Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Tuesday Night Brawl brawl is a bit overkill but man what a lesson last night turned out to be. I'm more sore today than I think I've ever been after a ride. I'm sure Leonard is tired too. It ended up being a private lesson which was a good thing. It also ended up being 1 hour 20 minutes long!!  Private lessons are generally 45 minutes and we worked for every single second of that 80 minutes. Phew. 

 The absolute coolest thing with my riding right now is that for the first time ever I'm seeing real, actual progress. I'm no longer hearing the same corrections as I was two months ago. Sure, there are lots of things to work on, but at least they aren't the same things. The same is true for Leonard. After decades of constantly working on the same thing with the same horse and never really seeing any progress, I'm now working in a program and with a horse who is learning. It is really freaking awesome. 

Leonard would like you to know that he had a near death experience right before the lesson started

This does lead to some...moments...though. Last night was one super large moment. 

The lesson started out really good. Lenny was softer than he has been in a little while, his balance was better from the start and we got A+s for our lateral work. In fact, the warm up went so well that EN decided it was time to move on to new territory: adjustability. 

She set two ground poles at 4 strides. I was familiar with this exercise from Eeyore though the goal was to always hit the same striding, we never worked on changing that striding as we went through. Last night the goal was just that: adjust the canter to get a set number of strides. We began by cheating a bit, going to his easier right side first.  He picked up the right lead super easy and we got the 4, we came back around in a more collected canter to get 5, then finished by cantering around a final lap to hit the 4 again. The goal for me was to start to feel the difference between the two canters to predict if we would get it right. 

Two baby goats were hanging by the arena. Leonard was both fascinated and extremely scared

EN had warned me that this was tricky and we may not get it right. When we did it perfectly she was shocked. I was grinning like a fool about to feel her pride get crushed by incompetence. What is the saying? Pride cometh before a fall? Something from Shakespeare along those lines. 

Both Leonard and I were feeling pretty peacock like in our ability to hit that exercise out of the park. We were also both huffing pretty hard. I don't recall ever having cantered that much in years. We took a short walk break then turned to repeat the exercise to the left. Oh man was this hard. 

The moment he braved taking a sniff, the little turd head butted him in the face! 

First it took three tries to even get the left lead. The first time through was fine. We had to get the 4 which is easy for him. Then we were to get 5. We never did manage it. It was a combination of a lot of things but mostly I wasn't getting my aides working properly and then he began to get tired as we cantered and cantered and cantered and cantered. You get the point. After the last pole I was to start collecting him which actually wasn't the hard part. He listened quite well to that. The issue became the turn to the exercise. The arena is pretty narrow. The poles were set just on the inside of the quarter line which made the turn off the short side a bit tight especially for me and Leonard. Leonard also tends to tire easily going left, making turns harder to balance this direction. 

We'd be coming in to that turn fine but then he'd drop a bit on the forehand while cutting the corner which stalled us a bit. I'd then put my leg on but he'd open up so then I'd half halt right before the first pole which several times led to him breaking to trot through the exercise. He also tended to leave a bit early over the first pole then use that as an excuse to open up and reach through the exercise to always end up getting 4 strides seemingly no matter what I tried before or during. I know that my timing wasn't good enough for the half halt plus I wasn't getting the feel of adding leg enough. We tired it several times but things started to get less organized with each passing until it got a bit out of control the final time through and I lost all brakes. 

Gemmie has been coming in from the pasture sweaty. For a mare who barely sweated through all her endurance competitions, this was concerning. I purchased some clippers to give her some relief. Wyatt thought it looked fun and asked to help. 

Looking back, I think Leonard was just plain tired by that point. We had cantered longer than ever before plus he doesn't do well mentally with drilling. He really likes getting things correct so the longer we went the more peevish he became. Anyway...we finally stopped that exercise and moved on-ish. By this point Leonard was pretty tense and no longer really listening to me much. We tried a different exercise, but again looking back I think we should have moved on to something completely different at this point. Oh well...learning is part of the game. 

The next exercise built off the first. We were to come over the poles, 4 strides was fine, then make the short side turn to come over the diagonal 4 stride line of cross rails. Ugh. This was ugly. We came over the poles but Leonard flipped me the bird after the second and decided to porpoise instead. I freaked a bit and pulled instead of pushed forward so the turn was unbalanced and ugly. It was only 2-3 strides down the short side until I needed to turn again for the line. I still didn't have him in front of my leg or listening which led to another ugly turn then flying through the combination. We manage to go over and get the 4 but it was awful feeling plus I had no brakes on the backside. Both Leonard and I were feeling frazzled. 

Since I was doing a pretty awful job, I handed the clippers to him. He did better than I had

EN took note. She had us drop way back down to basics. We walked. She had me randomly pick fences to walk over. He wasn't allowed to trot, jig or jump. We just wanted a forward walk, picking over the jump like a log on the trail, then calmly walking on to another random jump. It took about 3 or 4 jumps for him to calm down again. We spent about 10 minutes doing that then picked up the trot and repeated the exercise. He remained focused, soft, and forward. I could feel his brain kick back in. 

We ended by trotting into a single crossrail on the diagonal, cantering away, then cantering the 5 stride outside line. He remained soft the entire time. 

