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Use Your Brain

It took me more years than I care to admit to train my brain to not shut off on the flat. I’m still a more reactive versus proactive rider than I’d like, but I’m a heck of a lot better than I used to be when basically my brain would go on vacation as soon as my butt hit the saddle. By the time I retired Gem, I had gotten fairly good at reading her subtle body language cues that informed me she was about to slow down or speed up, cut a corner or hollow and with that early warning system I could then proactively shut whatever she was about to do down and keep us on the trajectory I had planned.

I feared the lesson would be canceled due to soggy footing everywhere, but instead Trainer had me meet her at a local covered for the day.

Eeyore is a little harder for me as he tends to not really pre plan his actions and instead is a tad ADD about the whole thing. I haven’t been riding him for as long and he is a bit more erratic. I’m getting better at it on the flat and am finding myself catching him before he hollows or cuts a corner or slows down or speeds up before he actually does it more and more often these days.

This, however, all flies right out the window once we start jumping and my brain reverts to heading off on the cruise ship to hang out with a martini on the pool deck.

Trainer AB is done with allowing me to do this and so our lesson last weekend was focused on getting me to actually ride while jumping. To this end we began with an exercise that annoys me in its simplicity while being extremely difficult for me to replicate well. A simple set of two ground poles set at 5 canter strides. The goal was for me to count the strides out loud and be able to tell her what I felt and how I countered it after each pass through.

We are trialing a new to us pessoa bit. Trainer AB educated me on her choice of this bit adn I really liked her thinking. Eeyore seems to like it. Nothing magical but it is doing the job we wanted it to.

It was hard. We’d come in too hot and get 4 strides then I’d over compensate the next pass and shut him down to get 6 strides and only realize it after it was too late to make the adjustment between the poles. It was a great way to get my brain functioning though and by the time I was able to get 5 strides both directions, I was was getting the hang of thinking and riding at the same time.

From there we did basically the same thing only with a cross rail 6 strides to a vertical with the same goals: count the strides, influence the horse to make the striding, then tell her what I did. I’ll tel you that the first time I came in and actually felt him being too slow, put my leg on and got those 6 strides?? It felt freaking AMAZING. I was grinning like a fool. I felt my brain kick in, made a decision and got it done. Wow.

After that she had me run through a course twice before calling it a day.

And because I failed yet again to get my Cambox to capture anything but the sky, here is a pic of my two girls snuggling in the sunshine

I learned a lot this lesson. Like A LOT. One of the biggest points for me was to pick up my canter way earlier coming into the exercises/course. I tend to pick it up only a couple strides out because I worry a long approach will allow him to get on the forehand and rushy. However, with only a few strides before the fence I don’t have enough time to get him into any sort of rhythm or balance and found myself fighting to get what I wanted all the way to the base. When I picked the canter up way earlier, sure he could get rushy and on the forehand, but I still had time to influence and change that so we could approach the fence the way I wanted which in turn led to a much nicer effort.

Also, brain – keep working!!!! I generally rode into the exercises way better than out of them. It was like my brain punched the time clock then headed straight to the water cooler to gossip. This perpetuated my feeling of not being in control and that leads to my jumping fears. When I settled down and rode, added leg when I needed or re-balanced and slowed when needed, everything not only rode better but I felt more in control of what happened and that grew my confidence as we went around.

Yet another wonderful lesson in the books and a lot to continue to work on. Hopefully the weather dries out and I can sneak in another lesson soon.

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2020 Baseline

Trainer AB was able to come out over the weekend for my first lesson in way too long. We had others scheduled but it always poured down rain causing them to be moved. This has been a very wet and warm winter so far and while my arena remains a thorn in my side, the footing stays rideable even under 6″ of water which has been my salvage.

