Road to the AECs- A Review of my Worries: Part 3

First of all, let me just say that watching multiple episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale does nothing positive for the mood.

I make dumb mistakes. Mistakes I will regret for the rest of my life. The biggest one that comes to mind is my last cross country run on Foster. I was having the time of my life, flying (for Foster at least) across the country, when I was pulled up 4 fences from home- I had missed an insignificant fence on the course. The fact that I never got to feel that sense of completion on what was to be his last run makes me sad.

I’m worried that I will make this investment- time, money, emotion, and I will do something classically dumb to mess it all up.

still the best gif ever

I’m very good at that, after all. Remember when I forgot where to go and jumped a BN fence from a standstill? Here’s the video to jog your memory.

I hope I don’t disappoint myself. Disappoint all the people supporting me. The people that plan on watching the live stream. My coach traveling to KY. My dressage coach here in NC. I want to make them proud.

If it comes to laughing or crying, I’ll pick laughing every time. But I am desperately hoping that this will not be that time!

But first, we gotta get there.

 

 

Road to the AECs- A Review of my Worries: Part 2

My absolute greatest fear in signing Jack and I up for the AECs has been the challenge of keeping us both healthy until we get there.

My vet and farrier both agree- Jack could be the world world bubble boy

It’s no secret that Jack is accident prone.  But more on that in a moment. As you all know, my first steps in getting us (him) prepared for even the idea of the AECs included getting my saddles re-fitted to him (after 2 years that seemed prudent anyways) and had him adjusted by a chiropractor. Since the chiropractor, I have noticed some changes- notably with how easily he bends right now (and also how he struggles a little more to the left), so I’m glad I did it so far out from the big event to allow us both to settle into those adjustments.

I also started Jack on an electrolyte to help him deal with workouts in the heat of summer. He’s definitely drinking more (and peeing more- sorry to the folks who clean his stall!) as a result. Ideally I would add Horse Quencher to his water a day or 2 before we travel so it’s not foreign to him and he will drink on the long trailer ride.

And then, because I felt like his topline/muscle tone wasn’t where it should be given the amount of work he’s in, I also added in an amino acid supplement for muscle support and to help him recover from the conditioning sets that I’ve introduced recently.

Speaking of conditioning sets, that’s also part of my plan to help keep him healthy, as well as prepare for the physical taxation caused by the long trailer ride and 3 days of competition. Our last set looked like this, with 2 min breaks between each burst, and I was really encouraged to see him recover in less than 10 min- a new record for him.

  • 3 x 5min trot sets
  • 2 x 5min slow canters

Because Jack has some respiratory complaints, the conditioning sets are meant to get him extra fit- with the theory being that a fit horse with a breathing issue should handle the summer temps much better than an only-somewhat fit horse. We’re using his inhaler before every ride right now, but soon I’ll start introducing small amounts of Dex (I’ve already called the USEF to find out legal parameters to be safe), and the steroid should help calm some of the inflammation in his lungs and help him stay comfortable since his inhaler (Albuterol) isn’t legal at recognized competition. I also plan on stocking up on Flair nose strips since that seemed to help at our last horse trial, and hell- it can’t hurt!

Then, in terms of just monitoring him at home, I am so lucky to have excellent barn staff that appreciate how important a goal this is for me. They are very kindly wetting his feed so he gets all those expensive supplements (otherwise he picks through them), putting on stable wraps on his back legs (which tend to get stocked up in the heat while standing), and best of all, not judging me for the amount of crazy I must seem these days.

And to top it all off, after every big workout (mostly considering this to be jumping or a conditioning day), Jack gets to wear his ice boots for a minimum of 20 minutes. I’m lucky that he’s used to them and will happily free graze with them on while I finish other chores (or have a glass of wine) as we both decompress from the ride. Helping us both recover from workouts (me mentally, him physically) has been key for keeping his fugly legs from getting any fuglier.

There you have it. My OCD/Type A personality bringing all the crazy to the barn. And even still, I’m scared to say I’m going to Kentucky- just hoping that we’ll have the option at this point.

Dressage Lesson Recap

Since I had Jack fully looked over, I noticed some major changes in him. First he was beautifully relaxed and swinging through his body. But he was also stiff through the left side of his neck, whereas he used to be more flexible to the left and stiffer to the right. There’s always been a stiffness in his left front, and a sensitivity in his right shoulder. In any case, there are more upsides than downsides, but since getting him totally checked out he’s been a little different in the bridle and the saddle, and some adjustments have been needed.

