Over the solid jumps we go

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.

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!

Handing over the reins

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.

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???

The Country Road Brings him Home

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.

 

Another Foster Home

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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A lightbulb jumping moment

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.

Newsflash! (NOT)
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?

Managing Nerves at Home

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!

Pre-Ride Routine 
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!

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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!

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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!

Behind the Silence

If you’re wondering why this blog sort of dropped off a cliff activity-wise last year, you got a fairly good explanation in my last post. Fretting over Jack and dealing with his bubble-boy tendencies took up a lot of mental headspace that left me too drained to blog.

And then, when I wasn’t at the barn, often times I was behind a camera (trying to work off all those damn vet bills!). I did more than 40 photoshoots last year, and when you add up the tasks of scheduling, editing, and traveling to/from the session itself… well- I was busy. In a good way, but busy nonetheless. In looking back I recently put together the below graphic of an image from each session I did in 2018, and after posting it on my BGD page I of course immediately realized I have left off at least 2 sessions, and likely a few more.

2018 wasn’t all work and no play, though, because I did some traveling as well- fun stuff like WEG….

Where we ooooh’d and awwww’d over the magnificent ponies and enjoyed fun times with horsey friends. We also went to Paris!

Where we got in front of a camera for once! Shot by an Irish showjumper no less!

Oh, and then there was a trip to Great Meadows, supporting our insanely talented friend Ema conquer the tough XC track!

Not XC- hearts were too much in our throats to bother photographing

So there you have a small picture of why RotR (formerly House on a Hill) got little attention last year. I am hoping that Jack gets his ish together and that I have enough brainpower left to get this little blog up and running again though! So please stay tuned!

A List of 2018 Things I’d Rather not Happen Again

I purchased Jack in the summer of 2017, and was told the age-old adage about how thin skinned dilutes can be. (Thin/sensitive skin, thin soles, etc etc)

But it wasn’t until 2018 that I realized just how true that was, and what a fragile flower Jack really is. So in honor of my Sensitive Sally, here is a look back at the trouble the giant yellow pony has been in these last 12 months.

February 2018
Jack went off his food for several days and had a nasty runny nose. Not cool given that I’d been working so hard to put weight back on him after discovering that he’s a hard keeper in winter.

March 2018
Some slight NQRness up front ended up leading to a lameness workup and hock injections. Bye money, nice knowing you! (let’s be serious- did I ever have a surplus of cash since purchasing Jack (or ever) – no!). He also kicked himself in the hock at some point this month, right before a show, so I learned to do a double wrap that was changed every few hours to get us through.

April 2018
Hives. SO MANY FUCKING HIVES.

Halp! My horse is mutating!

May 2018
As soon as we weaned off the Dex, the hives started returning. Also, we had a small trailering accident which left some seriously jangled nerves for me and some scrape ups for Jack. Also I developed a stomach bug that left me incapable of eating for 4 days straight (and I love eating).

June 2018
June was an absolute shit show. Jack started having trouble catching his breath and so we introduced the horsey inhaler. Then he injured his eye and had to get an obscene amount of meds to heal him. Then he went NQR again and we thought we had collateral ligament damage.

July 2018
We took a fun (not) trip to Tryon where I had a standing MRI done on Jack and luckily most of the issues were in his fetlocks/coffin joint and some bone edema, which is better (respectively) than soft tissue. We started IRAP in the coffin joints and created a rehab plan that contained Jack to a teeny-tiny paddock outside to limit his movement.

August 2018
We started tack walking, only to get into trouble and interrupt our rehab plans. A massive tick attached itself to his front left pastern, causing considerable irritation and swelling in the area. We got that down, and then the fool creature kicked himself in that leg, scraping it and inducing a round of cellulitis. Giant fat leg, no riding, lots of stress.

Cellulitis that followed

September 2018
I traveled a TON, which meant that I couldn’t keep a solid eye on the creature. And apparently he behaved himself.

November 2018
Jack lost a shoe while I was gone, which was super inconvenient, since those shoes cost a small fortune and require ordering ahead of time. He tore up his foot while waiting for the shoe to come in, and ended up with lots of bruising aka more time off and a new obsession in how his feet look.

$$$$$

December 2018
We finally start to get back into lessons (jumping, since the dressage trainer was in Welly world). Jack seems tight/tense and I realized he was probably due to get his hocks injected again. Soooo that happened.

January 2018
Well, here we are. We’re still getting back into the swing of things. Jack gave us a colic scare on Monday after the show, but some banamine and a close eye from our barn manager got him back to rights.

