The NOT-so Steady Eddie

Jack is lovely. Like, the more I get to know the giant yellow pony, the more I love him. And it’s been 1.5 years officially now, so you know, he’s grown on me.

But one thing both my trainers have always told me, as if I needed to know, (though I hang on their every word- after all I respect it enough to pay for it by the hour), is that- well, this horse is not exactly a dead head. In fact, more often he is just an outright spaz.

See last night’s BN-A practice:

This was our second attempt at the test that we are doing this weekend. The first run-through was okay but marred by lots of tension and a little rushy. Since I felt like the next attempt would be better, I asked a barnmate to record before I went down centerline again.

For Jack this is fairly typical- we’re getting more and more moments of relaxation, but homeboy is always on alert to some degree, hence the spooks. What I’m most pleased about in watching this is how quickly he settles back into work- early in our relationship he would spook, then I would get tense, then he would get more tense, and, well, you can see that would be difficult to resolve.

Knowing that there won’t be mirrors around the dressage court at CHP, nor cell phones appearing out of nowhere, hopefully there’s a shot at getting a more confident test out of him on Saturday. We’ll see 🙂

Product Review: Stubben Easy Control Gag

So, if you recall, my next step after pissing off Jack (by demanding he not go hollow before jumping) was to purchase a gag bit, specifically, the Stubben Easy Control 3 Ring Gag Bit. Try saying that one 3 times fast!

Luckily, Riding Warehouse had exactly what I needed. I didn’t want to spend a fortune (defined as >$100) on a bit, and I really didn’t want to have to change out the cheek pieces on my bridle to accommodate a more traditional gag. The latter mostly because we have fussed with Jack’s bridle setup so much that I didn’t want to do it all over again.

The 3 ring gag allows for you to attach the cheek piece to the small ring, and the rein goes on the bottom, larger ring. The gag action is then only activated when enough rein is applied that the edge of the mouthpiece cannot slide further up (or down) the shaft. To describe it more fully, RW’s description states thus:

When the reins are engaged with light pressure, the mouthpiece acts as a snaffle, but as pressure increases, it functions as a mullen mouth. The ergonomically shaped mouthpiece fits comfortably in the horse’s mouth, while the three-piece design eliminates the nutcracker effect or palate pressure for a more comfortable ride.

The unique cheekpieces offer the traditional “gag” action through a sliding mouthpiece which promotes stronger poll pressure, providing the rider with more control. Also, a stronger lateral effect is achieved due to the center connection of the mouthpiece to the cheek pieces. This aids in avoidance of the bit and provides correction to resistance of direct rein pressure. The sliding gag mechanism is quicker due to the center fulcrum for enhanced communication between horse and rider.

This works well for us, since on the flat Jack has a very nice, polite mouth and a stronger bit isn’t needed. When the gag was activated as we approached a fence, however, he was definitely surprised.

I admit, the first lesson trying out this bit over fences wasn’t pretty. All of the sudden I did have so much more control, and he was no longer charging at the fences like a lunatic giraffe. Instead, we were able to quietly canter up to each jump, then Jack would occasionally throw his head up, hit the gag, surprise himself, but still jump the fence. By the end of the lesson there were less ‘surprise’ fences and overall Jack was learning that using his back in a bascule was a much more pleasant experience for us both.

While the bit is obviously well made (I trust Stubben in many things, and this piece of equipment is no exception), my only complaint was that it seemed on the small size for a 5.5″. While it fit well enough to test, I ended up going back to the site to check into exchanging it for a larger size. And sure enough, saw this fine print in the Product Details that I had missed:

Please Note: To protect your horse from possible pinching, use one size larger than your normal snaffle.

Yup. Thar she blows.

In yesterday’s lesson, I had him in the larger size of the bit, but with the addition of bit guards to keep a close feel on his mouth. You can see he’s still fighting with me a bit, particularly when I go to push him off my left leg/flex him left, but overall it’s a HUGE difference from the monstrosity that he was just a month ago.

