Summer is winding down around these parts. The days are growing shorter, and the nights cooler. My morning barn routine now begins in the dark, and I usually need my puffy vest, or at least a light sweater.
I love my mornings at the barn…Sometimes I listen to a podcast and take my time grooming Clay, or sometimes I just relish the peaceful quietness and let my mind kind of go blank for a bit.
One of the biggest things I was surprised by when I became a parent was how your thoughts are constantly interrupted and hijacked by your child. I never realized before what a luxury it is to simply be able to think about something–anything–without distractions and interruptions.
I love, love, love being a mom. But I can only do my best parenting when I get to recharge my batteries occasionally. The barn is where I take that breather; where I get to follow a whole stream of thought through to the end, and silence the endless mental To-Do list for a couple hours.
I have been keeping our rides pretty light, and mixing things up every time. Hacking in the field or down the road, playing around with riding bridle-less, bareback rides, jumping, cavalettis, etc. My goal right now is to give Clay a break from the heavy dressage work but to maintain his fitness level for when we start to “hit it hard” again this winter. It has been fun to work on some different stuff and to “cross-train” a little.
And there have been some dressage rides sprinkled in there too…I got to have a lesson with Kate Phillips last week, and that felt great and super productive. We worked on fluffing up his trot and getting more jump in the canter (more engagement, truer collection). I am learning to use my spurs more effectively to get that little butt to sit down. Clay tried so hard and we had some really nice trot steps that almost felt like Passage. He felt strong and able.
Looking ahead to fall and winter, I am planning on boarding at a different facility. I’ve moved Clay to this barn in the past, for the winter months, and it was a great experience. It is further away from my house, which is a drawback, but it has a heated indoor arena. And the trainer there is excellent and a friend of mine. AND Kate comes there to do clinics regularly. Lots of plusses.
Although I was proud of what we achieved on our own this year, I felt like our progress was limping along due to a lack of lessons (my regular trainer Gina is caring for her ill mother and sadly could not travel for lessons much this past year.) I am excited to see how much stronger and better we can be with consistent lessons and a warm indoor to ride in. It will make it so that I don’t have to basically take Jan and Feb off due to bitter-cold temps, and we won’t have such an uphill battle to get fit for shows come spring.
So get ready, little buddy! 😉 We have our work cut out for us, but we’re so ready for more…I can’t wait to see what this winter brings as far as learning and growth.
We’re not heading to our new digs until October, and meanwhile I plan to just soak up the remnants of summer as much as possible with trail rides and long, luxurious grooming sessions, and a smattering of dressage rides.
Happy summer’s end, everyone! Hope you’re getting out there and enjoying it.
I got the pro photos back from the NDPC. John Borys did a great job capturing our first ride (the rainy one) from Friday. It’s too bad he didn’t photograph our Saturday ride, when the weather was perfect, but I get it…it was a HUGE show. The rain made for some cool, dramatic photos anyway, and I have a smile on my face in most of them, which accurately reflects the joy I was feeling in that moment.
I feel like I can see in these photos how much stronger and more uphill he has gotten this summer, and it makes me so happy. He’s showing decent reach in the medium-trot photos, and some self-carriage.
The other thing I’m proud of is how much better I am sitting his medium trot since even the beginning of summer. Mediums on a pony are NOT easier to sit! There is less suspension and the steps are quicker than on a big horse, so it’s quite the seat and core challenge to make it appear smooth and floatie. I am pretty happy with my position here. My hands have gotten way more independent this year, and my legs aren’t gripping or banging against my horse.
I still need to work on not pushing my rib cage forward (leaning back) when I am trying to sit deeper. It’s counterproductive and hard on the low back. Need to shorten the front of my “box” (as the Biomechanic people like to say), and perhaps lengthen my reins to allow my elbows to come back to my sides more.
I need to sit back in the counter-canter more (already know this…so hard to actually do, for some reason), and not allow Clay to run. We have improved upon this since the show, and as a result our simple changes out of the counter-canter are much better as well (no trot steps).
Overall I am proud of the progress I’ve made on my own (no lessons since the Martin Kuhn clinic way back in winter 😫) this summer, and the decent shape I was able to get Clay into even with the demands of parenthood/life constantly making it a challenge to ride consistently and often.
