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.