just fine until the remaining three from their group came walking over and completely cut us off. I glared. Dusty asked me to bite my tongue. I was doing pretty well with that until the one lady looked at me and said “sorry our group of six got here before you” in a condescending not really sorry and making me really angry type of way. My mouth dropped to the floor. “Um…no your group of three were here first. The rest of you cut us off by some sort of group association and should actually be behind us in line” Dusty groaned but the woman just turned away.

The ever patient Dusty losing it a bit

So there we were waiting our turn behind six horses at the hose on an extremely hot morning. If I had been at the hose, I would have watered my horse quickly and efficiently so that everyone got cooled off quickly. Nope. These ladies held their beer in one hand, the hose in the other and talked, washed off their boots and girths before their horse and in general didn’t give a flying crap about anyone but themselves. I was seething mad by the time the last horse was being led away.

Except that wasn’t even the end because they didn’t actually move away from the hose area and I had to plow my way through telling them that they will be lucky not to be kicked if they continued to stand in my path. Rude people make me want to teach Gem to kick on command.

It was bad enough that my very non confrontational, much easier going then myself, husband even made comments. That’s a rarity. As we sprayed our two off we noted that these same people were the ones who parked diagonally across multiple spots making an already busy parking lot near impossible to either park or drive in. Shocking.

Trail etiquette people. It’s important. Or you know, just don’t be an asshat when out in public. That works too.

Horses are better than people
Posted in Riding/Horses

2017 Pony Club IPE One Day Event

Trainer enlisted my help as a jump judge for Sunday. The teams scrambled to make four teams of five kids (one from each country) and got a chance to ride their new horses for one hour on Saturday. I’m amazed at these riders. Brand new to them horses and they only had an hour to get acquainted.

The weather was so much better for Sunday. Sunny and low 90s with a cool breeze. The riders all come from countries that are deep in winter so they might not have been so happy with our southern heat and humidity.

Sunday was the first competitive event as each team geared up for dressage followed by a derby type round with four stadium fences followed immediately by eleven cross country jumps. The riders from Hong Kong had never been cross country before. They only ever ride in an arena. So different than here in the US and I was sad I didn’t get a chance to talk to them about how they board and care for their horses.

I was put in charge of the up bank at 13 and the palisade at 14 and thankfully all riders were clear through both. In fact pretty much all riders had clear rounds with only two falls on course and two refusals out of 20 runs. Pretty impressive for only just meeting their horse the day before!

The up bank at 13 had an uphill approach into the shade.
Then they continued uphill with a right hand turn over 14. The horses sounded tired at this point as it was a course of either going up or down a hill but everyone jumped clean

I was so glad I got another chance to participate and help out. Everyone was so gracious about getting to ride and compete someone else’s horse and they all seemed to have a good time.

While jump 14 looked big and intimidating to me, not a single horse backed off. After this they had a very long uphill Gallop to the final fence at 15
I could also see jump 12 which seemed like an inviting enough jump. It came after a long downhill run and then cut sharp left uphill to my two
Such a gorgeous day.
Coming up the bank in the shade.
The view I had of riders leaving the water at jump 9

The rest of the week will be jammed with fun, local activities for the riders including a trip to an amusement park, kayaking and zip lining on the Green River, Tryon Horse Country tour, and a fun night at the Tryon International Equestrian Center (home of the AECs last year and WEG in 2018) until their last weekend which will host the Kangaroo Cup, a 3′ jumper show. I am hoping to make it to the jumper show as well and hope they all have a great week.

Posted in Riding/Horses

2017 Pony Club InterPacific Exchange

Sometimes you just get really lucky in life. I’m still grinning from Friday and know that my chance of ever getting to do something like this again in my life is slim to none.

Every two years Pony Clubs around the world put together a team of elite young riders to travel to a host country and compete. There are five countries involved: US, Canada, Hong Kong, Australia, and New Zealand. The host country rotates so that each one hosts every 10 years.

