Friday, August 28, 2015

Lesson Recap

To fill the gaps between Candy's retirement (who is pleased as punch his daily routine is now a 30 minute grooming session and handfuls of peppermints), and a potential new baby (who knows...), I figure I will start recapping my lessons to track progress!

My trainer, H,'s goal has been to put me on as many re-training/green/quirky/generally difficult horses as she can that fit my one caveat: no stops. I am still working on confidence over fences, and while it's definitely there and coming back, I just don't want to ride a stopper anymore. Been there, done that for 10 years, have the T-shirt, and the injuries to show for it.

So yesterday, I rode a fat, sassy mare named Lexie. She was a former eventer, now turned jumper, who just finished working at a riding therapy camp for the summer. Oddly enough, despite being totally chill at the walk, she is hot at the trot, canter, and over fences, and has a slight reputation for scaring other lesson kids because she likes to take off, speed up, and shake her head (sound familiar? I think it sounds familiar...).

I. Had. A. Blast. Yes, we had a few moments where I'm still trying to re-learn how to be soft and giving with my hands and ride strictly off my legs, but overall, it not only was a great riding experience and tune up ride for Lexie, it was an excellent tune up ride for me to stay still, forward, and confident.

We started out with 2 laps at the trot both directions, then did the same for the canter. She's out of shape, it was hot out, and I'm a wimp, so H didn't want either of us to get worn out during the warm up. I spent our brief warm up playing with her to figure out how much contact she preferred, which seat she preferred at the canter, and how to keep her bent and collected. I could tell she's very willing to work in a frame and push from behind, but not strong enough to keep it for a long time. I also spent a lot of time focusing on maintain 3 point contact, but still staying light in the saddle. I tend to prefer a half seat after riding Sawyer, but for jumpers, I will switch to a 3 point since I feel I can offer better support for turns and more "oomph" for collection. My half seat kind of "fakes" actually being light and supportive, and I get perchy instinctively, so it will just take time for my deep, light seat to come back.

Then we started on jumps. Just a small cross-rail away from the barn on the short diagonal followed by a straight halt because she tends to rush 3 strides out and take off on the other side, and I'm sometimes a useless lump of potatoes. First attempt, she was not rushing at all; very collected to the fence, a little quick on the other side, but I halted incredibly crooked and used my hands more than my half halt and seat to slow and stop the movement. The next 2 approaches were significantly better, with me focusing on keep her collected to the base of the fence, and sitting tall and still on the other side. Halts still need work, but they were there and they were better.

After we jumped the cross-rail, we added a small 18" 6 stride line; again, focusing on keeping Lexie slow and contained, and me focusing on not being a dingus, and not being over-dramatic in my 2-point. H left it up to me to do either a trot approach to every fence or keep the canter if it was nice and quiet. The line rode really nicely so we added a low 18" bending line as well. The bending line gave me a bit of trouble because Lexie had an inclination to swing her hind out on the approach, so the second time I made sure to support with my outside rein, and keep a stronger outside leg. As we went, she got increasingly frustrated that I was telling her what to do and dictating the pace, which lead to increasing amounts of head flipping and "stalling out" in corners. I remedied that by bringing her back down to the trot, circling, and, once she was settled, approaching the jump again. I'm sure it didn't help that as I got more tired, I became less supportive with my leg, used less half-halting through my abdomen, and more hand; some of my current bad habits are strength related, so I really need to up my overall workout routine. Unfortunately, on our last course, on my approach to the bending line, I changed pace after the corner and was left with a long spot or burying Lexie; I usually gun for the long spot out of habit because Candy needed that extra motivation to chip and clear the jump. Luckily, Lexie took the long spot in stride; I got left behind a little bit, and had to collect and change pace on the fly in the middle of the bending line, which lead to an especially sassy second jump.

H said I rode her well, and offered to let me hack her whenever I wanted to help get her back in shape, and remind her to behave. H also told me I definitely have a type: I am a jumper, and I love the quirky ones, and that I don't seem to have an electric seat when it comes to hot horses.

Overall, I was really pleased. My muscle memory is coming back, and I feel like rehabbing Candy has really been an exercise in patience. I'm just so grateful to be riding again that I have the patience to deal with misbehaving horses and take a joke. If I can maintain this mindset with a greenie of my own, I'm sure it will help the overall process. Right now, I'm taking weekly lessons to try to sponge up as many different tools as I can, strengthen myself, and bring back all those jumper instincts I had before I took a hiatus in Hunterland.

- K & C

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Rehab Dropout

I went into Candy's rehab process with an open mind, but I always knew it wouldn't end well. I harbored a little hope every time the vet commented how great he looked and how well he was moving, but I was very realistic. Yesterday, he was the most lame he's been in a while; still very happy to move forward, thrilled to be back in regular work, which is what really broke my heart (again) when I noticed his slight head bob at the trot. Yep- it was the left hock, the arthritic hock.