Overall, this bit may be our saving grace. I give it a hearty A+, for giving us the ‘easy control’ it promised!

 

Playing with Fire: 2019 HOPEFUL Schedule

Just in case you didn’t see my disclaimer already, I’m posting it again. Because one cannot knock on wood too many times, yes? (Unless you’re OCD like me, then the answer is probably definitely yes)

Disclaimer: Dear Lord, if you happen to read this blog, or see into my thoughts, or what have you, please know that these are hopes and I’m not overly ambitious. Or I’m hoping not. I will work hard towards all the ideas that are to follow, and should you deem that my more lofty goals be too much, I only ask you please spare my horse’s soundness. Please keep him safe on the roads that he travels with me. And I apologize for the over-indulgence in wine for the last several years. Amen.

So, assuming that all the riding/training goals of yesterday’s post get accomplished, here is my wish list of events to attend this year. Written in the digital version of the most erasable pencil ever.

Jan 12 – Pipe Opener CTBN
We’re signed up for this already, and we’re hopefully just going to pop around at BN and get our sea legs back!

Feb 3 – Sporting Days Recognized HTBN
Maaaaaaybe. 
Depends on how he’s going, if it’s financially feasible, and a lot of other poop. It’s in Aiken, which is an almost 5 hour haul. And I hate driving that much.

Feb 16 – Pipe Opener CT IINovice
If all goes to plan (again, see disclaimer) I would love to get back to Novice level at this show

March 9 – Southern Pines Recognized HTNovice
Eeeek this is where I scare myself.

April 20 – Longleaf Recognized HTNovice


May 11 – May War Horse Schooling HTNovice
Includes the possibility of just schooling XC in case I decide to do option B

OR

May 25 – Paradise Farm Recognized HTNovice
Because I’ve heard such good things about this place, I’d love to fit it in!


June 15 –War Horse Schooling HTNovice

OR

June 22 – Stable View Recognized HTNovice
Another gorgeous facility in Aiken. This one will depend on how we are doing competitively because….


Aug 27 – AMERICAN EVENTING CHAMPIONSHIPNovice
OK now I’m terrified. But I said it. Wrote it. Typed it. Whatever. I’d be fulfilling a life dream if I can make this happen. And it’s at the Kentucky Horse Park!

The sloth hath spoken.

2019 Goals

Disclaimer: Dear Lord, if you happen to read this blog, or see into my thoughts, or what have you, please know that these are hopes and I’m not overly ambitious. Or I’m hoping not. I will work hard towards all the ideas that are to follow, and should you deem that my more lofty goals be too much, I only ask you please spare my horse’s soundness. Please keep him safe on the roads that he travels with me. And I apologize for the over-indulgence in wine for the last several years. Amen.

OK, now that I’ve done as much as I know how, in terms of not jinxing myself…. Here is what I hope to accomplish in 2019. Always, always, with a caveat though.

Dressage:

  • Get out walk-canter departs down easy-peasy
  • Start incorporating counter-canter into our rides
  • Show at first level at a show
  • Get a sub-30 score at an event

Gonna rock out centerline like…

Cross Country:

  • Get quicker about making adjustments
  • Make ditches boring
  • Get back up to Novice, maybe school an occasional Training level fence

Showjumping:

  • Go double clear in a show (for Heaven’s sake? Please!)
  • Get my leg strong again
  • Don’t lean at the fences/ be better with my position

Pretty much every round we’ve ever had

You ready 2019? Let’s do this.

 

 

2018: A Year in Review

This year was… tough. But also exciting? Mostly tough though.

To recap:

We started out the year at BN, because honestly the half year before (since I bought him in June) had been about getting to know him, getting to trust him (since he’s such a spooky yellow moose) and then finally growing our skills.

I realize I didn’t post this on its own page, but I did apparently capture my 2018 goals in a post, and it’s worth revisiting them here.

