Biomechanics, Pirouette Canter, and a Dressage Lesson

In addition to attempting death by humidity, I’ve also been getting my learn on this week.

On Monday it was a dressage lesson, and I warmed up Jack with a long walk warm up on a long rein, changing direction and overbending him through the neck to work out the kinks from his chiropractic session a few days prior (she had found issues on both sides of his neck, and he was wonky a couple days after). I then asked E to get on him since I had expected him to still be stiff, but actually he felt and looked really supple through his whole body.

After feeling him out, I hopped on him and we discussed some specific body mechanics concepts that were picked up from a recent Suzanne Von Dietz clinic. One of these nuggets included correcting a common rider problem- low hands. Often, if a rider is told to raise their hands, their shoulders also creep up- whereas instead the shoulders should stay down and back.

The visualization for fixing this then is to think about a wheel mechanism driving up our torso. As it brings the arms and hands up, it drives the shoulders down and the upper torso back. This was a really helpful mental reminder for me as we went along, and I could quickly correct myself when my hands got low by just hearing E mention the wheel.

The other position tip I got was regarding how my pelvis sits in the saddle. My pelvis should mirror his, just as my shoulders should mirror his. So for lateral work or work where he is truly bent around my leg, my shoulders are turned even more, creating a corkscrew effect on my torso which engages my core and makes for a stronger rider in general. My pelvis should sit somewhat forward on the inside of the saddle, specifically thinking about the pelvis and not the hip. Bringing the hip forward tends to make us tip forward and close the hip angle to the inside of the horse. Bringing the pelvis forward keeps the upper body back. By having the inside of the pelvis forward, and outside leg should stay back. You know you’ve got it right when you can feel the stretch through the outside hip flexor.

That stretch in particular was a really good indicator of whether or not I was doing it right- no stretch = pelvis not twisted to follow his bend.

We took these concepts into working on his collected canter and bringing his hind end along for the ride in order to start developing what will eventually become his pirouette canter. Homeboy is obviously feeling really well, because he was really sitting and was taking the weight himself versus dumping 1300# into my hands. Our half pass at the trot was also feeling great and so much easier in each direction.

Honestly, I was smiling from ear to ear after this lesson, despite Jack and I being soaked through and dog tired.

We had a successful jump lesson as well, but that’s enough detail to bore you with for now!



Executing the Plan

Last Tuesday, Jack had a chiro appointment that saw not nearly as much out as I expected, but a couple notable things needed adjusting on both sides of his neck. Then Friday we had our saddles fitted as planned, and big changes made to both my jump saddle (now sitting up much further off his withers) and my dressage saddle (which is less inclined to scooch left as much as it did, though still some).

Type-A personality at work here

Sunday we did our first proper conditioning set, which we did in the big ring at the trainer’s where there was plenty of space to work in, and where the footing was dependably good. This workout looked like:

  • 7 min walk warmup
  • 4 min trot, just working around edge of the arena
  • 2 min walk break
  • 4 min trot, incorporating some circles and working to get proper bend
  • 2 min walk break
  • 4 min trot, insisting on correct bend and staying straight through his body on long sides
  • 2 min walk
  • 5 min canter, mostly thinking about my position, last 2 minutes sending forward and back and trying to focus on just using my upper body to change speed/balance
  • 2 min walk
  • 5 min canter


At the end of this [37 min] work out Jack was heaving as expected. Granted, so was I! I very hurriedly took off his tack and got him under water as soon as possible, then in front of the fan (note to self: bring my own fan out next time so he can get both at same time). Without counting his breaths per minute, it appeared to take him 20 min to return back to completely normal breathing.

With the show this weekend there’s no point in doing conditioning, since we’re running XC and Jack will be getting a heck of a workout as is. So my plan will be to do another set like the above next Thursday, and Sunday get out to the XC field to do laps as part of our cardio routine.

was obsessed with this show as a kid, for obvious reasons

I won’t lie, doing this kind of work in the heat sucks. I’m not great in heat, and my tomato face is famous and unfortunately long lasting. But no pain, no gain, and so we will forge on in the safest way possible so that Kentucky doesn’t kill us, if we get to go.

I fully expect to roast at the show this weekend, though Jack will try out a Flair nose strip to hopefully make breathing a little easier. Has anyone had experience with those before- did you find it helpful? Any tips for putting them on??

Transformation Tuesday: Jumping then and Now

For Jack, showjumping (hell, jumping in general) is a work in progress.