There was a lot to talk about since I hadn’t seen her since the last HT. I’ve been waffling a lot about what is best for us as a team – full training, more lessons, her riding him in shows, not showing at all, etc…and trying to really hone in on what I want from horses. It boils down to a few things:

  • Have fun – if it isn’t enjoyable it isn’t worth doing. Scary sometimes, yes. Hard work, for sure. But at the end of it all, it must be fun.
  • Improvement– nobody likes to feel stuck in a rut. Riding the same backwards ways and working on the same issues gets old, fast. I don’t have any bar I’m striving for here. No set height of jumps or level of competition. What I really want is to feel like I’m a better rider than I was 2 months ago, 6 months ago, 1 year ago.
  • Flexibility -Spontaneous plans are the only way I function. I texted Trainer Saturday afternoon to set up the lesson for Sunday. I signed up for the last HT three days before it ran. I don’t have a ride calendar and I don’t pre plan my rides at home. It works for me to decide to enter a jumper show the night before or morning of. However, this means that I have to have a versatile horse who is in shape enough to tackle these last minute shenanigans readily and happily.
Unrelated media. My sister-in-law snagged this photo of Pete while she was in town. I want to frame it and put it in the tack room.

With all that in mind I have decided against full training for Eeyore. It isn’t needed for the above and goes against some of them directly. Trainer and I talked and I do want to keep showing. I like the challenge and I find it mostly fun. My confidence stems a lot from knowing my horse will do the thing. To that end, I am officially signing Trainer up to ride Eeyore at Windridge in February. Seeing him tackle all three phases with her will help me realize he can do this and that will make me a lot braver in the saddle.

For the lesson itself, it was pretty eye opening in all the ways I never expected it to be which is pretty par for the course for Trainer AB.

Farrier came out on NYE which meant that I could be there for the first time in a year. I loved the look on Eeyore’s face as the hot shoes were placed.

Right now the focus is on getting Eeyore to carry his own head and to understand that rein aids can mean a lot more than “slow down”. A lot of the flat work goes like this:

Eeyore pick up your head. I’m not carrying 1500lbs in my hands

Oh, you want me to slow down, I’m down with that

No, I want you to balance upfront and continue to move. I’m not talking to your feet.

Oh, so this is hard. I’ll just curl behind the bit and suck behind your leg. Then you can’t yell at me because I’m still technically moving and I’m not leaning.

Nope, you can’t do that either

It is hard work for him and me both as it requires my body and mind to do 1000 different things all at once and after just a few circuits around a 20 m circle I find myself out of breath. I will say though that it is getting easier and better for both of us and we are able to get some really good circles before it falls apart. The canter was the most balanced it has been to date as well.

My homework since the last lesson has been to sit up. After hearing trainer repeat “sit up, lean back” a million times in one hour, I declared that she would never have to tell me that again. Or at least not so much. As such, I’ve been working diligently on my upper body not only being more upright, but also being independent of my lower body so that when I give a cue I don’t tip forward. The hard work paid off as not only did I not have to be told to sit up one single time, I also got a lot of praise from Trainer for my stability and position. Wahooo for little wins!!

We finished with the flat portion of the ride and I thought we would move on to jumping, but Trainer had other plans. Remember the whole “needs to be fit and healthy to do the spontaneous activities I get us up to?” part of my life with horses? Yeah…well I’ve failed him miserably on that score and Trainer has a plan for me to fix it. My biggest pasture is pretty perfect for conditioning work. Not only is it plenty big, but it also slopes from right to left and from front to back. She wants me to work up to 10 minutes of canter work up and down that pasture after each ride.

She also snapped this beautiful shot of Waggy

To this end, she had me spend the second half of the lesson out in the field. As soon as we left the arena I tensed. Eeyore can be a giant asshole out in that pasture. It is the only time I have fallen off him – when he lawn darted me at a walk in that field. Trainer gave me a look like “grow a set and go do it” so I set off to trot up the hill. Eeyore immediately had an epic hissy fit. He bucked. He reared. He attempted to bolt away. He went sideways. He jigged. He did everything but be polite and follow directions.

Ah…so now she saw this side of him. She told me she was happy to see this because then she could be there to help me through it and better understood my anxiety about her conditioning plans for us. She set me on a small 15 ish m circle around the water trough to the left. Eeyore bucked and insisted that he would rather go in the barn where Gem and Pete were. She told me to a ) actually sit in the saddle instead of being tense and hovering and b) make him do it even if that meant he went around with his nose touching his butt the entire time. When we went towards the barn, he would speed up. When we went away, he would slow down and try to turn back towards it. I was to ignore all of this and make him do what I wanted. It took about 25 circles before he started to listen and then we repeated it to the right. it took less time and then we did a huge circuit of the entire pasture with her walking beside me. She got her steps in that day.