The Horse

Get his weight up.
Done, well, for the most part. A chat with the vet today decided it would be better to get even more weight on him. I figured out what it takes to keep a gigantic worrywort of a horse in decent weight, and the key is: a shit ton of food. Alfalfa hay, alfalfa pellets, boost, rice bran… it’s obscene.

Gain confidence cross country.
Our last trip across the country, I really felt this, and was thrilled. He was hunting fences. He was game, and forward, and I actually had to think about settling him rather than taking the temptation to let him rip and go more forward. It was a great feeling, and I hope that despite his time off it won’t take him long to get back there.

March 2018 BN

Go penalty free at a recognized show.
Well, not yet. We only had 2 recognized shows, but both were not clear in the SJ phase. More work to do there!

Move up to Novice.
Done and dusted this one!

Ride a First Level test
Yeah, this didn’t happen because of us ended our season in May. Hoping to move this to 2019!!

The Photography

Book 1 Gold Session/month from March – November
I’m going to mark this as a success, having done a minimum of the equivalent of a Gold session each month except for September (and I was gone to WEG and Paris that month- can’t shoot if I’m not here!)

Implement a referral program.
Eh, sort of but didn’t put much effort into getting it off the ground.

This was such a fun shoot!

Plan at least one out-of-state photog trip.
Another sort of success. I shot Bette and Chimi while at WEG, and in the process of booking a trip to Welly world right now!

Save up for the Holy Grail of lenses
Done! Jury’s out on whether or not she’s a lemon though. Unfortunately.

Start shooting with more precision.
I haven’t gotten around to back-button focusing yet, but am definitely making the most of all those focus points on the D750. Give myself a B- on this one!

The Blog

Commit to 3 posts each week
Bahahahaha Obviously this didn’t happen. It’s hard to come up with content when months of your horse’s year were just chilling in the field.

Try and get back in the groove of reading everyone’s blogs.
Also a big nope. Work really took off this year, and I pretty much had zero brain cells left for thinking about other people’s blogs. I did what I could, and hope to get back to it in 2019!

Lots of fails/mixed successes in this category. But hey, we went to Paris and dressed up!

Write some posts for The Plaid Horse!
Done! Didn’t write all the posts on the docket, but these came out:

Host my first giveaway!
This was also done! What a super way to collaborate with other awesome Horsey brands! I hope the winners still enjoy their spoils 😀

 

Overall, this year wasn’t perfect, though I guess what year is? I hope 2019 will be a lot more successful. Goals in a post to come!

Blogger Secret Santa and Small Victories

I’ve been totally remiss in blogging, and I definitely can’t forget to blog about my awesome Secret Santa gift! This is always a fun activity that I look forward to each year – Tracy does such a good job connecting folks, and I love discovering new blogs and learning about other equestrian bloggers through their descriptions!

This year was another new blog to me, and Nadia from 3 Day Adventures obviously did her research, and I simply adore this wine bag (made by also Equestrian blogger Beljoeor!) and will absolutely be rocking it at our first CT on Jan 12th!

Annnnnnd then you can pretty much NEVER go wrong with a picture of someone’s pony, and I love seeing this photo of Jack in mousepad form! It reminds me of how deliciously golden he gets and what he looks like in peak (or what was peak) condition. I absolutely treasure seeing this every time I sit down at my computer (which is to say, a lot). Thank you SO much Nadia for the sweet gifts- I love how practical these are and will absolutely be using them tons in 2019!

Isn’t he cute??? Though I prefer golden Jack to creamsicle Jack…

In other news, Christmas was a super fun time of connecting with the family, but I’m looking forward to planning 2019 and seeing what it has in store for Jack and I. A lot has changed since my last post, and I am pleased to announce that my horse no longer hates me. The bit I ordered has seen a lot of action, and I have some strong opinions on it that I will be sharing soon in a review post.

Annnnnd I’ll also be posting about those 2019 goals, though I admit I’m somewhat scared of putting them down “on paper”, so expect lots of caveats (LOTS – this being the digital way to knock on wood, I suppose) as that one comes out.