For having only been clipped once in her entire life, back in 2016, she stood perfectly still for the entire thing. She is the best mare. She is also now much more comfortable, no longer sweaty, and even cantering around the pasture again. 

It was a good, if hard, lesson. Not only did I learn a new tool with working on adjustability in the canter, I also learned a valuable lesson about both Leonard and I. We both get frazzled when working on something new that we don't get correct. In the future I will need to pay more attention to this and request that we move on earlier before his brain gets fried. 


Friday, May 6, 2022

The Honeymoon Is Over (With Media!)

 The last three rides on Leonard have been very different. Of course, he is still Leonard so....yeah. But he has been earning a nickname of Spicy Jalapeno Leonard of late. 

It began with our usual Tuesday Night Lesson last week. Tuesday was farrier day so he was kept up in the barn all day. It meant that when I rushed home from work he went straight from stall to trailer to lesson. I expected a bit of energy. He was a bit "up" but mostly distracted by everything going on at the barn. They have changed to evening turnout which coincides with my lesson time, so spunky horses were being turned out all around the arena as we were warming up. He did eventually settle and give me some nice work, but he wasn't his typically amenable, easy going self. 

The Hubby made it out halfway through so I even have some media!! While my arms are always an issue they were worse with the new bit as we kept the reins already attached and they were cob length. 

Life got super busy on the farm with a major project so he didn't get ridden again for a while. I had a work outing this week which led to me pushing my lesson to Thursday. I made sure to get on and ride him at home Wednesday. He was distracted. Again though, it had been a while and he is always more distracted at home calling for and looking for the rest of the herd who were all still in the barn after eating dinner. He settled mostly, but it wasn't the ride I've come to expect from my Lenny. 

Then yesterday was our lesson and he yet again came in to it distracted, wanting to jig, he even broke to canter! He NEVER breaks to canter from a trot. If anything, he will ask to walk or halt when he gets tired. It was odd because we are also having a major heat wave with temps near 90F for the first time all year. I'd have expected him to lack energy, not have more of it. Maybe he loves the heat??

That tiny rider in the distance? It’s the Kiddo! He was trailing a horse to see if he’d be ok with him versus the pony he usually rides so that he could join a group instead of private lesson. He prefers riding with other kids than by himself but the two ponies are used for that lesson. He liked this guy just fine. 

One of the things I love the most about riding Lenny is that he is the only horse I've ever ridden that is naturally a metronome. I ask for trot and we trot at the exact same pace until I ask for something else. It is a breath of fresh air from having to micromanage every single step as we speed up or slow down randomly. The last three rides though have not been that. 

Last night he was "bad" enough that mid ride we switched him to a Big Bad Boy bit: a gentle happy mouth two ring elevator. It took a bit for us both to get used to but after a while I had my lovely metronome of a pony back. I really had missed that. EN wants me to ride in this bit until our next lesson and then try to switch him back to his regular french link full cheek snaffle. 

(The below video shows our struggle with the left lead. We very nearly got it but then his haunches moved and he swapped.)

So why do I think he has gotten some ants in his pants lately? A couple  things. For starters I think the honeymoon period has ended. I've had him for 4 months now with weekly lessons for I think 2 months. He is settled in nicely at home, gaining some much needed weight though I still think he needs a hundred pounds of combined muscle and fat to be where I'd like him, and just turned 8. I think he is beginning to feel more comfortable and less shut down about everything. Some of his angle like behavior I think was more him feeling things out. I am perfectly fine with all of this. I mean, it is super nice to see his personality start to come out. It took Hammy a full year before he started showing me his true self and still now 2 years in he is surprising me daily with hints of hidden personality. I think it will be a good bit of time yet before I know the real Leonard and I am happy to see him start to feel more comfortable. 

The other reason is that things are getting harder for him. We are expecting more of him. Leonard loves a challenge, but only a challenge he already knows the answer to. Give him something he can ace and he is proud as a peacock. Give him something he has no clue how to answer and watch him get real pissy real fast. 

This happened Thursday right from the start and I think it set up some of the peavishness we saw. I mentioned to EN that while the right lead canter is very solid, the left lead is difficult. I already knew the why to it. While Leonard is getting better and stronger, he still is weaker going left which leads to a lot of wonky bend in his body. Holding himself straight is hard. When we trot left he likes to cut the corner, throw his haunches in and crane his neck out. It makes it tricky to pick up the left lead. EN had a technique for this. 

I love this picture. We were having some issues at this point but yet look at my face. I’m smiling! Really smiling!! 

We started with a turn on the forehand. He was to stand still (already an issue, he didn't want to halt at all Thursday) then I was to use my right leg to move his butt over and pivot around his front feet. He had no idea what I was asking so he moved forward. I corrected. Asked again. He moved back. I corrected. Asked again. He pinned his ears and chomped at me. Lenny does not like getting things wrong. At one point he was standing there, I put my leg on and he turned his head and put his nose on my foot like “stop using this. I don’t know what to do!”  

Eventually we got it, but man was he upset about it. We let him walk on a long rein after but I could tell his hamster was going as he chewed the bit to death. 