 

So…. umm. Now that I’ve typed that all out. I’m slightly scared. PLEASE Jack, stay in one piece!!!

Show Recap: Pipe Opener BN – SJ

So apparently after dressage we were somehow able to hold our heads high. But of course, dressage is my strongest phase and there were plenty of opportunities for gaffs in showjumping – right now Jack and I’s weakest phase.

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Trainer had us start jumping when we were 5 riders out, since there was little point in overjumping him. He felt substantially more relaxed, and when we started jumping we were catching good(ish) distances and clearing the warmup fences with room to spare. The course looked like a good sort for us, lots of changes in direction to keep the yellow pony from gaining too much speed and snowballing as we went along.

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We didn’t.

Did I mention that the course looked good for us? Well yes, it did. In fact I was feeling pretty confident about it. The fences looked small (hallelujah!), the turns were nice, and the trainer and I were discussing about using this as an opportunity to take tighter turns. I may have taken that slightly too much to heart.

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See the below diagram for my might mistake. The grey dotted line represents the sane, though tight rollback that we were supposed to execute. The purple line… represents my amateur moment. Yes, not even two fences into the course I presented my horse face-first into the wing of a fence, and then decided to ask him to jump it anyways. Which he did. Good lord, I didn’t deserve that but many, many thanks, Jack.oops-01.jpg

Annnnnd after immediately seeing the humor of the situation and vocally apologizing to my coach, I proceeded to allow my brain to melt out of my ears and ride like shite for the rest of the course. Pretty sure there is only one line where we are actually on the correct lead. Because you know, besides eventing, embarrassing myself is like my next best hobby.

So enjoy the below video, where we go double clear despite my obvious attempts to sabotage us from fence 2. Where we solidify our second place finish out of 20 competitors. Where I feel sorry for the people who had to watch us (listen to the audio), and get confused about how they were supposed to go from 1 to 2 (hint: don’t do what I did).

Sorry Jack, I’ll do better next time.

Show Recap: Pipe Opener CT – BN – Dressage

Seriously, y’all, if we wanted an eventful first show, well this one delivered.

The week of was an absolute comedy of errors, with my day-job being turned upside down thanks to some executive decisions, a couple late-night benders including one that ended in a flat tire, and a lesson that included Jack and I both almost eating dirt (sand) in one spectacular miss.

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But I digress.

We arrived at the show in good time, and Jack seemed content to munch hay outside the trailer while I did some seriously last minute cleaning (because, see above: flat tire) so I looked presentable enough not to embarrass the trainer at our first outing in 8 months. Ha! I was worried about tack- that’s funny. That’s tomorrow’s post.

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Jack and I entered the warm up with about 25 minutes before our test. Not as much time as I’d like, but still enough for a schooling BN CT. He was fairly tense, and walking wasn’t quite the distraction he needed, so I quickly warmed up enough to canter and just let him move those muscles, and surely enough he started the settle some.

The person ahead of me headed over to the dressage court, and the ring steward hollered that I was on deck, and then all hell broke loose.

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Almost accurate representation of the events, except the dino ends up in the dirt

Yup. 25′ from us, one hot headed MF started bucking, sending his rider up onto his neck where she somehow stuck on for 3 bucks before hitting the dirt.

The now riderless horse goes careening around the busy warmup, dodging other horses and even running into a pair of riders standing next to the exit. And of course Jack is standing in the middle of the arena all:

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I dismounted, not trying to be some hero and realizing that I might be the next rider off, given that my 17h yellow creature was blowing at everything in sight and his tail was straight up in the air. That’s a long way to fall, thank you very much.

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It wasn’t.

At that point, there was no real way to get back to any sort of relaxation. I got back on and attempted to soften Jack’s bran with some leg yielding circles and transitions, but all of the sudden I was sitting on a rather long, tall, yellow brick with anxiety coursing through its veins.

I can’t tell you in detail how the test went, but I can tell you that I exited thinking I had earned my first 40. I knew there were a couple good moments, but it was definitely only 50% compared to the tests we’d been practicing at home. I was bummed knowing that we weren’t getting a score that reflected all the hard work of late.

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Imagine my surprise that the judge loved us. What can I say- maybe she likes yellow ponies. Maybe our turnout gave us bonus points. Maybe the few good moments were in all the right places. I don’t know. But we were in 2nd after dressage out of 20 competitors, and I honestly wondered if they had switched my score with someone else’s accidentally.

 

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And so ended the dressage phase of our first show back.