In truth, I really hope that 2019 represents a bit of a return to blogging. If my goals (wishes? outermost desires? please universe don’t jinx me) work out then there will be lots to write about!

In Which I Piss Off My Horse Mightily

Jack and I had a CTJ lesson last week, and I think he has only now forgiven me since the occasion.

In that lesson, we were finally made to come to terms with his frame before the fence. This issue has come up a lot previously, because it’s Jack’s MO to lift his head and go hollow in front of the fence. As long as he approached the fence in a polite and steady manner, we tended to let it pass. But in coming back from his hiatus, Jack has been less predictable those last couple strides before the jump- either slowing down and losing power or racing towards the fence. And really the only thing consistent about it is his inconsistency. See the video below, where I try to keep him packaged but he runs through my aids as we get close to the jump.

It’s not all about where his head is before the fence, not just about how he looks and whether or not we make a pretty picture. It’s about him dropping his back before the fence when his head pops up, and as a result he can’t bascule over the fence as he should and can. If he can keep his back up all the way to take off, he will have a more effective jump and remain rideable through the entire approach. For these reasons, we need to install this basic concept in Jack – but I can tell it’s going to be hard won.

What’s difficult for me is that he is SO big and strong, and so wiggly. When I try to get him between my hand and legs before the fence, he escapes through a shoulder, or uses his neck against me – and no human is going to be strong enough to overpower and horse using their full strength in opposition.

So our lesson moved away from fences for the most part- instead making him stay low and soft over a ground pole, and let me tell you, this kicked off a battle of wills that Jack and I have not yet experiences with each other. We could be overbent but round and go over the pole, but if we were remotely straight the fight to stay soft became a war. He went sideways, he drew back to a jog, he threw his head from side to side, he tried to canter, or he went even more sideways.

When eventually we were able to ride the pole and stay consistent from front to back side of it, Holly let us try a small fence.

And guys, I have NEVER felt that before – he actually stayed soft right up until takeoff, and the bascule I felt under me was enlightening. I promptly dropped my reins and gave him all the pats and praises. And was just as promptly reminded to keep riding.

Unfortunately, we couldn’t repeat that success.

We spent the rest of the lesson riding the above pattern, and it was brutal. The fence was an 18″ crossrail, but you would have thought it was a Puissance fence the way he wanted to approach it. Let me tell you, my triceps were in agony by the end of the ride. We found an OK-ish place to stop and proceeded to have a long chat about next steps, all the while Jack standing with his head looking back at me with the biggest Fuck-you side eye I have ever seen from any horse. Even the carrot I gave him afterwards was eaten in ‘I wish this was your face’ stabbing angry bites. Ouch.

As it turns out, the above bit is our next step in the process. While I don’t like to rely on gadgets, I am simply not strong enough to ride through this. The hope is the gag action will stop him bracing against my hands, but we’ll still have the soft snaffle mouthpiece for all the moments when he’s a good boy.

Our next lesson is this weekend, so we’ll see how it goes!

 

Dressage Homework for the Winter

Since my trainer is spending the winter amongst the palm trees and fancy ponies of Florida for the next several weeks, she made sure to give Jack and I a good butt kicking before departing.

Kate, trainer’s working student who is also in Florida

I love a good butt kicking.

No, really. Those are the best lessons.

We started out working on the length of stride within his trot, using my seat aid to collect or allow the stride. Sitting deeply = collected trot. Sitting more lightly and following with my hips = a larger more natural stride. While I feel like a sack of potatoes as I try to get my riding fitness back, Jack still appreciates being ridden off of the seat first. And trainer’s main point was that most horses prefer to be ridden off the seat (vs hands or legs), and while it might take slightly longer to achieve the same result from seat alone, it has a more lasting effect and is a more useful tool in the long run.

From there, we moved into canter work.

