I'm a web/graphic designer and photographer entrenched in the equestrian lifestyle. Since growing up on a horse breeding farm, I never left the Pony Princess phase, and currently, compete in the sport of Eventing (Equestrian Triathlon) as an Adult Amateur.
Sunday the sun finally came out, and it warmed up enough to make everything feel a bit cheerier. While the footing out on the course was definitely torn up in some places, for the most part it actually helped to churn up the grass in the slickest places.
The warm up ring was a huge improvement over the day before (thank goodness, because I’m not sure I could have survived another), and we had a quick canter and gallop about before tossing in a couple fences and heading to the start box. Holly had me thinking about galloping away from the jump, which admittedly I can forget to do in the excitement of having reached the other side of the fence. Oops.
Overall though, the course was a nice first go back, and featured a couple long gallops between spurts of fences (fences 1-4 were together, then 6-11, then 12-16). Because of the wetness I just let him cruise without pushing down the long stretch after fence 4 (some of which you can see in the video), and brought him to a trot where there were tighter turns to fences since we don’t have studs.
SPHT Novice XC 3.10.19 - YouTube
While a couple fences felt a little rusty (he jumped me out of the tack over 1 that we got in deep to, and then hit a big table at the end fairly hard that was at the top of a hill), overall it was a pretty confidence building run. We came in more than 30 seconds under the optimum time and though tired, Jack was convinced he could keep on running. He pranced back to the barn hollering his head off, and looked no worse for wear under strong scrutiny.
Could care less about the ribbon- more interested in wondering where all his friends are going
Thanks to our clear jumping rounds, we finished in second place. The most exciting thing about this is of course that it qualifies us for the AEC’s later this year, which has been a dream of mine since FOREVER.
Now to keep the golden boy in one piece, and get another couple recognized shows in to seal the deal!
I walked my XC course in a downpour. Poor souls tried to ride their horses or unload their trailers in the wet, and slowly our showgrounds turned into a city of drowned rats. Where there were puddles, lakes appeared, and the only upside was that the water complexes were looking more and more inviting as our horses desensitized themselves to wet toes.
This was all fine for the moment, as I smugly enjoyed hiding under the overhang cleaning tack, having already ridden and unpacked. And then I realized that we were warming up for showjumping on grass that was getting slicker by the minute.
And though the next day it had stopped raining, it didn’t get any dryer. So this is pretty much how the warmup went:
And of course I shared my SJ warmup with a couple of folks riding horses that were hellbent at killing us all. They went sideways, they went up, there was head tossing and rearing and cursing, and it was so slick that I couldn’t turn fast to get out of the way.
Jack handled it amazingly well- but as for me, well:
all while shooting bullets at people with my eyes
The trainer was wondering what the hell was wrong with me, while my brain was quietly cooking inside my head. I was relieved then when it was time to head over to the ring and leave that hot mess behind us.
SPHT- Novice SJ 3.9.19 - YouTube
Despite all that, our course was actually one of our best to date. Jack is really settling into his role as show horse, and bar a dumb spook turning to the final line, was fairly rideable throughout. For myself, I am finally learning to sit up, but still got a little leany about halfway through, causing Jack to pick up the pace and put in less balanced approaches. #mybad
So, coming in almost 10 seconds under, we survived wrapped up showjumping and then sat in second before cross country.
It’s been a hell of a week. And at times when I wanted to blog most I had either no time, no brainpower, or no computer handy. #firstworldproblems amirite?!
But onto the show.
For the last couple months, I’d been working though the Novice B test in a committed way- something about those changes of direction from B to E and vice versa give me a certain form of heartburn. Add in that out right lead center depart had been, let’s say, a bit dramatic/erratic, and I was more than a little worried.
As most horse folks know, recognized shows are not exactly cheap. They represent a significant investment monetarily, and of course also occupy a decent chunk of mental space and hours preparing to boot. They aren’t exactly a throw-away scenario, and I wanted this show to count, as much as possible. Feeling like I hadn’t prepared enough was the scenario I wanted to avoid most.