Now the trick will be to maintain that fitness over winter. No more slacking off in the wintertime…! Second Level and beyond requires a good fitness level year-round in order to safely progress. More on how I plan to accomplish that later…
On Saturday, our ride was at 10:00 am, so I got to the show grounds early. I do not like to be rushed, and I wanted to have time to re-braid Clay if necessary (thanks to about a gallon of hairspray, his braids looked OK, so I just had to re-do his forelock.) I ended up having plenty of time, and even had a bite to eat at the cafe and was able to get fully caffeinated. 😀
We took a long walk around the grounds to let Clay stretch. He seemed loose and well-rested. At 9:00 I tacked up and headed to the warm-up ring. It was a lovely morning…low 70s and overcast.
Clay felt great in our warmup…More relaxed than the day before, but still nice and forward. Our warm-up at shows usually goes like this:
Stretchy walk both directions to get the back swinging and to encourage relaxation from the start. If he’s too nervous to have a long rein right off the bat (that’s unusual–he’s typically able to be trusted on the buckle basically anywhere) then I keep my reins shorter to start.
Rising trot both directions for a couple mins, in a “training level” frame, just to get the heart-rate up a little before going into canter.
Canter/hand-gallop (half-seat) both ways, concentrating on keeping his poll up and being forward but balanced. This really gets him working over his back and thinking forward. He feels totally different (better) after we do this–it’s the biggest key to our warmup.
Short walk break in which I transition between normal walk and collected walk/half-steps and back to normal walk to get our half-halts super sharp and him listening to my seat. I usually ask for some turns on the forehand and turns on the haunches out of that collected walk as well.
Sitting trot, collected and in a second level frame. Leg-yields both directions focusing on being super straight. Trot-halt and halt-trot transitions.
At this point he is fully warmed up and ready to segue into harder second level work…counter canter, canter-walk and walk-canter transitions/simple changes, shoulder-in and haunches-in, 10-meter circles, transitions between collected and medium gaits, etc.
We ran through our routine as best we could, but the ring was crowded so it was difficult to do certain movements like the canter serpentines. Clay felt ready, though, so I didn’t over-do the warmup, wanting to save some gas for the actual test.
The main thing I remember about the test was that I had fun riding it. It had a nice feeling, Clay was relaxed, and I had a smile on my face for a lot of it. It was far from perfect, but it was an enjoyable ride. 2-3 is a nice symmetrical test.
My parents took video, and when I watch it I can see a million things I want to do differently/that could be better. But I also see a reallygoodboy trying hard in a very stimulating environment. And I see myself, nervous but having the time of my life riding my favorite pony.
I got totally lost in the moment during the walk portion of the test. I was reveling in the experience–a little too much–and got a step ahead of myself (even with a reader! That’s a new one!) and started to head across the diagonal for my stretchy walk before the turns on the haunches.
I realized my mistake before the judge even rang the bell, but it still was a 2-point error. Poop. (I edited that bit out of the video because the video was long enough without watching me circle around at the walk for ages.) 😛
Oh well. You know what? I was just so tickled to be out there at this show that I have been wanting to go to for years, on this pony, in this amazing location, and nothing else really mattered to me.
But I don’t mind also saying that my geometry kind of sucked. And there was some head-wagging at the canter because he wasn’t quite collecting and I was doing my darnedest to keep things soft while also being like “damnit, bend your hind legs!”
I know we’re capable of better. But it is going to take time, and more shows, before we can ride as well in the show ring as we do at home.
In the meantime, I sure am having fun.
One of the best moments was hearing my little girl yelling happily “Mama! I’m over here!” from the stands. She was SO excited. My husband was desperately trying to keep her quiet but every time we’d ride close to them she would wiggle out of his grip and yell for me. No one gave her the memo that spectators cheer quietly at dressage shows. 😉
We scored a 63%, despite the error. I felt it was very fair. Our free-walk got an 8, and our center-lines/halts also scored high. Our trot work was mostly 7/7.5’s. The canter, simple changes, and walk error were what brought the score down.
One little personal triumph for me this weekend was that I finally got 7’s for Rider Position & Effectiveness in the collective marks. I have been stuck at 6.5 for the whole time we’ve been at Second Level, so it felt really good to see improvement there.