Combining that with the outright (repeat) slap in the face that was my last dressage test, I was having some major confidence issues. Though in previous lessons we’ve been focusing on moving up the levels, I asked to specifically look into certain aspects of the test that I knew would make it or break it in the Championships.

In this particular lesson, it was transitions that we discussed, since I’ve been frustrated with how bracing he’s been in transitions in the last couple weeks.

So at the beginning of our lesson, I asked E to get on and feel him out. Our first nugget came when she explained that she was feeling out his medium walk to free walk transition, where any tension in the transition is sure to first come up. Within each step of walk, she wants me to feel like I have the option to halt, so that he is sitting (versus leaning over his shoulders), and within that more correct balance ask for the trot depart.

I may be biased but gosh he’s purty

We then looked into working on my contact- many people let go with their fingers more than they realize, and even though that may feel “soft” to us, it can be confusing to the horse- much like having a conversation with someone on the phone and their voice is going in and out. Having a consistent connection is a much more palatable experience for the horse, and so we worked on my connection.

For this, she wrapped a straw in a tack sponge and placed that combination in each hand. The straws were meant to point up his neck, never to cross or point in. It’s a great visual indicator of what my hands are doing, since they are mostly in my peripheral vision and I can immediately see when they go astray. The sponge was to help me hold and keep a steadier connection.

I learned pretty quickly how difficult it was for me to truly keep my right hand closed- since it’s the more dextrous hand, it opens and moves more easily. So I had to work to keep my hand closed and my elbow soft, and using just my elbows to lengthen his neck made for a much better connection than I’ve had lately. Below if you look closely (and ignore the side conversation of my sweet and ridiculous barn family who are kindly videoing me) you can see the straws sticking out as I ride:

We also looked into his canter departs, both up and down to/from trot. These have also been a little sticky, and I have a hard time avoiding comments about him falling into the trot even when it feels pretty balanced. However, as you’ll hear in the video, I learned that’s not uncommon for big horses to struggle with that transition, and while I can manage it as much as possible it’s probably not going to be the highlight of the test- so aim for a 7 and move on. Also, enjoy more side commentary from the barn fam.

In general it was a good check in and some helpful reminders of the basics for Jack and I. With all the conditioning and focus on jumping we’ve been doing lately, the dressage work has been a bit neglected. But this lesson helped me get inspired to work on cleaning up some moments and making myself a better rider, hopefully to put our best foot forward at the AECs and also to be a better partner to him going forward.

 

 

Road to the AECs- A Review of my Worries: Part 1

If horses have taught me anything in life, it’s to take nothing for granted. So despite the fact that I have worked very hard, put lots of hours and certainly lots of dollars towards the goal that is the AECS, I’m all too aware of the fact that Jack could get an abscess at the last minute and all of my planning could go up in smoke. I realize that’s a bit of a cup half empty sort of approach, but that’s my current mindset.

There’s lot of little things that need to add up and go well to get to Kentucky and be able to participate, so I figured I would share a little bit of where my brain is / aka ask you to join in the anxiety that is my reality these days.

 

One of my main concerns, if indeed we make it to the point of actually traveling to Kentucky, is the trailer ride there. I’ve never [by myself] hauled a horse more than a few hours, and currently I am positioned to drive the better part of a day to another state.

Jack is an excellent loader, but not the world’s most casual rider. He doesn’t tend to eat in the trailer (in fact very rarely does he take a few bites even) and his typical MO includes peeing as soon as he gets on board. So, dehydration is an issues as well as keeping his stomach filled.

Not on the menu: Hands

I intend to load him up on omeprazole to keep his tummy happy, but I’m worried about how I’m going to get him to drink in the trailer. I was thinking I would have water in a large gas can (never used for gas of course) so that I could offer him water in a small bucket at stops, but I’m doubtful that he would actually accept such an offer.

I also am just straight up worried about him standing on a trailer for so many hours. I was thinking of investing in trailer eyes, but given the many costs of getting to this point, I’m having a hard time justifying it. To those who have trailer cameras- do you find it gives you peace of mind? Is it possible to find such things second hand?