Once he had time to process that we began again. EN is really having me use my legs a lot more than I am used to. To set up the canter she really wants to see me use the inside leg to push the haunches out before asking with the outside. We came around left in trot and he was all sorts of crooked. He was also really pissy so he wasn't responding to my inside leg pushing him back over. EN had me halt square. Ok. Then she told me to turn on the forehand to the right. Ok. We were now facing the fence and standing diagonal. 

EN said "ok...put your outside leg on and canter left"

I said "FROM HERE?!?!?!"

EN burst out laughing. "Yes, from there. Look ahead, right leg back, go canter"

I had a mini stroke.


I did it! I put my leg on and asked for canter and Leonard picked up the softest, most beautifully balanced left lead canter from a halt. A halt!

Leonard also thought that was HELLA FUN. His ears perked back up, he was light in the bridle, he was soft. We practiced that once more left, he nailed it, before trying it right which he nailed as well. Big Boy felt like a champion again and got all the pats.

(The below shows the left lead issues. You can see in the very first part how she wanted me to have him standing facing the rail then canter left. It definitely pushed me out of my comfort zone in a good way)

From there we started on a small course. Leonard decided that cantering was more fun than this so he started jigging and breaking to canter. This is when EN said he needed to try a new bit. We switched him out then I went off to try it out. About 5-7 minutes later he was soft, easy and my metronome again. 

We did a small course of two related lines: I know the first was a 5 stride on the diagonal but I can’t recall the striding of the second which was on the outside line. Possibly it was 6. Either way he did fine. We trotted in, cantered out to both. The last course was a simple diagonal single to outside single. 

By the end the lesson had gone for 1 hr and 15 minutes though a lot of that was walk breaks, working on lateral work at the walk and then changing out his bit so he didn’t work physically hard for all of that. It was mentally hard for him though so I’m interested to see how the next ride goes at home.

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

24 or 26 Looks Goods On Her

 Gemmie is about to turn 24. Or maybe 26. I’ve lost track a bit and I don’t have the energy to dig for her registration papers to get it right. She was either 18 or 20 when we did our 100 miler back in 2016 which is how I’m figuring out my math. Good horse mom. 

Gemmie was the first to get a spring bath. She is still shedding some but looks good. All pics are smeary cuz I forgot to wipe the lens after sweating all over my phone grooming/bathing her. Oops 


She is doing well. A bit grey in the face. A bit slower to want to gallop in the pasture. A bit pudgy in the middle. 

She is now on Pergolide daily for early signs of insulin resistance. She tested negative for Cushings so that was good. Her glucose was up a bit higher than we were comfortable with so on the meds she went. Plus she is in a muzzle during the day.

She doesn’t seem to mind. 

She is sweet, she is the boss, she is still aloof. She represents so many firsts in my life. First owned horse. First time I ever hooked up a trailer. First time I ever drove a trailer. First solo trail ride. First endurance at 25, 50 and 100 miles. First time jumping. First cross country schooling. First Combined Test. I wouldn’t be who I am today without having brought her home 13 years ago. 

Happy middle age to my mare!!!

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Tuesday Night...Group Lesson Night

 This week things got changed up a bit. A friend of mine leases a horse at AH and has been trying to figure out a way to join my lesson time. She made it work this week! I was a little...I don't know...nervous isn't really the right word but...apprehensive maybe??...anyway...I was a little something about it as I have never ridden Leonard in a group scenario before. I wasn't sure how his focus would be and if he would take to the start stop pattern that a group tends to be. 

One thing Leonard is going to teach me come Hell or high water is to start trusting him and quit being so me about riding. 

Someone was not in the mood

We warmed up solo as friend was running a bit late. Leonard keeps showing up better than the previous time even after having an entire week off as I was out of town. He seems to do really well with some time to digest between rides and he does not forget things. He was so so so fun to ride at the trot. His lateral suppleness is improving immensely. This week all it took was for me to weight my outside seat bone to get him him to do haunches in and the leg yields are getting easier each week too. I find that I have the ability to dedicate brain cells to making active riding choices to keep him straight or side in a turn. It’s really cool.

Things got complicated fast after the warm up with four really cool exercises that I think I can replicate at home fairly easily in terms of setting it up. Performing it without eyes on the ground? That is a different story. The whole focus this week was bend. She really wanted to see a significant change in how we rode through the change in direction with proper set up, reestablishing the new outside aids, and for me specifically, not stalling out. 

Exercise 1: 

Two ground poles set as a bounce across the middle of the arena at one far side. This was done at the canter which is a gait I am still trying to acclimate to on Leonard. Well, on any horse really. It is my worst gait. 

Behold my professional level paint skills. You get the point though.

We started going left which is Leonard's harder direction and really we didn't do too shabby. The biggest take away for me is that I need way more leg than I thought coming around the corner to keep him cantering through it. It is a reoccurring issue. I am so used to my turn on a dime pocket rockets that I tend to forget he is 17.1H. He doesn't stuff around turns as well so when I don't support him like I need to with my leg, he will stall out and drop back to a trot. Which for me is 100% amazing as a response. I'll go for a slow down and think response than plow through like a bowling ball like some big chestnut doofus I know.

I adore the world view between these grey ears

Exercise 2:

This one was much harder and we stuck to a trot for it. She had two crossrails set up angled towards each other at the opposite end of the arena. She then piled some poles next to them to create a very narrow chute to the outside of each. We were to start on the rail, turn down centerline, make a left circle around the left hand crossrail using the chute, come back up center line, make a right circle around the right crossrail using that chute. It was a tiny target to hit. 