Not only is 2017 an InterPacific year, but it is a year for the US to host. To make the stars align even more, Trainer, who has been the US team coach the last four competitions, stepped aside as coach this year and instead got wrangled into the position of organizer. This means that not only is the US hosting, but it is being hosted at the barn I train at.

Told you this would never align again like this.

The thing about the IPE is that the host country needs to provide the horses for the entire event which lasts nearly two weeks. This year the riders landed in SC on the 28th and the first riding event was a fun games day and trail ride on Friday the 30th. Apparently the riders from Hong Kong had zero access to any riding outside an arena, so getting them out on trail was a big priority for Trainer.

Once the schedule was set, poor Trainer had the stressful job of gathering up over 30 horses for the day. When she asked if Gem could be used I jumped on the opportunity. Words fail me to express how amazing I think this entire thing is. Getting young riders out into the world, seeing how things go in other cultures, making new friends, and riding local horses? I’m jealous I never knew this even existed when I was young enough to participate.

I closed my office on Friday and blocked my  surgery schedule. I think I was more excited to do this than any event where I rode my horse! Gem and I pulled into the barn around 745am and I got her settled into a stall for the morning. The forecast was ugly. A major storm was supposed to crash down on us at any moment, but the excitement of all the riders made it feel like the sun was shining all morning.

Gem being a great traveler as always. What do you do when dropped into a new situation with no clue what will be expected of you? Eat of course!

The riders got to choose what horse they wanted for the day. I know Gem looks a little plain next to all the fancy paint horses and tall, lean TBs so I worried nobody would really want her. A lovely girl from Australia stopped by and asked if she could ride her. I was so happy she wasn’t the last one picked in gym class!

Go Team Australia! Gem’s head looks very Arabian in this picture
Getting to know each other. As an aside, Gem looks fantastic in her new black pad. I am becoming more plain as the days go by. 

I tacked her up in her jump gear and told the young rider, who was B rated in Pony Club which basically means she rides better than I likely ever will, that she could do anything she liked. There was nothing she could do to Gem to break her that I haven’t already tried.

The rain started coming down right as everyone wandered to the arena for the games, but since it is winter back at their home a warm summer rain wasn’t going to spoil their fun.

Super glad for my Kerits long riding rain coat

The first game was pole bending and I got to watch the practice run. The girl started trotting but soon got Gem flying at the canter and Gem was game on. She was even doing flying lead changes between the poles! Trainer laughed saying maybe I was persuing the wrong discipline with her.


Unfortunately, I missed the actual competitive round as I got wrangled to be interviewed by the local news station as an owner. I have zero intention of watching that horror show on TV. I’m just hoping they worked some magical editing skills to make me not look like a complete moron. Apparently though Gem did amazing. Trainer laughed again saying that this is the perfect example of a task based activity and how well Gem does when she gets the point. Sigh. Maybe I need to buy some blingy shirts and cowboy boots?

Charlie the Belgian was a big hit. It was hilarious watching him do the games and his poor rider could barely reach the flags and cups. It was hilarious and by the end everyone was in love with him
What’s more American than a paint mule?

After that they played with a flag race, some cup stuff and spent about an hour and a half just having fun. Gem did amazing. I can’t stress enough how proud I am of her. Even in the torrential downpour, she stood quietly waiting her turn and was game on when asked. Trainer even mentioned how competitive she is and it is true. Gem hates conditioning/training but adores competition.

All the horses did so well. Most of these were either pasture puffs or event horses so having them all do gymkhana games was great. 

When all the games were finished, they took a short break and talked about the poker ride that was up next. I’m sure most people know what that is, but basically you go on trail and pick up cards along the way to make a poker hand. The team with the best hand wins.

They asked if I’d mind standing in the rain forest to hand out a card and so I missed most of the action. I did get to see Gem as she rode by me and the girl had a huge smile on her face. She was gushing about how awesome Gem had been for her and said her friends were jealous! Made my heart melt to hear.