And then, there’s the fact that I’ll more than likely be in the cab by myself, focusing on staying focused (a conundrum) and trying to keep myself from going insane. My truck doesn’t have bluetooth, but I’ll be looking into podcasts or audio books that I can download to my phone. I really enjoyed the Root of Evil podcasts, which was fascinating and macabre, and would love suggestions on your most entertaining ways to pass the time in the car.

Please, tell me your best practices for trailering such long distances! I hate driving, and all this is freaking me out!

 

Let’s Discuss: Speaking Up

As a competitive rider, I have probably been lucky to have only ever once had to explore my options for contesting anything in the world of eventing.

In that particular instance, I ended up talking with a TD, and in their role was able to understand better what the circumstances are and why they are so. It may have been born out of frustration, but I was satisfied to have had the opportunity to exercise my voice.

Recently, I have been frustrated by another competitive aspect- what I perceive to be unfair judging. And yes, if you were wondering, it relates to my most recent show; so I have decided not to go into details on what happened. Instead, I think it’s much more beneficial, not to mention interesting, to talk about the avenues that amateurs have in voicing their opinions.

We live in an exciting age, where social media is a double edged sword of empowerment and destruction.

Sometimes, it’s a force of evil- such as when a video of a high schooler smiling at a Native American went viral and people assumed he was being arrogant and confrontational. Many death threats ensued, among many other things, before it came to light that the aggressor instead had a different face and the young man was cleared of his assumed charges, though I’m sure he will long be judged by those that don’t know the full story.

Other times, social media helps stand up for those that have no voices. Most recently, social backlash prompted the FEI to look into what was clearly a case of neglect on the part of stewards, owners, and others. I’m thinking of Carollo, the horse that won a 5* jumping competition one day and then blundered his way through a derby course the next, obviously exhausted and without interference from the staff/stewards/etc at large. Now the rider is being investigated, and hopefully future riders will consider their horses more lest they rick public backlash of that magnitude.

But what happens when the stage is so much smaller? What happens when discrepancies and injustices happen at the local level? What would you do? What have you done?

I admit, I’m not even close to a TD- I don’t know the rule book back to front. I doubt myself and what I am doing if I speak up, and wonder if it will even matter.

But I’ve talked to the pros about my complaints, and despite my lack of formal education in the sport I am officially an amateur in, they are encouraging me to speak up. Because the amateur perspective is special in equestrian disciplines- horse sport isn’t up there with football and soccer and baseball or any other sport that has thousands (millions) of fans willing to just spectate while they support the sport with their dollars, our sport relies on the amateur riders who put their hard earned funds towards participation as its foundation of support. Without amateurs, it’s hard to imagine where eventing might be- Fair Hill, LRKY3DE… I’m not sure that any of the big events would exist without amateurs funding the way.

Eventing without amateurs be like…

So for the first time in my entire life, I am putting my mouth where my money is. I have a complaint, and as a long standing (albeit annual) member of the USEA and USEF, I have a right to exercise my voice. I feel inadequate doing it, and like I have to list every caveat in the world to explain myself… But dammit I know it’s worth doing.

Tell me, friends- when have you spoken up against (or for) leaders or practices in horse sport? How did you do it? Did you see results? Was it worth it? What were the stumbling blocks you encountered? What were the avenues you took?

 

Show Recap: July War Horse XC

I’m somewhat annoyed right now at how dressage went for our show yesterday, so I’m going to skip right ahead to the cross country element of the July Horse Trials we did yesterday.

The XC was soft, like, uncharacteristically soft for a War Horse show- normally it feels like they are out for blood with the course design, and while Training was super technical (2 full coffins for example), Novice was easy as pie. In fact, it was shorter than the Beginner Novice course.

The course itself was simple too- we had two separate 2 stride combinations, and a sunken road.

My only concern was really regarding the heat, and how Jack would recover. So I used his inhaler before heading out to jump (since it’s a schooling show), and added the Flair Nose Strip (thank you all for your suggestions- I read through the instructions several times and was able to figure it out!). Long story short, he came in feeling great. Puffing, but not heaving, despite the temps being in the 90s.

I finally brought out the GoPro again, so here’s your bird’s eye view of our short, easy, Novice outing.

Maybe tomorrow I’ll have the energy to bitch about the dressage. Stay tuned.

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

Us^

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!