Our score put us in fifth place again–same as the day before–so we won fifth overall for our division and Clay got a fun pink neck sash.
With our ride out of the way, I had the rest of the day to pack up my trailer for the long trip home, and watch my friends lay down some AWESOME rides.
It was so inspiring to see the caliber of riding in our group of folks from up north. It’s a beautiful thing to watch a horse and rider partnership that is harmonious and trusting. Some of the freestyles made me teary!
When you know just how hard these people work, the sacrifices that are made to make this all happen, and the endless amount of time and energy put into these horses….well, they don’t call us Crazy Horse Ladies for nothing. But it gets you right in the feels to watch it all coming together for someone in that moment, especially when they’re on a super special horse that means a lot to them.
The awards ceremony was at 6:00 PM. It was SO fun to watch all the amazing ponies galloping around with their happy riders! Several members of our group were Grand or Reserve Champions of their divisions–such a rewarding moment for them to take that victory lap with everyone hooting and hollering.
The rider banquet that evening was also super fun, and the food was great. It was extra special to watch my friends win some more cool awards at dinner. This show is not lacking in awesome awards and beautiful ribbons!
I can’t say enough what a well-run show this was, and I really hope they bring it back to Lamplight again for years to come. Top to bottom, just a wonderful show.
Of course I had to take a picture in front of the NDPC sign! 😛
What can I say that will sum this whole experience up?
…Good ponies are awesome, and good friends and family are even awesomer. And I have it all. ❤️
Thank you from the bottom of my heart to everyone who had a part in making this weekend happen, go smoothly, and turn out so fun. I’m full-up with gratitude and love and contentment. It was especially so helpful to be able to stay with family while we were down there, and my Aunt and Uncle were such fabulous hosts. My husband…he’s a saint, and none of this would be possible without him. My parents, always so encouraging and supportive of my crazy dreams. I could go on, but I’ll make myself cry, so…just thanks. You all rock.
I’m so grateful we all got home safely and without incident. The traveling part was stressful for me so even though I was looking forward to this show all year, when it was all over and we were home, I took a big sigh of relief. Clay travelled extremely well, and then promptly got a few days of rest.
I only rode him once this week and it was a chill hack in the field. We are done with shows for the summer now, so I’ll just do some trail riding and stuff for a couple weeks before we go back to work in preparation for next year.
Friday morning, I got to the show grounds bright and early to replenish Clay’s hay and water, take him for a walk, braid him, and watch my friends ride.
I was in the same stabling group as my friends Erin and Julie, Julie’s student Rachel, and a handful of riders from Mississippi View Farm who I know from our local shows up north. They’re all wonderful people and their ringleader, Kate Phillips, is one of my favorite trainers to take clinics from. She is such a good human, on top of being an excellent trainer, and I was really grateful to be included in their group all weekend.
It was comforting to be with familiar faces, and everyone was so helpful, supportive and positive. They even had me on their ride schedule, and read my tests for me! Little things like that make a huge difference when you’re nervous and feeling a little in over your head. I was so grateful.
The caliber of sportsmanship, horsemanship, and riding in Kate’s group is really exemplary. It was a treat to watch and learn from everyone. What a valuable thing it is to have a barn-family like that, especially when that group travels to shows together.
Being the only rider who competes dressage where I board, I don’t have that type of camaraderie or support system. I am lucky that my mom and husband help me out for shows, but I sometimes wonder how my riding would be different if I was at a barn with other dressage riders with whom I could learn from and compare notes.
Of course, flying solo does have certain advantages, and I choose to focus on those positives. But, I found it extremely enjoyable to be a part of a group for the weekend–especially this group. Everyone was so lovely, and we had a blast together.
Clay and I had until 1:00 to wait until our ride, so I enjoyed a long morning of slowly prepping, watching rides, and wandering around the dreamland that is Lamplight. Then I tacked up around noon and headed to warm up. Clay felt great…up, light, forward, a little tense but not locked…nice and responsive. Yay!
Unfortunately, it started POURING during the second half of our warm-up. Within minutes we were both drenched…I stupidly do not have a rain jacket that fits over my show clothes, so my wool coat was absolutely soaked. We probably looked like drowned rats, and I could feel Clay getting more and more upset about the rain, which was putting a damper (har-dee-har-har) on the great feeling we had achieved during the first half of our warm-up. Shoot!