OK, let’s be serious, I am a showjumping (riding) work in progress.

But it’s occasionally helpful to see how far we’ve come. It gives me hope for the future, at the very least. Here’s one of our latest courses, at Virginia 2 months ago. We’ll start here and go back in time…

Just going through the exercise of checking out our videos is illuminating. Like, I didn’t realize that it was 7 months ago that we were just trying to jump in a non-bolting fashion…

And though just 18 months ago we were, well, not scary, we weren’t exactly put together either. My leg was swinging like a monkey in a tree. I did not have the strength to keep my upper body back, and rode in a crouch with my leg stuck out front for balance. And ‘put him together’ essentially meant ‘try not to throw chance to the wind that you’ll get your spot’. PS- skipping to 18 months since we were out of action June through October last year due to bone bruising up front.

Oh, and while we’re reminiscing, let’s not forget our ditch issues… like at the Boyd Martin 20 months ago where I almost ran over said Olympian attempting to go across the ditch at Quail Roost…

And speaking of XC schooling… holy bejeezus what about this gem, almost 2 years to the day from now, where maiden fences were a win and I was so darn proud of that BN fence at the end.

… and to end, the same week, 2 years ago, when we were jumping baby baby fences and just getting the mere basics down.

All I can say is wow. I’m so glad to have done this exercise. It makes me so excited to see where we are going to go in the future, and I’m beyond proud of how far we’ve come.

I’ve owned the #BarbieDreamHorse for just a couple weeks more than 2 years now. Being in a program has done more for us than I ever imagined, and these videos don’t lie.

Jump Around, Jump Around

Jack and I had a big weekend, full of learning and jumping all the things.
Friday was a semi-private lesson, and we worked on developing the shape and canter that we’ve been working really hard on.

Jack is tricky to ride mostly because he can ride like so many different horses all in the course of one lesson- bold, backed off, and everything in between . So our goal recently has been to find one canter and try to maintain it throughout the course.

In search of this canter, I’ve had to learn how to keep more contact with his mouth, and with that extra contact I have to back it up with more leg. Keeping him packaged in this way keeps him round, and keeping him round makes the shape of his jump better. A rounder jump is the key to a clean round for us, because it’s when the jump gets hollow that we get rails.

One of the problems that we have in maintaining that idea though is energy. Jack was understandably tired at the end of our lesson on day 1, so on day 2 (a private jumping lesson) he came out feeling even more so. And when he gets tired, he gets very difficult in the bridle, going against my hand completely and overpowering me with his size. So it was a tricky lesson on day 2 to try and get him soft, and we attempted to use bend to flex his neck so he couldn’t use it against me. You can really see some of this struggle in the video below- homeboy wouldn’t even come round at the walk because he was fighting me so.

Ideally, we wouldn’t have such a tired horse to begin with, so the other tact is going to be incorporating true conditioning work into our routine. Besides our weekly showjumping lesson and dressage lesson/schoolings, I’m going to do my best to work in trot sets twice a week.

July’s tentative plan

We’ll start with 3 sets of 4 minute trot sets, with 2 minutes walking in between. Then 3 minutes of canter with the same breaks. Hopefully at the end of 2 months we’ll have built up to 4 minutes of canter, for a total of 12 minutes canter. This fulfill’s Jimmy Wofford’s belief that a Novice or Training horse should be able to slow canter twice the time of their XC course. Seeing as our XC courses tend to be 5 1/2 minutes, we should be more than able to meet that criteria by the end of August.

Gotta love having a plan- and hopefully this will result in a stronger, fitter version of both Jack and myself!


AEC Musings

I have so many feelings about this.

I am excited, proud to have qualified, feeling a bit like I don’t deserve it, and overwhelmed at the thought that I have 2 months to keep Jack in one piece: a skill in which he is… lacking. dearly, dearly lacking.

I’m also conflicted as to how much I should invest in this effort. It’s so hard to know how competitive I would be, and so therefore how much extra I should put into an already expensive event (thinking of extra lessons, etc). Jack is competitive at home (aka the Carolina Horse Park), but would our mid-upper 20s dressage score be enough to be enough to have a shot at a ribbon in a championship environment? That’s where I’m doubtful.

Still, this big once-in-a-lifetime event definitely has spurred me to take care of things I’ve let fall by the wayside for the last year.