We manged to finish on a good note with instructions to begin with 5 minutes out in the field at the end of every ride. Once he behaved at the walk, introduce the trot then the canter then work up to 10 minutes. I’m not sure how long that will take, but I will do it.

This horse has opinions about everything

You know, I’m not sure what Trainer thinks of Eeyore. I’m not sure she would ever tell me to sell him, but I also don’t think she would be all that sad if I did. Her biggest issue with him is his lack of obedience. His opinions that turn into action. While we were fighting over working in the field, she told me “He doesn’t get to have an opinion about this. He needs to learn that when you tell him to walk or trot in the field, he just does it. No questions asked. No temper tantrum thrown. If he wants to squeal under his breath, fine, but he does what you say”

It is something she has told me before and something I am working on instilling in him, but this too will take time. For now, I have my homework and will work hard at it until I get to set up time with her again.

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Barn Remodel: The Tack Room Begins

The barn is slowly getting renovated/remodeled and with each step forward I am falling more in love with it. The first major project was putting on a new roof as the old one was leaking significantly. Once that debacle ended, Dusty was able to re wire the barn and get all the outlets functioning once again. The last project we did was to cement the barn aisle and get rid of the 6″+ of loose, fluffy dirt that poofed into the air with every step taken and coated everything including all my tack in a fine layer of dust within 30 seconds. Once those projects were done, it was on to the fun stuff.

Currently I am using the old show office as my tack room and it is working out ok. It is small, but has a door and a ceiling to keep the dirt out. The issue is that most of the space is occupied by a large work bench, an old fridge, the electric panel and a ladder up to the loft which take up 3 of the 4 walls, limiting my options for organization. The actual tack room is down the aisle a little ways but has been sitting unused because a) no ceiling b) no door and c) rotten floor boards from previously leaking roof.

Well, it was time to finally start turning that room into a usable space again so that I can move my tack out of the show office and turn that into Dusty’s workshop. The first fix was easy: remove the rotten floor boards and put down new ones. We needed to remove the top most wall board for the next project, so Dusty re-purposed those for the floor.

Wyatt helped to nail in the replacement floor boards

The bigger issue was the ceiling. Thankfully, Dusty’s brother is an engineer, super project savvy and was coming down with his family to visit us after Christmas. The trip turned into a group effort to build a ceiling which turned out better than I ever imagined and was also a lot of fun in the process. There were a total of 10 of us, though Wyatt floated in and out, and it took us from 7 am – 5:30 pm to get the job done and everything cleaned up.

How it started out. A big open expanse above the room

This is not a DIY how to because I’m not an engineer and I am not project savvy. I refused to use any of the power tools so I was relegated as the official measurer , carrier of heavy things, and cleaner upper, but I did pay close attention to what we were doing, asked a lot of questions and learned a lot along the way. I’ll do my best to summarize how we went from an empty space above our heads to a gorgeous, custom made drop ceiling in the span of about 10 hours, but don’t go trying this at home off this post. I’m sure I’m leaving things out and I don’t know the correct names for anything.

Meticulously created plans

The first step was to create a frame around the top of the wall. I asked why we removed boards just to add new ones and was told that the new boards were bigger. This was super quick.

I’m doing my best to only share pictures of people’s backs since I don’t know if they mind me sharing their faces. This shows the new top board going up to frame the ceiling.

From here, it got a little tricky. We needed to put up metal brackets that would hold wooden beams that spanned the width of the room. The room was not built square, which wasn’t surprising, and we had to get them all parallel and level or the panels wouldn’t work. We used a laser leveler, lots of measuring and some ingenuity to get this part figured out.

The brackets were spaced 24″ apart along the length of the room

While those smarter than me were doing this job, I was out in the barn aisle helping to create the beams that would sit in the brackets. This was really fun and also not something my brain would ever have been able to conjure up. We took the measurements that the boys shouted over the wall at us, cut the board to length, then added a second smaller board to the top of this one, cut it 2″ shorter and screwed it on. This created a T shaped beam that would sit inside the bracket and have a lip to hold the panels.

Creating the T beams. M helped out a lot throughout the day.

Once all the beams were done, they were screwed into the brackets.

Placing the cross beams into the brackets and then securing them with screws which apparently is called “toenailing”.

