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!

Photography Friday: Before and After, A look through the years

I’m feeling somewhat reflective this week, and so I wanted to do a different kind of post about my photography.

Photography is something I’ve been doing for a long time, and it was my concentration in design school. But damn, even though I thought I was doing then, it’s so clear to me that maybe I didn’t. Or maybe the hours and hours of practice and shit photos has taught me something.

So I wanted to take two subjects that have been consistent for me in the last 10 years of making pictures. First up, Drake.

As soon as you get a puppy, if you have a camera, you want to take photos of it. Teaching Drake to sit/stay has obviously become a double edged sword. Poor dog.

How is he 8?! WAHHH

It’s obvious that though my equipment has upgraded, 2013/2015 are the same lens, and this year’s photo was taken with my now ancient 50mm. So really, it’s my eye and style and knowledge of editing that has changed the most.

Though this is my favorite from that same day, also the nifty 50.

And then there’s my sister. Hey, what are sisters good for unless you can make them pose for you at will?

Just kidding….

Again, it’s crazy to me that the kid with braces is now the stunning, tanned creature she is today. But here I note that I’ve gotten so much better at posing, at finding backgrounds that work well, and trying to focus on lighting the eyes. I still need practice in this, but this collage makes me feel like I’ve made progress.

I hope in another couple of years I’ll be more confident in my craft, and there are some things that I am focusing on these days specifically, too:

  • Remembering detail shots – closeups of sentimental items, gestures
  • Not being afraid to use the whole frame (cutting off the tops of people’s heads is not always bad!)
    • On the same point, not leaving so much white space at top of image
  • Getting better about catch lights
  • Improving my posing so that I am quicker and have more tools in my back pocket
  • Remembering to slow the eff down and relax when I’m shooting

It’s always a work in progress, but it’s nice to see how I’ve improved over, you know, the last 8 years!

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.

First lesson back!

OK, first of all, thank you to all who joined my pity party that was last week’s post. Much appreciated, and your comments honestly left me feeling so much better!

Hoping against hope, I scheduled a short dressage lesson for Tuesday, and lo and behold, the golden pony actually came through!

We did a lot of talking about how sound he looked (which was pretty good, huzzah!) and mostly spent the lesson just focusing on transitions and some of the basics. After 6 months (seriously WTF SIX MONTHS) since last having a lesson, that was A-OK by me.

Jack was fairly tense, which could be due to his longer break, it being dark, the scary saddlepad sitting by the ring, or any combination of those things. So we spent a decent amount of time just letting his brain relax (which can often be a theme even when he’s in full work) by doing boring trot circles until he released the tension in his back, occasionally incorporating leg yields to play with some lateral work.

I got nothin.

One other thing we focused on in the time available was the quality of Jack’s canter. In previous tests, he has been described as being downhill and behind the vertical. This comes from a habit of landing heavily on his front end on the ‘3’ beat of the canter, almost nodding with his head.

1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2,3

It’s my job then, to make the 1 beat (the active inside hind) the strongest beat by using my seat and upper body to support him. Ideally, he will start rocking back onto his haunches, in turn lifting his forehand, and making the landing gear come down with more of a pitter-patter than a thud.Tonight, I have dared sign up for my first jump lesson back (it’s a week for firsts!). Mostly I expect it to be jumping at shadows versus actually jumping, and anything we do make it over will likely be small. But it’s nice to dip our toes back in the water!

And hopefully as a result you’ll be hearing more from me on a regular basis!

Remember when I used to ride?

These days, this is me. Well… actually in all truth, maybe it’s more like this:

Werk.

But still, all the relevant information you need to know is here:

Basically, I was on my way back from Chicago when I got the news that Jack had lost his shoe Friday. Amazingly my farrier came out and tacked it back on Saturday morning, but without the pour-in pad since homie was due to be reshod anyways. Sunday when I finally saw my pony and hopped aboard, it was evident that he was lame. Like ouchy at the trot. He needed a trim, and new shoes, badly, but since his oh-so-special shoes were not in we had to wait.

And wait.

And wait.

Because in that time (meaning Monday to Friday the following week) my A team had to agree on what direction to go with his special fairy dust shoes, and then order them. Even with them being overnighted, Jack didn’t get shod until Friday- a whole 6.5 weeks into the shoe cycle, when he’s meant to go 4. EFFFFF.

Of course when he finally got shod, his soles were bruised and he was short up front. Jack’s got himself some sensitive little tootsies, y’all.

Jack.