For instance, I’ve been a bad horse mom and haven’t had my saddles refitted in almost 2 years. Eek. So likely they need a good hard assessment, and the fact that my jumping saddle now wants to slide a few inches back makes this even more critical.

Jack could definitely also benefit from some chiropractic attention. Homeboy is just big, and can be hard on himself physically, and I feel like his hips in particular are probably out of whack.

So in light of all this, he’s seeing both a new chiropractor, the saddle fitter and the vet for a check in next week.

And before that, I’ve got 3 lessons coming up this weekend, in an attempt to whip myself into tip top shape from a jumping perspective and try to iron out the kinks.

Am I crazy? How far do you go to prepare for a big show? What about the biggest show???


So, I won’t lie, I am both humbled (and somewhat embarrassed- more on that later) by the number of responses to my post yesterday.

Blogging is a funny thing. I started blogging not caring who read, but just to have the record of my journey with Foster and all the ups and downs of working with horses. Then occasionally people would discover my corner of the interwebs, and the interactions gained inertia, and before I knew it I was meeting my online connections in person (I believe Emily and were the firsts) and connecting with such interesting people that I would have never met without House on a Hill.

Thinking back to when Foster was the world this blog revolved around

I think shortly thereafter, I started doing my ridiculous discussion posts (aka me asking dumb questions about occasionally polarizing – or not– topics in the equestrian world) and started seeing the amazing ways the blogging community supports each other. I know it sounds so dumb, but so many of my blogger friends I count as real friends, because you guys have listened to my occasionally whiny, silly, stupid horsey rants outside of this blog, and I hope I was able to do the same for some of you as well. Sometimes this was ranting to Niamh about photography, or complaining to Amanda about the frustration of finding quality horses.

That time my #horsehunting got featured in an online mag

In any case, I fell off the face of the blogging planet when my 9-5 job escalated to another level by the umpteenth exponential. Around that time I also got a new computer, and completely fell into a void that I had tried to avoid months before. So not only did I drop off in terms of blogging myself, but also I was without my handy-dandy list of favorites (how I organized my blog list before)- so I also dropped off in the world of commenting.

My blogging SOS was what was needed to remind me of how much I do love being part of this community, and I am embarrassed for bowing to the level of what seems like a call-for-attention in order to determine my own self worth as a blogger. But, since that is indeed what’s invigored me, I thank all of you who commented. I’ve since followed the advice that was given to me months ago and regained many of my favorite blogs to follow via feedly. I’m sorry I didn’t do this when it was first suggested- maybe I wouldn’t have gone MIA so quickly.

In any case, I can’t tell y’all how much I appreciate it. I have lots to update you on, and I’ll be starting with my ‘About’ pages, since, for better and for worse, things have changed. Thank you guys for being part of the journey, and I hope to be a more active participant in yours going forward.

So this is my sorry, my apology, and my thank you. I have lots to tell you guys. And I’m feeling re-energized to do so. Look for a better-blogging-Britt in your near future.

Show Recap: June War Horse Jumping and an SOS

Thank goodness, showjumping the day of the show went way better than our practice the day before- in which he warmed up like a dream, but went in completely scatter brained and we even had a drive-by at fence 6.

But in the lesson I had yesterday, we worked on some of the things that show up in this course. Like my not traveling through the turn, and getting a weak canter that ends in a weak spot at the base of the fence, which is how my rail in the video above happened. I really have to work to keep him both packaged and forward, and when both of those elements aren’t present the rails start to tumble.

Back to the show- SJ was better and overall I am actually really happy that I was able to mostly maintain the shape that H wants me to have between the fences- no running around like an over excited llama for us! My upper body is looking better, but I need to keep backing it up with my leg, which somehow is still a struggle for me. So a couple wins, and as always, plenty to work on.

XC was an absolute blast- right out of the gate Jack was feeling ‘on’ and I let him go after just the second fence, and he was jumping everything out of stride and eating up the course. So much so that I realized about 3/4 of the way through that I was way ahead of my watch.

The part of me that knew we weren’t going to win with that rail (I hadn’t seen my dressage score yet- thank goodness) and the other part of me that was having too much fun both said (mostly) fuck it however- and gallop on we did, with just a little extra packaging towards the end to try to save the damage. Still, we came in with several speed faults, but you couldn’t have wiped the grin off my face if you’d tried.