But the judge did not call a delay, so into our test we had to go, wet (both) and pissy (him). The good news was that the incredible footing in the rings did not change one bit in the rain. I don’t know what kind of sorcery was at work (well, I do…millions of dollars worth of state-of-the-art footing, that’s all…) but it was like riding on marshmallows and it was glorious. GLORIOUS.
The test was 2-2. We lived through it. It did not have the feel I wanted, but Clay was forward and I was pretty accurate with my geometry, so we managed a 66%. I was pleasantly surprised (I think the judge was feeling a little generous since we were out there in a full-on downpour), but I’ll take it! 😉
I was just proud of Clay for getting through it as well as that! No spooks, no breaks, very obedient…just tense, a little flat in the canter, and trot steps in our simple changes. I know we can do better, but under the circumstances I was very happy. We had just checked off our first test at a big show, and that was a great feeling! Our score put us in 5th place in the Second Level Open division.
My grainy cellphone pictures don’t do Lamplight any justice, but if you’ve never been there you’ll just have to trust me that this place is absurdly pretty. All the little walking paths (with perfect footing) winding around the show grounds, the beautiful landscaping, flowers blooming everywhere, the white fencing, etc…It is so dreamy. As is often the case with showing, the scores and ribbons were secondary to the overall experience.
Well, that was an epic experience. Like, my favorite show experience ever. Ever!
I want to recap it all for you, and I think the best way to do that is going to be in a few separate posts, because there is a lot to tell and a lot of photos!
I know I said I’d write about prepping for the long haul down (eight hours…Maybe some people don’t consider that a long haul, but it was the furthest I have ever gone for a show), but of course life happened and I did not have a chance to do that before we left.
I’ll go over it a little now, but honestly, it turned out to be easier than I was working it up to be in my head. Once I realized that we were going to have great weather for the ride down (not too hot, not stormy), I relaxed a little.
My main concern was Clay staying hydrated and so I gave him an electrolyte paste the day before we left, and soaked his hay the night before we left. I also brought a few gallons of water from home from him to offer during the trip.
My husband looked over the trailer from stem to stern to make sure everything was gravy, and I re-stocked the equine first aid kit that I keep in my trailer. I made sure we had traffic cones with us, tools for changing a tire if needed, and checked that the spare tire was in good shape. I would have preferred to have a second spare, too, and if we end up traveling that far again in the future I will definitely make sure I have that.
We left verrrrry early in the morning, to get the bulk of the trip done during the coolest hours, and planned a stop halfway through where we refueled, offered Clay water, and waited long enough for him to pee.
Clay looked very relaxed and content, so we continued all the way to the destination after that one stop, and he came off the trailer at the showgrounds looking great. I hung a Redmond rock mineral stone in his stall, got him water right away and filled his hay bag. He settled in immediately and started licking his rock. Easy peasy!
And so, there we were! At the beautiful Lamplight Equestrian Center. I was absolutely giddy to be there. After settling Clay in, I took a walk up to the show office to check in, and gaped at all the gorgeous ponies being schooled in the rings along the way…the beautiful landscaping…the cafe…the tack shops…it was all too much!
At check-in, they gave me handmade Pony Cup polos in the color of my choice (I picked olive green…they had just about every color you could imagine) and a cool little backpack with the Pony Cup logo on it. Such a nice welcome gift! I used that backpack all weekend long for toting my phone and wallet and schedule around. There were many thoughtful touches like this all weekend…Jenny and the whole crew do such an incredible job with this show!
I let Clay relax in his stall for a few hours while we drove to my Aunt and Uncle’s house about 30 mins away, where we were staying.
We were so grateful to have family to stay with down there–it made for a much better weekend for Pehr and Mike especially, who would have had to hang out at the showgrounds all day otherwise…not the safest place for a toddler. It was so nice for all of us to be in a familiar and comfy place, and they took such good care of us.
After dropping Mike and Pehr there, I headed back to Lamplight to take Clay for a stroll around the grounds and then school in the show rings. He was understandably a little tense and very alert, but never spooked or acted goofy. I was so proud of him!