Anyways, that is all to say that I schooled the hell out of that test. Mostly not all at once but in pieces, because I’ve discovered that this is the best way to avoid serious frustration and make for a better test in the long run.
We arrived at the show Friday just after lunch, and had plenty of time to do a long walk warmup (like 25 min) before running through a test situation. Saturday I did my pre-ride as planned, and though tense at first, felt like Jack settled fairly well.
Our warmup for the actual event was not quite as relaxed, but with a bit of coaching he felt as good as possible and we entered the ring early.
SPHT- Novice D 3.9.19 - YouTube
Bar the free walk, I really am quite happy with the test. There were moments when I felt like I could have asked for more impulsion, but at the risk of getting tense, I feel ok with the result. The only part that really fries me is the free walk- normally this is an easy 8 or 9 for us. But as you can hear in the video, our OK-ish free walk was also interrrupted by a big spook in the ring next to us, just out of sight of the camera. Jack looked up understandably, then came back to me like the good boy he is, but in a short arena even that blip was enough to earn us a 6.5.
In the end, we ended up scoring a 27.4, which earned us 3rd place in a pack of 16. I won’t lie that the free walk score sort of sticks in my craw, but luckily some well meaning Instagram folks have been good about giving me a better way of looking at things.
I guess, when you’ve been building up for a return like this, or a show that you’ve been preparing for for months at a time, you let it become this gargantuan goal that it should never be. Horses are animals, and even if yours is perfect, it doesn’t mean that someone else’s isn’t going to be a distraction. That ended up being true for show jumping as well, which I’ll get into tomorrow.
Horses, man. Always a teaching opportunity. Always giving us an opening to become a better, wiser human being. Gosh darn it, we have to love them and hate them for that. Anyways, tomorrow (if I’m lucky), I’ll recap SJ!
Sunday was Jack’s first time seeing a cross country fence since May of last year. And where I expected spookiness and spasms, I was surprised to find I had a rateable and reasonable horse instead.
Honestly, there’s not much to say because he was so good! We kept things fairly small and simple to make for a confidence-building experience.
Mostly, Jack was brilliant, and I need to improve lots of things about myself to make for a more effective ride. I’m still working on being slower with my upper body, and I got plenty of reminders to keep my hands closer to his neck both as we’re cantering and over the fences.
XC school 2.10.19 - YouTube
Honestly, though, our main takeaway from the day was that cross country is SO fun, and I can’t wait to get out there again!
Next weekend I intend to take an exciting personal trip to Welly world, taking photos of gorgeous creatures and soaking in the sunshine. The only real downside to this is that we will miss the opportunity to get out and show again before the recognized competition I signed up for in early March.
So, after some thought and consulting the trainer, I decided to let someone else compete him. Since she happens to be a well schooled Prelim rider, she should be set up to give him a great experience in the arena and give him a bit more positive mileage since his long break.
Alexa and Jack - YouTube
I’ve never had anyone show a horse of mine before, and the idea that someone other than myself would be hauling my delicate flower around, tending to his needs, and even jumping him without my even being in the same state- well, that pricks my anxiety in no small way.
But the stress of letting my baby bird leave the nest will hopefully be worth it, ideally with Jack being just that little bit more relaxed at the big show next month.
Tell me- have you ever had someone fill in for you at a show, on your horse? How did it go???
Saturday I went to see Foster as planned, with not a little trepidation and all the options for him flipping through my head like a possessed rolodex. With me were 2 folks from my barn, who might have an interest in leasing him somehow but also were there as emotional support when the inevitable tears came.
And they did, though thankfully they were happy tears. Foster is hairy and fat, but happy, at ease, and still knows how to smile. I got to see him walk, trot, and canter on the lunge line briefly before hopping aboard for the first time in years. Despite not being quite as round and dressage-pony-esque, he was exactly the same. I was so tempted to drop the reins and canter around forever- but first, my friends had to experience the magic.