The focus was on riding the line between them straight like in a dressage test, then establishing the bend, maintaining in around the circle, getting straight again then changing direction. It was a finicky exercise and I really liked it. 

It was hard. Really hard as I needed to ride up the centerline between the jumps perfectly straight then make my turn and still hit that chute. I had to do a lot of mental gymnastics to get him through it. Leonard is very wiggly still in this stage of his learning, so it can be challenging to keep him off my inside leg (he LOVES to lean on my inside leg), keep the proper bend and still make it along our path. 

Exercise 3:

EN had a really neat ground pole grid set up leading from the side of the arena with the bounce poles exercise. It was 3 trot poles, a bigger gap, then 2 more. This led to the 2 cross rail jumps we had been circling around. The exercise was to turn off the rail, through the pole grid, then out over the right hand crossrail, pick up a left lead canter and canter back along the long side to the ground poles, back to a trot, over the poles, out over the left crossrail, pick up the right lead canter and canter back to the start. 

Ho boy. Have I mentioned that cantering is not my strong suit?!

Start by that light pole come through the poles then behind me are those two angled cross rails. You can see the bounce poles here too from exercise 1.

So we came around the first time and Leonard was a wiggly worm through the grid and I think he just about stepped on or tripped over every single pole. When we got to the cross rail we were strung out so we mostly just clambered over the jump still in the trot. on the back side I was all discombobulated when I asked for the canter which resulted in getting the wrong lead. It was a hot mess express. 

The second time through he was more careful with his feet. We were in a much better position when we exited the grid so we actually jumped the crossrail and landed in the correct canter lead to canter around. We played with this exercise quite a bit. It was so so so good for both us us. For Leonard it really made him pay attention to his feet and you know actually listen to my directions. For me, it made me ride every stride which let me forget the jump even existed. 

Exercise 4:

This was the only exercise the two of us did something different on. Friend came through the pole grid, exited out the right crossrail, circled back to the left crossrail and came over that in a lightbulb type shape. 

EN was worried that short of a turn would frazzle Leonard who was already running out of steam and letting me know this work stuff was BS. Instead we did the pole grid, out over the right hand cross rail, cantered left to about half way down then turned left to hit the bounce poles from the first exercise then keep the canter left to the left hand crossrail we hadn't jumped. 

So much fun!


Leonard was a bit sulky at having to still be working at this point. He really took to the whole hurry and wait format. At one point he cocked a hind leg, lowered his nose to the ground and closed his eyes. EN warned me he might fall over if he truly fell asleep. 

The pole grid went super well as he had finally figured that out. The crossrail came up the best it had all night. We got our left lead straight away then headed to the bounce. He tried to return to the trot, but I was all over him on that so while we still sorta stumbled through the bounce, we stayed in the canter. Then we came around to the short turn off the short side rail to make it over the cross rail and I completely took my leg off. Instead of using my leg to guide him through the turn while maintaining forward momentum, I took my leg off and yanked on the inside rein. 


But the worst thing that happened was that he stalled out and dropped to a trot. We still made it over the jump, landing in canter to canter a full lap around before we ended the day there. 

While friend did her exercise Leonard cocked a hind leg and took a nap

These complex courses are amazing for my brain. If I ever find the time I want to write all about EN's program and why I think it is working so well for me. Maybe someday. For now though, I am loving these lesson nights!

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

The Magnificent Return of Sir Leonard

This horse. I will never in my life ever have the opportunity to ever again have something so special. Don’t get me wrong. I adore Hammy too. But Leonard? I now know what everyone is talking about when they say “heart horse”. He is it. He is everything. 

Last Tuesday rained out so I rode him again for the first time after 5 weeks of stall rest on a Friday in a lesson. I had meant to hop on him at home before, but life got in the way. I’ll admit to being a little nervous. An 8 year OTTB who Ive only had for 3 months one of which had been stall rest, an extremely gusty windy day, oh and right before I got on a fire truck and ambulance raced by with sirens blazing. 

He did not care. We didn’t do a lot that lesson. We stayed at the trot working on leg yields and a couple fun ground pole courses to get us both acclimated to working again. 

He was unamused 

I rode him at home Sunday and he was a noodley little pretzel. He is pretty funny. He pretends he can’t possibly bend his body until he decides he is done working then he bends in half to try to get out of real work. I always tell him he isn’t helping his cause at all showing me how well his ribs move. He had a very strong pull to the arena gate but EN has given me tools no one else ever did. I worked him in the walk for 20 minutes doing a million tiny leg yields, some haunches in, lots of circles and figures until he was paying attention to me instead of the gate. Then we trotted a little and I even braved a canter! 

Then yesterday we had our regularly scheduled lesson and folks. Even EN was gushing about Leonard after. He was AMAZING. 

We started working on lateral work and she was all complimentary about his response. I chuckled as we worked. I have always done leg yields moving him off the rail going down the long side both directions. This time EN wanted me to use the first half of the long side to move him off the rail then the second half to move him back to the rail. Leonard is a smart horse who learns lessons quickly (this comes up at the very end too and I’m still grinning from ear to ear about it) and it slightly pissed him off when I changed the game and asked him to leg yield away from the rail. He was all grumpy ears and confusion but he did his best to answer the question. Good boy! 