So, the other part of this post is to determine if I have any readers still out there. I won’t lie, it’s been hard to keep up with the blog while my role at work grew (taking away major braining capacity) and my photography hustle grew (taking away my time), and you know, riding the horse that this blog is mostly about. I’m torn- I’ve had this blog (including House on a Hill before it) for so many years, being a part of the blogger community feels like my identity, and I’m loathe to give up the connections and relationships there. But I also feel strange wondering if I’m simply singing in an empty room, in which case, I could technically move my personal notes to Evernote or some other documenting app. It’s the comments and the conversation that have kept me hanging on. What say you?

June War Horse: Novice Dressage A

I guess I’ve been long overdue for a great big WTF moment in dressage, but I sure got it this weekend.

I thought we put in a pretty respectable test. Sure, he came above the bit in a couple transitions, but I thought our geometry was good, his balance was up, and I was really focusing on my position.

Apparently the judge didn’t agree. I got my first 6.5 on rider score, and my mind is still blown by that 6.5 on the free walk. Also, her overall comment wants more bend through his ribcage, but wants him straighter in the canter transition on the circle? Any DQ’s out there that want to explain to me? I’m all ears.

In any case, that was a bit disappointing but I’m going to try to learn from it and move on. I’ll recap SJ and XC this week!

The answer to Life, the Universe, Everything… Minus 10


I’ve been running around like an idiot (emphasis on idiot) but I wanted to capture a few of the learnings from the last couple weeks so that my silly brain doesn’t lose them.

Last night I had a dressage lesson where we worked on some big-kid stuff, namely canter half pass. Jack has a good concept of haunches in on a circle, so mostly this involved trying to get the haunches in as we travel on a short diagonal. In theory, this should set us up for success once we get to learning flying changes, as we can use the lateral movement to help him think about sitting versus exploding through his shoulders (which is his MO in general).

The exercise

The way we introduced this concept to him was by trying what E called ‘the paperclip’, that is getting his haunches in and him sitting, then trying to bring that across a short diagonal before turning and trying again. To really get him to step sideways she had me leaning into the direction to show him more clearly which way we were going. Apparently Carl Hester has some students lean so far as to look at the inside hind as they ride it, but luckily I wasn’t asked to do that!

I have been feeling rather crooked recently, and so we also worked on an exercise to see where I am sitting in the saddle. This involved thinking of the seat of the saddle as a clock face, and I tried to land my seat at 3 and 9 when posting, then 12 and 6, then post around the clock backwards and forwards. It was definitely an interesting feeling and gave me a better feel of where I was in the saddle, so I’ll be playing around with that in my warm up whenever I feel super crooked.

mind numbing

In case you are simply burning with desire to see part of our lesson, a lovely friend took some video for me. You can see a bit of our warm up here, which includes references to the clock idea, and also some canter where we do micromovements- pushing his haunches in and out, flexing him right and left, and moving his shoulders around.


The Big Deal part of VAHT

We all know Jack is an interesting duck. Not only is he basically the bubble boy (or needs to be at least) and spooky, but he also becomes terribly unconfident at shows. At the Carolina Horse Park, I have now basically ostracized myself from the trainer’s group, because Jack needs as few friends as possible (aka end stall) and definitely no mare friends (because apparently mares are more interesting at shows), lest he melt into a screaming puddle any time one of his buddies leaves.

At the Virginia Horse Park, not having been there before, (I didn’t realize the walls were concrete) I put down similar requests for our stabling. So Jack didn’t have a neighbor, but he did have a full view of Lainey Ashker’s beautiful group of horses that shared the aisle with us. And I don’t know if it was that, or the venue, or what, but the biggest highlight of the weekend was this:

Jack hung his head out the stall.

And not only did he do this, he also didn’t A) run his teeth up and down the walls (his anxious tick), B) scream when horses left, or C) keep his head in the far corner ignoring the world.

AND he ate! Like, every meal. All the hay.

It’s a freaking miracle.

Seriously though, having a relaxed horse that actually seemed to enjoy himself, doing normal horse things, and wanting to be engaged in the outside world (even though it meant he chewed my Lund Saddlery reins :<) was absolutely the highlight of the weekend.

To top it all off, he was a total pleasure to walk around the property when stretching his legs- I almost didn’t think I needed the rope halter- and was a pretty cool customer in the warmups and hacking up the hill to XC.

It’s these things that make that measly rail a blip on the radar. His attitude was every bit as victorious as a blue ribbon.

The test will be to see if the same chill version of Jack shows up at the next War Horse show. I sure hope so, he’s a cool guy.