Trainer lent me her car to wait in until the riders started coming by. It was pouring the entire time and I was a little sad to leave it to go stand in the woods

After that it was time to untack and eat lunch. My rider gave me a special pin from her home Pony Club as a thank you. She told me that she had never ridden a horse who could trot so fast. In the games she would ask for more speed and Gem would just up her trotting. She did get her to canter a lot too, but she said her trot was so fast she didn’t need to canter. On trail, she could tell Gem wanted to trot and not walk so she let her. She apparently even took her over a down bank and a small roll top! She said Gem was hesitant but once she put her leg on and told her she really did want her to go, she popped over no issue. Sounds about right.

Food!

All too soon lunch was over and it was time to load up and go home. I wished her luck the rest of the week. This weekend is the first real competition with a CT that’s set up for BN with dressage then cross country and then next weekend is a 3′ jumper show for them. I was asked to jump judge on Sunday so I told her I’d be rooting for her.

The ground was dry when I pulled in at 745 am. This was at 12 pm when I was leaving. Lots of rain!

I felt really lucky to be involved in this. Every rider was thankful and excited to be there and learn all they could about riding in the US. Maybe some day Wyatt will get into it and be on the team.

The pin she gave me. 
Posted in Riding/Horses

Mental Break

After the show earlier this month, I decided that Gem needed a break from all this hard work. It didn’t come to fruition until this past weekend when my mom agreed to watch Wyatt so Dusty and I could have a date. It was the first date we had been on since last October (8 months!) and long over due.

I watched the weather closely. The unusually cool and wet spring has continued into an unusually cool and wet summer and it poured all evening Saturday. Sunday was clear though, so we loaded the Dynamic Duo up and hit the trails for the first time together in over 2 years!

It was amazing. Both horses were relaxed, happy and forward without being pushy at all. Pete lead the entire way as per our usual: Gem hates to lead and Pete hates to follow so it works out perfectly. Pete got tired around mile 5, but I was really proud of the old man. At 26 and with his mostly retired state, he tackled those hills and technical trails like a pro.

Here is a photo dump from the ride. Be prepared to see Pete’s butt a lot!

Gem still looks so good in her endurance tack and sitting in that saddle felt like going home again.
Dusty and Pete matched! I was shocked he even wore his old breeches.
Heading out down the road. Both walked on a loose rein and seemed happy to be out together
Hitting the single track trail in the woods. Thankfully the footing was still solid in most places so we could get some good trots in
Pete handles everything without batting an eye. Steep drop into water? Ok. Lots of mud and slipping on the way back up? No biggie
The woods were really lush and green from all the rain.
Some areas were really saturated and too slick to do more than pick our way. Neither horse put a hoof wrong though

Gem really, really wanted to fly down this access road. Pete was a bit foot sore in the gravel though so we just walked and talked.

A happy hubby
After the 6.5 mile ride. Gem didn’t want to stop. It kinda made me feel bad. I know she misses the endurance trail. Hopefully we can get Wyatt into the whole riding thing soon and go out as a family.
Post ride baths.

At the end we returned home with two happy and relaxed horses and riders. It was one of the best trail rides we have had and it really made me miss the days when we went out together all the time. Dusty is my favorite trail partner.

I got to thinking on the way home. Part of me thinks the best thing for Gem would be to sell her or lease her out to an active endurance home. A place where she would get to be out on trail all the time and competing like she loves. I just can’t dedicate the time right now. It is too much to ask of the family to be gone for 6-8 hours every weekend to condition in addition to the actual race time. If she were leased out to an endurance home, I could look at leasing a horse for eventing.

But I’m dedicated to Gem. She is 19 and has a forever home with me for better or worse. She isn’t miserable and at her age and with her personality I wouldn’t trust her with very many people. I would never forgive myself if I leased her out and that person lamed her and that is a very real possibility in this sport if someone rode her too hard or too fast. I think getting her out when able and giving her these mental breaks will serve to keep us both sane and happy and she does really love the jumping we are now doing. A better mix should help even out our relationship once again.

Posted in Riding/Horses

Trainer’s Analysis

One thing I adore about Trainer is that she is realistic. She doesn’t tell me I need a new horse, expensive saddle or some gadget. She has seen a lot and understands that Gem and I are learning a totally new discipline that is a lot different from endurance and we are both old birds with well ingrained bad habits. She also understands where a lot of my bad habits have come from: namely being extremely defensive with Gem.