While the boys were on ladders (another task I refused to do) a group of us headed over to the table saw I got Dusty for Christmas this year and began cutting down large plywood panels into smaller rectangles. The center 24 were easy to do as they were all the same shape, but the short sides of the room were not square so six panels had to be cut with one end wider than the other.

A stack of 24 panels

One final last set of boards needed to be added to the frame work before we could move on. A small 1×2 was added under the T beams to create a more finished look.

The smaller trim piece being placed under the beam to fill in the gap and make it look a lot nicer

Phew! We were nearly there. This next step took forever. Two boards were needed length wise, perpendicular to the T beams to create the proper grid framing for the panels. In order for these boards to sit well, notches were cut out of the T beams. We had discussed doing this while making the T beams, but the fear was that if they were off at all once the beams were installed, it would look awful or not work. So….the guys cut the notches out over head while installed. Not a job for me.

You can see the notches that were cut out of the cross beams

From there it was attaching the beams through that notch to finish the grid

The entire grid is complete

Then we had to take measurements of the openings along the two short side walls. Since the room is not square, we had to make adjustments to create panels that were wider at one end to fit properly.

The panels in place! It looks so so so good and way better than I imagined

We all let out a cheer when the final panel slid into place and we had a completed ceiling. It was a lot of work but with a great group of people all pitching in, it was fun and went by fast.

The pups spent the entire day with us in the barn and were exhausted by the end. Einstein found someone’s discarded coat to use as a bed.

Dusty needs to install new lights since the ceiling went below the height of the old ones but I haven’t decided what I want yet so that is on me. I plan to spend New Years Eve and Day staining the panels a dark brown and painting the beams white to finish it off.

Waggy looked pretty pathetic as well

The next step for the tack room will be to create a door which is proving more annoying than we thought. The opening is an odd size: too big for a single door, too small for double doors so we are weighing our options on that. Once we have a sealed in room, it will be on to organization and then moving everything in. Its a large space, so I have plenty to work with and already know the basic gist of where I want things on which wall. The biggest issue is that I really don’t like having everything on the walls in the open. No matter how organized it still looks cluttered and messy to me, so Dusty has been tasked with building a wall of lockers so my saddles and bridles can all be behind closed doors for a much cleaner look. That is going to take a while to do though, so in the meantime we will make a trip to Ikea for storage ideas and use temporary saddle racks that I already have.

I can’t wait for the tack room to be finished. It will be a great renovation to the barn and one step closer to having it all done.

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Karma Is A Real Bitch

Sometimes in life you get exactly what you deserve.

M has been living with us since August and while she is a nice young lady who is kind to Wyatt and follows most of the rules, there are things inherent to having a 17 year old stranger live with you that can drive a person such as myself a bit crazy.

The Monday before Christmas she was home alone. School was out and Wyatt had asked to go to work with Dusty. He loves to watch the surgeries and “help” the front desk ladies. I was at work myself. I came home at 5:30 and saw a note from FedEx on the door with a missed delivery. I admit I was annoyed. Why not answer the door? I knew Dusty was waiting on one last package to arrive and I was frustrated she couldn’t bother to get the door.

Dusty said his package was coming UPS and had no idea what FedEx was bringing. I had him look up the tracking number on the notice and he saw a city he didn’t recognize. His package was coming from Florida and this was a foreign address. He assumed it was from Sweden and M confirmed she was awaiting a package from a friend back home.

Admission #2 here. I was rather gleefully cackling inside at this turn of events. M screwed herself out of getting her own package by ignoring the door. Served her right. Yes, I’m petty and mean like that. With Christmas Eve and then Christmas the next chance she’d have to get to FedEx to pick it up wouldn’t be until Friday. Sucked to be her.

Well, Friday came and Dusty took her to FedEx to get the package. He quickly called me. The FedEx guy told him it was not from Sweden as he had assumed, but instead it was from…..France.

It was my Cambox. Waiting patiently for me at FedEx since two days before Christmas.

I laughed out loud. Served me right to be so mean. Karma strikes again. I really deserved that since had I been nicer we would have gone that night or Christmas Eve day and I wouldn’t have been spending hours trying to contact Cambox to figure out where my camera was.