The canter is one of Jack’s best gaits, but he also naturally has a huge stride, and that can cause some balance and engagement issues. So we are working to make his canter smaller with the end goal of engaging his hind end more without causing the stride to become even bigger.

One of the tools we are using to create this effect is the counter canter. We worked on the idea of going from haunches in to renvers on a circle for a little bit (which sort of melts my brain a bit to think about – see below video). Changing the bend like this on the circle, while keeping the hind end really active will also help with his straightness – an issue we run into in jumping as well. So despite it being hella hard, there’s an added bonus that makes it worth it. I think?

Other exercises that I have been asked to work on are more traditional counter canter exercises. Such as:

  • Pick up “wrong” lead on straight line and just canter down the long side of the arena then trot. After time start adding in corners (but not steep). Trainer thinks this will be easier for Jack
  • Pick up correct lead, change rein across diagonal then canter around short side on wrong lead.

The other part of the homework we’ve been given while she’s in Florida is to work on our walk-canter departs. Make them soft, small, and as boring as possible. Which is going to be hard, but hey, she’s gone for a long time so I’ll do my best!

We may pick up a lesson while she’s away with her trainer, who I’ve heard amazing things about. But that’s still up in the air. Until then, it’s canter bootcamp for Mr Yellow.

PS – if you want to follow along on my trainer’s Welly world adventures, you can follow her blog here!

Making Poor Life Choices: AKA my terrible RW hoard

So, one of the perks of being a Riding Warehouse ambassador is that I got a heads up on their Black Friday deals, which I get to share with all my lovely connections (AKA you guys!). But of course last night I went through their site and found items that I needed wanted.

At 25% off, and a $25 gift card already in my grabby hands, who could resist?

But I might have gone overboard.

A little. Actually, a lot.

All of these lovelies are mine, all mine! *insert cackle here*

Seriously though, at these deals… why not? Prices are rounded up to next dollar.

  • Roeckl Gloves (in this adorable yellow) $22
  • ECP Shaped Burgundy XC Pad (wanted one of these 4EVER) $34
  • Merino Wool Half Pad (mine is flat as a pancake and almost 2 decades old) $60
  • Eskadron Open Fronts in Chocolate (these puppies are $115 at Dover) FRONTS – $68
    • Eskadron Open Fronts HIND – $30
  • Dressage Whip in Navy (again, my current one is tatty as hell) – $7
  • WW Stable boots – $60 (Because pony does well with front stable boots and needs a hind pair)
  • Probios treats (just because) – $7
  • Bell boots x 2 – $5
  • Sound blocking ear bonnet – $21

OK, so a few of these are absolutely in the WANT category, but there’s plenty there that represents a well-overdue upgrade.

I’m afraid of what will happen if I see any more BF sales go on, so don’t mind me I’ll be over here like:

Though I totally encourage you to go check out the sale! RW will be announcing the sale officially at 1pm EST, so you get to see the deals before the rest of the world finds out!

First Jump Lesson Back!

Just so you know, I seriously contemplated calling this post “On Cloud 9 with a Turd Sandwich“. But that’s probably not the best SEO strategy in the world.

Thursday Jack and I headed over to the trainer’s, to finally jump some colored sticks after 6 months of being completely earthbound.

I expected the golden boy to come out in full spooky fashion, seeing as he hasn’t seen his shadow under lights in a long time, and you know, his tail is occasionally terrifying. But he wasn’t. Color me gobsmacked.

He was actually jumping so well, in fact that we moved past trotting 18″ and actually cantered fences and everything. See the below compilation of some of our finer moments:

And then the train started to come off the tracks. Jack got a little overambitious, dragging me to fences, one of which I wasn’t intending to jump. So, there’s that.

It took us some time to install brakes again and approach fences in a reasonable fashion, but luckily the video kept going:

We finished on a good note (not captured here as our videographer was cold and deserved to go home), and despite the naughtiness, I have to say:

I AM SO STUPID HAPPY.

It’s so nice to be back.