Feels like home
It didn’t take long before they convinced me to bring him home. Foster is as charming as he ever was, just as happy to trot around the arena as he is to be a couch and take a nap in the sun while we chatted. And they felt confident that between them, a lease situation could be worked out.
Plus- baby goats!
What we landed on: he would have a free lease situation, and my costs would be his monthly supplements (some Smartpak supplements so he can be enrolled in ColicCare) and any vet costs. So I contacted all the requisite people, and told them the news that Foster had a home and because of the gorgeous weather (60* in February, yes please!) I’d be picking him up in the morning.
My heart swelled as he hopped on the trailer with nary a thought, and the ride home was quiet as I’m sure he pondered what would happen next. When he stepped off the trailer at the farm, Jack was there staring down the situation- I’m sure he knows that’s “his” trailer, and to see another creature come off it was perplexing. Of course I immediately let them meet, and there was a mutual curiosity that lasted just long enough for me to snap a couple pics.
And so he’s home. He’s going to be the first face to greet barn visitors, just as he was before I retired him. I can’t wait for him to meet all the folks who have not yet had the opportunity to fall in love with him, and appreciate his kind eye and Fabio forelock. More updates to come as we begin this new part of Foster’s story. And a new chapter in mine- as I go just as suddenly from one horse to two horse family, and get to relish in seeing my old partner close by again.
This is not going to be an easy post to write. I’m still figuring things out- so much so that I have almost zero ideas of where to go from here.
Foster once again needs a home. Through no fault of his current person, he doesn’t have a job and won’t be getting the attention he deserves. For the third time since I retired him from competition, I once again will be going through a process that almost breaks my heart.
Foster doesn’t deserve this. He wants a person. More than anything, I want to keep him; find a situation that allows me financially to support a second [albeit retired] horse. I have no idea if it’s possible. To be honest, in all likelihood, it’s not.
To further my internet confession, I have not seen Foster in a long time. I’m not proud of this. Partially it’s because I feel guilty, but a good chunk of it is because I know that I relinquished him to another person; that I ever gave him up; and now he is not mine. I’m also afraid that I will hate that he doesn’t look like he used to- the show-ready, beautiful paint pony that haunts my memories.
Foster is a special guy- personable, cute-as-a-button, and still has lots of miles ahead of him (even if it’s not in dressage/eventing). Do I find him a home and hope that his new person understands how much I love him and don’t want to lose track of him? Do I figure out a way to keep him even if it makes my home and financial life strained?
I don’t expect answers, I’ve just got a lot of thinking and research to do. So I ask you, I need support, if only emotionally. I’ll do my best to keep you posted. and if you have any ideas- I’m willing to hear them. Though I’ll be super picky about where my beloved Fosterpants ends up.
I may not have become the next Beezie Madden last night, but I definitely felt like it was a transformational lesson.
I’ve never been proud of my equitation, which tends to want improving in almost every aspect of my body. Lately though (or like, for years), my greatest sin has been to be too quick with my upper body over the fence. I snap from my hips over the fence way too much, and occasionally snap back up too soon on the descending side of the fence. Neither is optimal.
This isn’t cute.
Thanks to all the video I’ve gotten recently, I got to see what my trainer means when she’s yelling at me to “slow down my body”, or “be patient with my shoulders” or even “just let him come up to you”. Holy moly. We’ve started making jokes about me trying to smell his mane when I jump, which simultaneously makes me cringe and laugh to think about it.
Side note: His mane does *not* smell like Herbal Essences
So after reading Amanda’s post about her most recent jumping lesson, one sentence really stood out to me:
“… think of keeping my chin up all the way to and over and jump.”
And the lightbulb went off- keeping my chin away from his neck, versus burying it, seems like such an obvious thing but between that and the video stills from above, I had what I needed to feel it in the saddle.