Of course, I’m not the only one to blame here. Had she just answered the door none of this would have happened. Or had Dusty not assumed it was from Sweden and instead had googled the city, we would have known it was from Cambox. Or had Cambox sent the right tracking number.

But at the end of the day had I not been a vindictive petty you know what, I wouldn’t have been so stressed trying to contact Cambox for days on end.

Live and learn. Always be nice. It’s the right choice every time.

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Happenings

While I’m confused/miffed at Cambox for doing whatever it is they are doing, life is still pretty darn good and chugging along.

Eeyore has been on his best behavior for all rides post the FGF HT debacle, so maybe he has learned a thing or two about not being a turd to start and conserving energy.

Checking out the Christmas present that actually showed up. 32 jump blocks and 54 poles! The options for exercises are now endless.

The number one goal right now is finding that line between him hanging on my hands and backing out of the contact altogether. Trainer gave me some awesome tips, starting with sit the frick up and stop letting him pull me down with him. Shocking I know. I’ve been really working hard at this and it has made a huge difference in his response to me.

It’s still a work in progress as now he is taking to using any contact as an excuse to stop moving his feet and curl his chin to his chest. Lots of leg is needed to keep him moving when he gets bunched up like that but I think we are making some headway.

I also didn’t break his pleasure in jumping as I feared I did. We’ve been working on a mix of dressage stuff and then a few jumps then back to dressage to break it up. I need to jump more often to get the muscle memory of my flow with him and to keep my confidence up. It seems like every fence grows 3’ when I haven’t jumped in a while.

I kept the first exercise simple but man was this a blast to ride. He was forward and happy the entire time and reminded me why I love stadium with him. Now to figure out how to build a proper oxer so I can slay that dragon next.

I don’t want to over do it though and this combination of back and forth is working for both of us at the moment. The real reason I got so many blocks and poles is to build an easy to put up/take down dressage arena inside my jump one. Dusty wracked his brain for a way to make this possible without spending 3k on a true arena. He came up with using jump blocks to elevate poles off the ground, calculated how many we’d need for each side and then ordered letters that stick in the ground as well. The theory is that I can build the dressage court when I want it and take it apart to set up jumps when I don’t. It won’t be perfectly 20m x 60m, I think it’s a foot or so off on each side but it will be close enough. It was an awesome, thoughtful and creative gift that gives me a lot of exercise possibilities. No excuses now for bad geometry.

Trainer has been off having a life in another state for the holidays and I am not so patiently awaiting her return so I can get back under her expert eye. The Pessoa bit she wants me to try is still on back order, ugh the story of my life right now, but as soon as that comes in I’m excited to try it and see if it helps bring him up in the front end. Or at least prevents him dropping down so much in front of a jump.

Christmas Eve and Day were gorgeous. After over 2” of rain the preceding 24 hours we all headed outside for some fun at the pond.

Nothing else super exciting to report. I’m trying to see if I can get Trainer to ride him at Windridge in Feb. Originally I was going to be out of town that weekend, but the place was booked and I had to postpone the trip a couple weeks. This frees up Windridge though and Dusty is off so fingers crossed Trainer isn’t busy that weekend and can get Eeyore some confidence boosting show miles for me.

I hope everyone is enjoying the holiday season and the ever so slightly longer days if you squint real hard.

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Cambox Ruins Christmas

Ok…not really ruins because I still had an amazing Christmas, but the company is pissing me off. I know several bloggers have a Cambox so I’m wondering what your experiences have been with the company?

Here’s the deal. Dusty ordered me a Cambox 3 for Christmas. They charged the card and sent a confirmation email with a UPS tracking number. It supposedly shipped 12/13/19 with 2 day shipping and on their website the order number still says “shipped”.

On 12/23/19 when it still hadn’t arrived, Dusty clicked on the tracking link to get an update only to find out that the tracking number given was invalid. It didn’t exist per UPS. So he called Cambox and it went straight to voicemail. He left a message that was never returned.

We have also emailed the customer service email and dropped a Facebook message to the company as well.

Crickets.

I’m giving them until Friday to respond and then I’m contacting the credit card and getting the charge removed. I’m really bummed though because I was super looking forward to getting one. I don’t like the bulk of the other cameras on the market and have no idea what to get in its place.

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A Reflection on 2019

What. A. Year.