However, she also is firm that these need to start going away ASAP and plans to hit us hard this summer to move us past this.

While we were zooming around her in our best endurance trot, we talked a lot about where we have come from, where we are now and where I want to go. Is it possible?

At the end of the lesson here was what Trainer had to say:

  • Gem hates and I mean HATES dressage with every fiber of her being. She is wicked smart and does not understand the point of it. As Trainer put it “Why should I halt when you are just going to ask me to walk again?” It just plain makes her angry which is part of what I am dealing with at home since that is all I can work on.
  • For my part, I overthink and under ride her during our dressage rides. I get tense and if it isn’t picture perfect I start to nit pick internally and that gets me frustrated. This makes me tense and then the wheels start falling off and that makes me even worse as my brain starts to go crazy about how bad I’m doing when instead I need to just take a deep breath and stop caring so much
  • Gem is one of the most sensitive horses she has dealt with and that is saying a lot. Every thought I have translates to her and she reacts. This is a great thing when things go well and just works against us when they don’t. She was watching us trot and could no longer tell who was setting who off. When we are in tune and on the same page it is magical. When we aren’t, it turns into a nightmare.
  • As such, my position needs to be spot on. When Gem doesn’t understand a cue she gets frustrated and tense and her response is to go faster. I know this. I’ve been dealing with it for 7 years. Problem is that my position isn’t solid enough yet to not be accidentally giving her cues I don’t mean to. So I’m telling her something I’m unaware of, she has no clue what I want and goes faster, I get tense because now she is rushing around and it spirals. I need to work really hard in keeping my position no mater what.
  • Gem does not tolerate my lower leg on her very well. We have come to terms with it at the walk but as soon as we trot she takes any lower leg as faster. This has created a braced and slightly forward leg on my part as I try to avoid the confrontation that putting my leg on creates. However this then tips me forward and allows me to curl up and become useless. We need to work on her allowing my leg at the trot to just rest against her. This will also allow us to start working more on our bend.

She doesn’t want to see us abandon dressage and neither do I. We just need to take a bit of a break and not focus quite so hard on it since it really just pisses the mare off.

  • Jumping makes Gem happy. Very happy. I never thought this would be the case. Ever. But Trainer says she is so happy when we do it that it is a pleasure to watch.
  • Why? On Gem’s part, it gives her busy brain something to work on. According to trainer jumping is a task based activity and Gem excels at this. She understands the point and is on board with it to the point where she has started to hunt the jumps down. 
  • On my part, the mere presence of obstacles allows me to focus on things outside of myself which forces me to relax and let go. My type A personality can kick in but now think about getting from A to B instead of nitpicking about everything along the way. I just plumb ride better when there are jumps around.
  • Am I great at jumping? Nope, but I’m getting a lot better! My biggest issue is trusting Gem and that is just going to take time. 

Jumping makes Gem happy. We need to be jumping more and begin to canter our courses. Using the jumps as a way to “hide” dressage work may just be the route to go. During our course work, I was balancing Gem and bringing her back to me using just my body and not getting grabby with my hands. Gem was happier. I was happier. It honestly was like I was riding two completely different horses: dressage Gem was braced, tense and ready for a fight while jumping Gem was loose, relaxed and listening.  She needs to learn to relax into the flat work too and I am not going to become a jumper, but I do need to take her opinions into the matter as well and right now Gem is telling me she does not want to be a dressage horse.

Am I giving up on Eventing? Nope. I think we are just going to approach it in a different manner and see how it goes.

I also asked Trainer at the end of the lesson if I could get some pro rides on Gem and return to a few lessons on her well trained horses. Getting someone on Gem who can ride her better and more confidently may help install some basics on her that I’m unable to do right now. 

So that’s the plan. Stick with my goals in Eventing: amoeba HT this fall and a hopeful debut at tadpole next summer. Get some pro rides for us both to level us back out. Hide dressage work in our jumping lessons. Have fun!