So last night I got to apply my new epiphany. I kept my chin up and away from him, with a very supporting leg all the way around the ring. I focused on bringing his shoulders through the turns to help keep balance and straightness. And rather than thinking about keeping my shoulders ‘away’ or ‘back’, I thought about bringing my tail bone forward.
Sadly there’s no hiding this
For me, thinking about my tail bone lately has been a huge deal. It helps me engage my weak lower back, and core, and keeps my legs under me when I sit up instead up shooting them out in front of me and hollowing through the back, which tends to happen when I try to sit up and back.
Shoulders are better, but lower leg is swinging and my back is hollow
All of these visualizations and realizations helped me finally be so much more patient last night, and Jack jumped around beautifully over a full set of Novice fences- our first 3′ course since last spring.
I’m hoping that in re-reading this I will be able to ride like that again next time. Until then- what mental reminders do you give yourself to improve your position?
As part of being an RW ambassador, I might occasionally write posts for their new interactive blog, and when I saw that they were looking for a post around nervous ponies, I know that had to be my topic! Since you guys are already familiar with my worry-wort horse, I don’t need to tell you that he can be an outright spaz at home, especially in the indoor arena.
In the interest of full disclosure, this post does include some product recommendations- but I was not compensated in any way for authoring this article. So, onward good friends, and let us learn some tips and tricks for reining in those at-home butterflies!
I’ve found that most horses (like humans), like a routine. Often this means riding him at similar times of day so he doesn’t worry. Once he’s in, if time allows I will throw my Back on Track Therapeutic sheet on him and give him a warm mash so he has a little something in his stomach before we work. I believe that the sheet helps warm up his back, while the food acts as a barrier against increased stomach acid, which could potentially lead to ulcers.
Looking for Lions
After he’s finished, warm and happy, then we go into a grooming routine. Jack loves a good groom, and is especially a fan of the Soft & Gentle Grooming Brush, which massages his coat and loosens all the dirt (and lately, mud) that he is so fond of accumulating. Side bonus: A thorough grooming also allows me to check out every bit of him, and make sure he’s in tip-top shape before getting on.
In The Tack
Once I’m aboard, our focus on relaxation continues. Many horses need a job to find relaxation, and Jack is no different. So even while walking, we don’t dawdle – we march around the ring and I encourage him to swing through his back and lengthen his neck. It’s tough to be tense when you’re long, low and forward!
As we begin to trot, I can assess again how tense or nervous Jack is. If he continues to be on high alert, routine and repetition again become our best friends. On particularly nervous days, our trainer has us find patterns to repeat until he settles. This could be circles at A, B, C, and E all the way around the dressage court, or figure 8’s, or even “boring” walk/trot transitions until he gives a big sigh and releases his tension. Sometimes it takes 5 minutes, sometimes it takes 20 – but in the end it does make a difference!
The Rider’s Influence
This may be the most important part of settling a nervous horse – and that’s your mental mindset! Often our own nervousness is communicated to the horse through our body language, so it’s important to constantly assess yourself to check that you aren’t ‘screaming’ “RUN!” to your horse accidentally.
Position-wise, a following hand can help a horse relax, whereas many riders (myself included) tend to clutch the reins in anticipation of a spook. When I get strong, sensing a startle about to happen, my trainer constantly tells me, “Show him what to do instead of telling him what not to do.” This reframes the moment, so instead of worrying about the reaction, she encourages me to make things more positive by giving him tasks – lengthen his neck, bend around my leg, or some other exercise. It’s been a big lightbulb moment for us!
Breathing exercises are also a helpful way to relax a stiff body. Sometimes I sing to myself if I’m feeling very nervous (under my breath when I’m around others). Frank Sinatra is my favorite for resetting my jangled nerves, and it’s impossible to hold your breath and sing at the same time! Another trick is to let out an audible sigh so the horse can hear you; this not only helps you release tension in your body but also indicates to the horse that you are relaxed!
So much of our connection with horses is about trust, and helping my horse relax while doing his job only builds on our relationship. I hope these tips and ideas help you and your horse enjoy your rides more!