After a long diatribe to my vet about how even a week after being shod he still looks the teensiest bit short up front, I was told that it might take half a shoeing cycle to get back on track, since his going so long messed up all the mechanics of what we were trying to accomplish in the first place.

Jack’s super fancy shoes, and some mud.

So I might have just spent the equivalent of a clinic fee in farrier work, all for the pleasure of waiting for my horse’s feet to grow. Yes, first world problems, and yes, I’m whining about it. Judge me.

So that’s me. I’ve either been not here or not able to ride. My dreams of doing the Phillip Dutton clinic in December are likely crushed, and my hopes of jumping again are temporarily dashed.

At least there’s wine at the barn though… amirite?

Happy Friday!

Au Revoir Paris

 

A rare unpaid photo of the 2 of us

Now that life is [sort of, kinda] settling down, I can finally capture some of the memories from our Paris trip- the first big vacation for us since our honeymoon 5 years ago.

Enjoy the touristy photos of mostly my husband, like this one outside Versailles

Our trip started out exciting from a horsey perspective. On the flight over, it was apparent that we were surrounded by the French WEG showjumping team and their family. While I was fangirling pretty hard, the husband leaned over and told me that the guy next to him’s jacket had more than a whiff of horse to it. Luckily he’s fairly used to that by now, though I’m very very nosedeaf to barn smells, of course.

Our first day we decided to make it out to the Palace of Versailles, which is about a 40 minute train ride from central Paris. Most of the photos in this post are from Versailles, since it is so insanely huge and the gardens… well, the gardens likely speak for themselves. The husband and I had no problem doing the tourist thing and attentively listening to our audio guides as we passed through each room, and the photo below of him in the gallery might be one of my favorites from the trip.Once outside the palace, the grounds extend as far as the eye can see in every direction. Stunning fountains and sculptures decorate the carefully pruned and cared-for landscape, but to me the real draw was the florals.Everywhere you looked there was a feast for the eyes. We walked around and I scared people with my giant lens until we were literally hobbling from all the walking. (Desk jobs do not prepare you for long walking excursions). Before leaving the grounds though I insisted on seeing the Equestrian Center, which was directly outside of the palace gates. There we checked out the arena (roughly a 40m square, and the footing was unbelievable- but then again, it is a palace I guess), and stalked the museum of carriages next door.

The entrance to the Equestrian Center, which was sadly closed as they readied for a performance that night

Continuing the history-geek theme to our trip, the next day we headed to the Louvre, but not before getting some portraits made by what turned out to be a former Irish showjumper, now wedding tog in Paris. It was fairly frigid at the Pont de Bir-Hakeim, and we took turns wearing his coat my skin wouldn’t turn purple like my hair. All in all though, it was a fun experience and I definitely think this “Portraits in another place” may be a fun thing we do again some day.

Our day at the Louvre ended up being another somewhat exhausting day (seriously, going from 5k steps each day to 18k+ is hard on a gal!), but I ended up getting lots of fun photographic gems to bring home. If you’re ever in the Louvre, know this- the place is awesome. Seriously, beautiful, interesting, all the things- but make sure you know where the exit is when you start getting the slightest bit tired. It took us 20 minutes to find our way out once we decided we were done, and really, that was 20 minutes too long. Our mistake.

I make him do things I think are funny, and he amuses me.

While we did lots and lots of other things (climbed to the top of Notre Dame, cruised down the Seine, did a 4 hour bike tour – so fun -, etc etc), I won’t bore you all with the other details of the trip. But I do want to share the other fun horsey moment that happened the last night we were there.

He’s going to kill me for posting this

Our last night in Paris, we made reservations at a nice restaurant that was truly Parisian in many ways. We were stuffed into the place chockablock, and so it was inevitable that we overheard the conversations around us. Since neither of us spoke Mandarin, that namely ended up being the American couple to our right.As all the tables ended up getting friendly with each other, we quickly learned that this couple from Georgia were also into horses. Or I should say, she was, and he was obliging. (Isn’t that the way it mostly goes?) I thought I had picked up the word ‘Tryon’ before we started conversation, and as it turns out, they had often competed at TIEC. Cool.

More Versailles

Then we got talking about specifics in the horse world of NC, and as it turns out, they were interested in buying a horse that I happened to know. In fact, she used to occupy the stall caddy-corner to Foster. Guys, the horse world is so small sometimes. How on earth do random people know the same horse all the way across the ocean? How bizarre, how bizarre.

And so ended our Parisian trip. We came home, satiated on good food and French wine, and I picked up a bug on the way home that I lovingly shared with the husband, as noted in a previous post. Au revoir Paris, until next time!