Trialed another used CWD Friday. Hated it. Leonard did too. 

I knew we would be cantering this lesson and for some reason my brain has decided to tell me that cantering is evil and scary and awful and I should never ever do it. Well, after a little bit of trot work over some ground poles (of note we almost always use ground poles in his trot work as he tends to like to shorten his stride. The ground poles early on really help him to open up) she wanted me to canter. 

I took all of your advice and quickly asked her about the cue. She said that the lesson horses all learn the kiss method because they mostly get ridden by kids and when they are first learning the whole leg back thing rarely happens. I told her I’d like to keep the outside leg back cue and she was happy with that only if I stop forgetting that I have an inside leg as support as well. 

She loves a simple exercise to get me cantering without freaking out about the transition. We trot into a cross rail. If we land cantering then we carry on. This had yet to happen. When we land trotting I am to leg yield to the rail then pick up the canter. I did. He did. It was a non event. I was grinning like a fool. 

Unrelated but apparently I’m never getting around to writing about it. I went and watched Eeyore show a few weekends ago at a schooling jumper show. He did really well winning his rider a 2nd, 3rd and 5th in large classes. 

From there we trotted over the outside line ground pole to cross rail. No issue. Next was trotting over a small vertical (our first vertical!!!) with flower box filler set on the diagonal off a tight left hand turn landing riding straight to the rail before turning right and picking up the right lead canter. This was also no issue even if my brain had a moment of screaming DEATH as we approached the flower box. Leonard could have cared less. 

I fully expected to then trot over the other outside cross rail but nope. She told me to stay in canter and canter over it. Our first canter jump!!!!! Leonard’s canter is like floating on air and we approached the jump enjoying ourselves immensely. We made it over no issue and EN about peed her pants I swear. She kept repeating “he is a metronome. His canter is an freaking metronome” over and over and over. I think she likes him. 

Honestly I figured we were done there. It was 78, both of us were a bit out of breath, Leonard was acting like he was dying and well…I do love ending on a high note. Par for the course tho, we weren’t done. I’m always done slightly before my trainer wants me to be. Story of my life. 

He is looking good these days. His young rider loves him

We were to do our first ever canter course stringing all three together. I was allowed to trot into the first outside line coming left but had to get the left lead immediately after, canter that tight left turn to the flower box vertical set on the diagonal, land cantering, she said I’d have to drop to trot in the turn to then get the right lead, canter out over the outside line cross rail going right. 

We came in trotting, he knew this game now so he landed cantering on the left lead. I was nervous about making that turn and remaining in the canter. He is a big horse and had spent the entire lesson stalling out in all our corners at all gaits (even the walk which is pretty impressive) but I put my leg on (what?!?!) and rode through that turn like I had any clue what I was doing and he kept his lovely canter. We still had the left lead when we left over the flower box and then I heard a funny noise from EN but she followed it with “keep going!”  Apparently Leonard knew this course because while he left on the left lead he swapped mid air and landed on the right lead in prep for our right hand turn which promotes the noise as EN was surprised and impressed. 

We cantered that corner again not stalling because I actually was you know ACTIVELY RIDING FOR THE FIRST TIME IN MY ENTIRE LIFE, no big deal or anything, then I did my patented “stop riding the last fence because the course is done and you survived” move but Leonard is amazing and covered for me and did it perfectly anyway. 

I nearly burst in tears after that. Our first canter course together. Our first vertical together. The first time I actively rode during a course. His canter is amazeballs. His brain is even better. EN gushed over him. She told me she was so happy I found him and after seeing me on Hammy, Baretta and Murphy she knows Leonard is my perfect horse. We go well together and I am learning to really trust him. I adore him. I don’t know how I got so lucky as to have him in my life. 

I turn 40 today. It has taken me 40 years and a lot of good but not quite right horses to get to Leonard. I’ve loved all the horses in my past and am thankful for everything they have taught me. Leonard though. He is it for me. The real deal. I’m not even anticipating the future with him the present is too awesome to waste on “can’t waits”. It is here and it is now and it will never get better than this. Even if we make it to 3’. Even if we show. Even if we win ribbons or coolers or trophies or money. This is why I ride. This is the feeling I’ve been chasing my entire adult life. These wings. These moments where the entire world melts away leaving only me and Lenny working together. I haven’t felt this since I was a kid racing my Aunt’s TWH down the carriage paths in Acadia Maine on a gorgeous fall day with a bright blue sky overhead dotted with bright yellow leaves. I’ve been looking for this for over two decades. Nothing will beat this. 

Monday, April 11, 2022

Can a Hunter or Jumper Rider Weigh In Please?

 I’m having trouble with a specific training method EN uses. I’ve watched enough of her other lessons to know it isn’t a me thing plus the other two trainers at the barn (one who is apparently very very highly respected around these parts) teach the same. Maybe it is a hunter or jumper thing? 


Canter transition. 