I told my parents back in May- "I'm going to try to rehab him, and go as far as I can, but if something happens: ulcers, another soft tissue injury, or his arthritis flares up, I'm done trying to get him sound." Yesterday- I went as far as we could go. There was no soft tissue swelling, no heat, so I knew his lameness was from the hock. When I called my mom, it was the first time she said, "I'm so sorry. I knew you did everything you could." and not, "Well, what else can you do? Can you keep trying?"

Hindsight is 20/20- I could have taken better care of his joints, could have been more pro-active with joint supplements and injections, could have not jumped the crap out of him as a teenager, but none of his lameness is due to negligence or lack of caring. I cared about his joints as much as my knowledge allowed me to. Arthritis is one of those insidious diseases that if you can't get ahead of it, there's no maintaining it, no mollifying it, and I never got ahead. It only gets worse- never better.

I always give Candy 100% and in return, he tries his heart out for me. I know he would continue to work through the pain, but as a horsewoman, I can't ask that of him. I'm not sure what the near future holds for Candy and I, but he has his forever home with me, and I know the distant future holds a very happy retirement for (hopefully) many years. As much as I wish he was the type of horse I could hop on once a week and trail ride, I know that's not the case. I'm probably going to keep riding him lightly until my project horse or next lease comes into my life, but there's no pressure, just enjoying his company.

You can see the short left hind just a touch.

Still my favorite view!

In the meantime, I am lessoning ; it's a frustrating process because I'm competing with horse-less teenage girls for horses to ride, and obviously, they have priority. I'm not frustrated out of jealousy/bitterness way; they need the experiences more than I do, and I have a horse of my own. It just makes lessons and showing tricky with several girls competing for 2 horses; with my schedule, I get last pick of lesson times/horses. I don't mind though- it's still time in the saddle, and I am learning and improving every lesson-which is what matters.

The future is hazy right now, but I'm optimistic- the right horse always finds me at the right time.

-K & C

Tuesday, August 11, 2015


I've been riding a difficult, sensitive, very quirky horse for the last 10 years or so, which means I've developed several interesting habits/rituals that either comfort me as a rider, or actually work. My trainers have always humored me, and I'm sure thought I was a little (a lot) crazy, but hey- I took a dirty stopper who bucked after every jump up to 1.0m fences who bucked when he was pleased with himself.

  1. The "Thinking Cap"- Candy is a head shaker; more than likely it's due to a combination of facial nerve pain and allergies than actual flies, so he goes in a fly bonnet year round. I'm sure it doesn't actually help; maybe I just ride better because I don't expect spooky tom-foolery and head-flipping everywhere. It started with a tasseled fly bonnet, which probably drove him nuts flapping against his forehead more than the itching.
    Annoying tasseled bonnet

    Obese in a custom bonnet

    Borrowed bonnet
    It may also muffle sounds enough to keep him focused, but I just use run of the mill bonnets; no ear plugs or fancy sound-proofing bonnets, because...
  2. Constant conversation- I talk to whatever horse I'm riding. A lot. It all stems from chit chatting with Candy; it keeps me breathing and calm while riding, and it's satisfying to watch Candy keep one ear on me and one ear forward. 99% of the time it's encouragement ("10 more seconds", "Give me a little more step..." "Almost done!") and "good boy!", but also sometimes contains: "I swear to God...", "Figure it out..." "Pick yourself up...", "Jesus Christ, Candy.", and when jumping, "WAIT." Other horses seem to just ignore the constant stream of chatter.

    "Put your head down... Come on."

    Talking during a dressage test. Oops.
  3. The nose boop- let it be known, I hate schooling rings. Hate schooling jumps in a busy ring. When I have the opportunity to school fences before a show, whether it's the day before or the day of, if there are more than 3 people in the ring, I don't like to jump, and of course, in jumpers, you can't school fences anyway. I read a long time ago, somewhere, a show jumper (I think Rodrigo Pessoa), used to show fences to his horse, cluck, and that was all the prep he did to school fences. I adopted that with the King of Anxiety, Candy; I march him up to the fence at a walk (sometimes he squirmed and had to be leg yielded; sometimes he was fine), and he was not allowed to move away until he touched it with his nose and thoroughly investigated it. Then he got a pat, and we repeated at the next fence (no cluck- he once jumped from a standstill with that). It became a ritual, but it was a good way to gauge which fences he would balk at. He's so used to it that when he huffs and puffs, he slowly walks himself up to scary objects, boops it, and looks at me to see my reaction.
Overall, things have been pretty stagnant on the life front: Candy is in light trot work and doing well; not to jinx things, but he is due for a chiro appointment and may be getting front shoes. School just started and I'm already dying. Still trying to squeeze in lessons. No idea what the future holds!
What are your superstitions? (Help me feel less crazy)
-K & C