I’m going to share my favorite picture from the blog from each month on 2019. Wyatt had asked in January to go on a trail ride, so we loaded Eeyore and Gemmie and headed to the woods. It was a dream come true.

2019 can best be summed up as a year of transformation for me. I am not the same person now as I was to start the year and while I still have a ways to go to be the person/rider I want to be, I’m a heck of a lot closer than I was and I am really proud of that fact.

February saw me getting back on board and trying to figure Eeyore out.

I started 2019 questioning pretty much everything with horses. Did I make the right choice in Eeyore? Should I keep him? Is eventing even the right discipline for me? Am I a good enough rider to do this? Am I brave enough?

March. I tried a new trainer this month and it was awful. We did not click at all. Eeyore and I still struggled to find our groove.

By the time the spring rolled around I knew I needed some outside help and began looking for a trainer that I felt comfortable with and would work with me and my hectic schedule. It took a few misses and until the end of May before I found Trainer AB and my whole world changed.

April. I love this picture because it shows how gorgeous his dull, brittle coat had become. I really pride myself on having shiny horses and he came out of winter looking fabulous.

I first rode with her on May 31, 2019 and from the very first minutes of that ride I knew everything was going to be alright. Hard and scary at times, but alright.

May. This final straw. He was so bad during this ride that I double downed on my search for a trainer to work with us. We found Trainer AB by the end of the month

Trainer AB has completely transformed me as a rider in ways that I have a hard time explaining. Sure my posture is better. Sure my timing of the aides is faster. Sure I don’t lock my elbows as much. But those aren’t the important ways that she has changed me.

June. Hehehehe. Trainer AB hopped on him for one of my lessons and Ho Boy did Eeyore not like that.

At the beginning of 2019 I was a reactive rider both physically and emotionally. I was scared and being scared makes you a bad rider no matter how tall you sit up and how loose your elbows are. Ground poles created anxiety and anything raised over 6″ off the ground threw me into cardiac arrest. I lacked the tools I needed to deal with his exuberance of energy at the beginning of the ride and then lacked the tools I needed to deal with his insistence that he was dying near the end of the ride. And because I was fearful, I’d overreact and end up punishing him unduly or let him get away with things in fear of picking a fight and it escalating.

July. My first xc schooling with Trainer AB. She had me go over this bench. I still can’t believe I jumped this that day. Something about her manner and faith in me gives me wings.

Now I’m no longer afraid. I’m no longer afraid to insist that he does what I ask. I’m no longer afraid to put my leg on and grab mane. I’m no longer afraid to push my own limits. Sure, I’m still a wimp. I don’t like big fences and 2’3″ is giving me heart palpitations sitting here thinking about. But being a wimp and being afraid are two different things and my definition of being a wimp is changing. Where I once felt that 12″ was too high, I now have my heart set on getting around a 2’3″ course without looking like a complete failure. And I will own a starter xc course this spring.

August. I briefly rode Gem in the arena and then quickly remembered why she was retired. Still was nice to see the world between these ears again.

I have a lot to work on still. I need to sit up and stop curling into a fetal position. I need to grab more mane and stay out of his way over the bigger fences. I need to figure out how to get him out of my hands but still in the bridle. I need to work on our bend forever. There is so much to learn. I’m finally in a place where I can learn those things and I have a great team of support behind me to get there.

September. I took Eeyore to his first show. We did the amoeba division schooling rounds and it was a complete blast.

I’m really excited about 2020. I have a trainer I adore, a horse that I love to work with, a supportive family and a big, big dream to conquer the starter division at a schooling HT before the summer lull hits. There is a lot of work to do before then and for the first time in a long time, I feel ready to tackle it all.

October. Another xc outing with Trainer. Eeyore was on fire this entire day. Just look at those happy ears as we launch off this bank.

One of the biggest lessons I learned this year is that while you can technically do eventing alone, it is a whole heck of lot easier and more fun to do it with a “tribe” (I still hate that word) at your back. No way would I have done either of the HTs this year without the support system around me. Sure we failed at the second one, but even failure is easier to swallow when your Trainer texts you with a plan of action and reassurance that it was only a bump in the road.

November. Surviving dressage at my very first full blown horse trial. What a day.

Trainer AB has spun my world on its head and I am loving it. Here’s to more personal growth in 2020!