Been spending every weekend on a large farm project. Fluffzilla gave up on us and passed out in the grass

I’ve always ridden with the event crowd. Even when we worked on jumping instead of dressage, the techniques were always the same. To ask for canter I was always taught to sit into the saddle, bring my outside leg slightly back, then ask. This places them slightly in haunches in to set up the correct lead basically unweighting the outside hind to take that first step. Or so I’ve been told.  It was always an expectation that the transition would be crisp and immediate. Three or four strides later wasn’t any option.  Of course in the dressage phase this is particularly important as the tests are specific in where and when the transitions happen. 

Riding with EN, who is primarily a hunter trainer but also does jumpers, I’ve been called out for this every single time. She says that asking this way only asks for haunches in, not to canter. Her, plus the other trainers at the barn, want you to simply squeeze with both claves and make a kissing sound to get the canter. 

Fit 57 bales of hay in the 2H trailer. It’s much greener in person than the picture turned out. 

I’ve watched other riders more advanced than me and what I’ve seen happen nearly every time is that it takes most of a short side of the arena to get the transition and the horse looks like they are running into it versus a clean step off from the hind end. They also don’t get the correct lead every time. 

I’m not saying it’s wrong. Different ways to do things and all that. I’m more wondering if this a one barn method or a hunter discipline in general thing? Is this how most hunter trainers teach the canter transition? I guess it doesn’t matter as much how crisp it is like it does in dressage and hunters is a completely different discipline than eventing but it caught me off guard. 

Leonard is the sweetest guy until food comes around. 

I much prefer the other method as I feel like the transition is slower, smoother and the canter is immediately off the forehand from the start versus kinda running him into it and hoping for the correct lead. But then again I’m new to this discipline and maybe for this it is better to do it their way  

So…anyone weigh in on this? If I went to a different h/j program would it be similar or way different? Are these trainers outliers? 


Monday, April 4, 2022

Tuesday Night Lesson Night x 2

I've failed to write about my last two Tuesday Night Lesson Nights.  

The first occurred the Tuesday after Lizard Run. I should have canceled, but I was stubborn having pre paid and not wanting to lose my money. My left ankle was on fire even with a brace I grabbed from the office. It still isn't 100% right to this day. Anyway...Leonard was still on stall rest trying to heal his leg wound so I asked EN if she had a spare lesson horse I could use. She did. It turned out to be Baretta - a black pony with a draft sized head.

Seriously the largest head I’ve ever seen on a pony

I wasn't thrilled to be honest. I really don't like riding ponies. Sacrilege I know. The cadence of their stride just doesn't suit me at all even though I do enjoy being so close to the ground. But it was what it was so I showed up, tacked up and tried to ride. It didn't go too well. 

It turned out that Barretta requires all the leg you have plus ten times more. My legs were done from Lizard Run and I just didn't have a lot in the tank to get her to do much beyond plod along. Eventually EN gave me a set of spurs which helped but the entire lesson was just meh. We did a course of cross rails at the canter. She even yelled “go gallop!” at one point and I did. But. Eh. I didn’t get much out of the lesson to be honest. At this point in my life I don’t really feel the need to ride everything I can get my butt on. Nothing against the pony. She is teaching the kiddo to ride and he adores her. She just wasn’t a good fit for me and I left the lesson feeling like I didn't get much value for the money I spent. 

He looks way better on her 

The following week I wasn’t feeling it so when the kiddo’s Friday lesson got rained out I gave him my Tuesday time for his make up ride. I told him he rode Barretta way better than I did anyway. Which is true.

That takes us to this past week. Leonard was still on stall rest so I texted and asked EN if she had anyone else I could ride. She could tell I wasn’t feeling the pony vibes so offered up Murphy, a 6 yo kinda green QH gelding.

I have a thing for chestnuts

 This lesson was a lot better. It takes me a while to trust a new to me horse and I think that frustrates EN a bit as she pushed me to do more and I really wasn't feeling it. He was tricky too in that he didn't want any contact at all - like none - but then when we would canter he didn't listen to the leg at all to down transition back to trot. I think that if I rode him a few more times I would end up getting along pretty well with him. 

We started with a fun exercise as in the photo below. We used it as two separate lines making sure to hit the center of each pole as we went at the trot in a straight line. I completely messed it up the first time. My mind went "zig zag!" so we sorta drunkenly went down the line going a bit left then a bit right each time. That was not how it was supposed to be done. The next few times were a lot better as I picked my straight line and kept to it.

Sometimes my brain makes me do dumb things

 We then moved on to doing three different cross rail courses. I was to trot all of it which is good and bad. I love trotting. I love trot jumps. It is my safe space. But I'm getting to a point where I need to start being forced back to canter or I fear I will never do it as my canter fence confidence is dropping by the week. 

Murphy was tricky here too as he likes to be very nappy when he decides the ride is done. He also likes to stop and poop before fences. The course was set as a typical outside line, diagonal, outside line, diagonal hunter course but with super tight turns. We reversed the order for the second course and then she did a handy course at the end. It was fun and we managed to get over everything even if it was a bit slow and stalled at times. 

I’d ride him again. With a few more rides I think we’d get along very well. 

By the end of the lesson I finally sorta figured it out. I enjoyed him a good bit. While he had his moments they were very similar to Hamilton's version of being nappy only way more mild so I had his number there. Thankfully though Lenny is able to return to work, so I can have my big grey goof back to work with. I really, really, really missed riding him. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

WW: Ride Photos!!!


Credit: Becky Pearman Photography, purchased

Credit: Becky Pearman Photography, purchased. Also - look at that darn left stirrup!

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Lizard Run Ride Day


Yeah...I am still this excited. 

The storms predicted overnight didn't hit until around 630 am. Then they hit in force. I was just finishing up giving Hamilton his mash, morning electrolytes and refilling his alfalfa tub when the skies opened. It was raining hard enough that I couldn't see past the front of my truck from the barn. It let up plus stopped the light show right as the 50 milers were getting on to warm up. It was a nasty start for them. Us 25 milers had an hour to wait until our start. By the time I mounted up it was intermittently spitting. 

A wet start for the 50 milers

Typically the trail will be announced as open and you are kinda free to start whenever you want within reason. The clock keeps going, so you short yourself time on the trail but that is your choice. Most people are out quickly with the stragglers gone generally by 10 minutes past. The ride manager made a big stink at the meeting that everyone had to check in with her 15 minutes before the start or you wouldn't be allowed to go. We all took this as having to be mounted and present, so the ride start was pretty jammed. I think in retrospect I could have signed in on foot, then went and got Hammy ready but she had been a bit um...forward...about it and I really didn't want to not get to start so I played it safe. 

Hamilton was pretty chill getting tacked up

Hammy got a long warm up walking around camp. I tried to stay away from everyone as we meandered around while still keeping an eye on the trail head for a good pocket to go. I was a bit worried about being overtime, so while I had no intentions of going out right away I also didn't want to lose too much valuable time pacing around camp. When I saw that most everyone was gone, with nobody left milling around, I pointed him at the trail head and we got started. 

The park had a lot of interesting ecology from lichen covered surfaces to grey sand to rich black soil

Apparently half the riders had the same idea. We were overtaken by a huge group maybe 100 yards down the trail. Unfortunately this was right where the trail was the worst footing of the entire day. It was deep mud with large mud puddles cutting the two lane path to nearly single file. A big group had screeched to a walk backing everything up. We got stuck in the traffic jam, but Hammy was doing alright and I knew it would spread out again soon. Except a new group came up behind us at a brisk trot and flew through the puddles on our left splashing mud everywhere. Hammy started to feel quite tense but there really wasn't much I could do right then to relieve his stress. The final straw was a woman literally ramming her horse into the back of us - his chest hit Hammy's butt. Hammy lost it, striking out with a hard hitting kick that I felt no sorrow for. Never use my horse as your brakes like that. 

Lots of standing water everywhere. I was happy we had spent time working on water crossing or this ride would have been a nightmare

Well, Hamilton was done. He flipped out. We stopped and let everyone go on ahead thinking he'd calm down but he was too far gone. He reared, all 4 feet left the ground like a pogo stick, he flew backwards. No amount of wide, loose reins, a calming voice, clucking, kicking...anything was getting him to move forwards. I made the choice to slide off him and let him chill. We hand walked just a little ways...not even a quarter mile...and he finally took a deep breath. I felt really bad for him. I think he just got really claustrophobic in there.

Right as I was about to get on a mother/adult daughter team came up and asked if I was alright. I explained he had a baby brain moment and I was just about to get back on. They were nice enough to wait a second and then even nicer to let me tag along with them. Hammy tucked between them (I asked them at least 1000 times if that was ok) and honestly I think that saved the ride for us. He was able to calm down. It took until mile 5 or so before he actually looked around at his surroundings again. Poor guy.

More flooding. The center of this came up nearly to his belly. 

The rest of the loop was pretty perfect. We stayed in the middle for a bit then headed to the back and even lead a bit. The two ladies were super nice and the miles started to fly by.  The footing was fantastic - mostly sand, a great mix of wide open flat lanes to canter followed by my favorite twisting forest single track to get them back under control. Hamilton started to loosen up too. horse we rode behind a bunch had a crupper the same color as his body and first I thought he had the world's largest anus. It was hard not to stare. Once you see it you can't unsee it. 

Unfortunately around mile 7 things started falling apart on my end. For some unknown reason my left stirrup wanted to face in toward the girth. Like 90 degrees turned in. My lateral left ankle was screaming at me in agony. I kept losing the stirrup. I tried to 2 point. I tried to sit. I posted differently then I generally do. It was excruciating. I apologized to Hammy a million times for hitting his back harder than I'd like when posting. No matter how many times I twisted the leathers, it went right back. I thought about stopping to fix it but he really needed to be with others right then and I couldn't bring myself to ask them to stop moving for me to adjust my tack. No way was I going to impose to that degree, so for the last 8 miles I tried to have fun while not crying. 

WTH stirrup?!? This was painful. Thank goodness for the huge blocks on that saddle or I'd have eaten dirt and walked the entire 15 miles. 

But you know what? Even with that? I was having fun. Hammy was moving beautifully. We were covering some gorgeous trails. We were making way better time than I imagined. He was offering up gorgeous canters and never ever spooked, balked or refused to go happily forward. His ears were perked and I could tell he was starting to understand the game. 

Not much was around for grazing this early in the season. There was a nice buffet set out where all loops crossed and Hamilton took full advantage of that.

Two funny moments happened on this 15 mile loop. We were going great with nary a disgusted head shake in sight (that is Hammy's go to when I do something that annoys him) when all of a sudden he started trying to stop and turn around. He hadn't been pig headed like that in a long while and I really couldn't understand it. We were 11 miles in - going back was way longer than moving forward. The lady upfront then informed me that we had just passed by the backside of camp but the trees obscured the view. Hammy knew and was sooo frustrated that I wouldn't let him cut through the woods to get back! He shook his head and snorted in disgust at me for a solid 10 minutes with all 3 of us laughing. 

The second happened shortly after that. The trail started to follow the flooded river. We were 3 miles from home at this point. I pulled out my cell phone to get a picture of the swollen river. Hammy tried to take advantage of my lack of attention, turned 90 degrees and rushed to jump in the river!! I stopped him barely in time. I was not happy! There was no way I wanted to go swimming right then. The lades laughed the entire 3 miles back as Hammy kept trying again and again to go swimming. 

He tried to take me swimming in the marsh too. No buddy. 

The ladies I was with were planning to canter all the way in to the hold along the sand road, but I prefer to do a slower trot the last mile then walk the final 1/4 mile so that his heart rate is down when we get in. The temperature was steadily dropping each hour that day so I didn't really want to sponge a lot in case he cramped up. 

Coming in to the hold

They went on ahead without me and we slowly came in behind them. It worked as he was at 52 right off the trail. Tack was allowed to stay on and with the lowering temps, I chose to keep it that way. He had a good vet in then settled into the hold like an old pro. 

His card at the hold

Gem never did well being in the crew area. I always had to take her back to her own pen or she wouldn't eat, drink or relax. Hammy was fine being with everyone, actually I think he did better than had we walked to the barn by ourselves. 

All he cared about at the hold was eating and drinking. 

Thankfully Dusty and Wyatt showed up for me to crew. I had texted him 2 miles out to see if he could find me a spare stirrup somewhere as I planned to throw mine in the fire pit. The tack lady didn't have any and I honestly thought about rider optioning. I would have too had he not been there. But he was and he graciously offered to trot Hammy out then fixed my stirrup for me. It sat 90 degrees facing out (we never could get it to face forward like the right one) but that was better than in. Hamilton downed an entire bucket of water and ate half a pan of soaked alfalfa. He took his electrolytes politely enough. The 40 minutes flew by. 

I was having so much fun 

I managed to struggle back on and we were off again. All loops started the same way then branched from there, so we already knew the first stretch though the memories weren't good ones. We were alone for a while until the ladies from before caught us up - they had left the hold late for their time. They picked up the pace on us though - going 10-12 mph which was a lot faster than I wanted. We had 3 hours to go the 10 miles and while I didn't want to slow down too much from our first loop pace, I also didn't want to rush it either. We let them go on without us. 

Heading out from the hold

From there we met up with a lady on a spotted saddle horse. We stuck with her a bit but she was actually going slower than I wanted. It was so so so so awesome, I can't really even explain to you all, that at this point I could finally ride my own ride fully, letting those go ahead who were too fast and passing others who were too slow. It felt wonderful. 

Riding solo was the best though I also thoroughly enjoyed the company on the first 15 mile loop. 

We ended up riding almost all 10 miles alone keeping up a decent pace around 7-8 mph. There was one section he started to lose it a bit. There were horses in the 50 up ahead of us on a shared section of trail, but I didn't see them. Hammy started revving it up to chase them down. I wanted a polite, dull roar and as long as he kept to 8 mph I was fine, but he started creeping up to 10 so we walked until he quieted back down which didn't take very long. I was really proud of him for listening to me.

Towards the end of the loop 

This loop was my favorite. We cantered probably half of it. His canter is so lovely (even if he wont do it in the arena) and he will keep a nice even pace without speeding up so I let him canter when he chose. As long as we stayed between 7-8 mph I didn't care which gait he chose to use. I think it is important to switch up the muscle groups. 

He really drank well this loop too. He chugged from nearly all the puddles I would let him drink from. He moved freely and happily. There was one nasty section on private land that was like a mini trash dump. There was garbage everywhere. He took a long look at that, but kept his forward momentum going.

He was super thirsty on this loop so we pulled over for him to get a good drink from this puddle. His slurping sounds made my soul happy

It wasn't long before we were back at the end. He vetted in great. I asked the vet to triple check his back as I was worried it may be sore from the 15 miles of poor riding, but he said he was perfect. He also double checked his girth area and no issues there either. At least I know his tack is fine for a 25! 

My favorite picture I took all weekend. He looks like such a derp here. I borrowed Eeyore's cooler which was ridiculously small for Hammy. I guess it is time to buy hm one. 

I put him back in his stall for a few hours to chill, eat and drink while I enjoyed sitting in camp watching others vet in. After a bit we all got cold so we packed everything up (also super easy and quick) then drove home. 

His final vet card

Words can't convey how proud I was of Hamilton. That was a lot to take in. He is only 5 (will be 6 in April) and while I know OTTBs get a lot of exposure at a young age, I...I don't still brings tears to my eye thinking about how amazing he was. I really don't know how I got so lucky to have him in my life. 

This guy reminded me of what makes