Our schooling ride was fantastic. I couldn’t believe he could ride in a trailer for eight hours, walk off into a very stimulating environment, and be THAT good for me. What a rockstar. This pony amazes me every day.
I went to bed that night just praying he would feel like that the next day for our test.
I mentioned that I took it easy with Clay during the week following our last show. We hacked in the field several times and just soaked in the sunshine.
It was perfect timing, because right after that beautiful week of blissful weather, the biting black flies hatched out, and misery ensued.
Those damn flies don’t have a very long life-cycle (they’re bad for a couple weeks and then they’re gone), but while they’re alive they wreak havoc. We see horses dropping major weight during this time every year.
Luckily, Clay isn’t super sensitive to bugs in general, but I still had to press pause on our field-trips and revert to riding inside.
But we had to start turning our attention back to dressage anyway, because we have the NDPC in just two weeks! Stay tuned for a post about how I am prepping for the long journey south, soon.
My student Abby (14 yrs old) rode in the 2’6″ Hunter & Equitation (Jr/YR) division at a schooling show last weekend.
She was atop Piper, the horse she has been leasing. He is a handsome 13 year old Irish Sporthorse who evented all the way up to Prelim level with his owner before an injury made her decide to retire him from eventing.
After a year of rest and rehab for his injured stifle, he is fully sound again and Abby has gotten him back in shape over the course of the past 6 months.
We are re-tooling him as a Hunter, because he LOVES to jump and the discipline seemed a perfect match for his laid-back personality and dreamy, steady canter. It was honestly the easiest “career change” process I’ve ever experienced with a horse…Piper took to the whole Hunter thing incredibly easily.
Abby quickly progressed as well, and –thanks to being able to trust him–shed some of her defensive riding habits. Piper was so reliable, consistent, honest, and unflappable. They were schooling 2’9″ at home with ease.
Two weeks before this show (at the Jr/YR clinic we attended, to be exact), Piper had an “awakening”. I don’t know if it is because his fitness level is good again, or if it was being away from home (for the first time in a couple years) that perked him up, but whatever it was, he very clearly remembered he was a 3D horse.
Suddenly he was dragging Abby to the jumps and then taking off afterwards. We had to lower everything back down to 18″ and 2′ and he was still bombing them like they were 4′ oxers.
Poor Abby! Right before her horse show, she had a completely different horse. She was a little thrown off at first, but very quickly figured out where his showjumping buttons were and how to NOT TOUCH THEM (i.e. she has to not touch his mouth at alllllll on the way to a jump. Thigh and core half-halts only, or he assumes she’s setting him up for a massive fence and clicks into rock-back-onto-haunches-and-gallop-show-jumper-mode.)
We crammed a few extra lessons in before the show, and really worked on rhythm and relaxation…but it was still a little hairy and uncertain if he would be able to do a whole course of 2’6″ at the show without scaring the judge.
I told Abby she should be prepared to scratch some of her classes if needbe. She took that very maturely and we all went into the weekend with an open mind, hoping for the best.
On Day 1 of the show, Piper seemed to be his good old self for their flat classes. A little tense over his top-line and a little high with his neck, but very well behaved and listening to Abby.
They didn’t place real high in their Hunter u/s class, but they won the Equitation class. Abby was called back out at the end with a handful of the other riders and asked to drop their irons, canter, go back to posting trot, pick up counter-canter, and then walk–all without stirrups. She nailed it. I may have held my breathe for that whole thing…
She then proceeded to pull off a decent warm-up class where she very smartly trotted several of the jumps and only cantered when she could feel she was totally in control of their pace. We felt pretty good about things heading into their Hunter o/f class…
And thankfully, Piper managed to keep his lid on, and Abby did a fantastic job of managing him through the course. They didn’t place real high because he still looked too much like a jumper, but Abby was proud of him and proud of herself for working out so many kinks in just two weeks.
Since he usually increases his speed/excitement the more he jumps, she decided to scratch her Eq o/f class in order to end on a good note for the day, and hoping to set them up for an even better Day 2. A smart and mature decision, I thought.
Day 2 started great with two solid flat classes. Unfortunately, it was pouring rain all morning and the height of the deluge was right in the middle of Abby’s first couple rides. But Piper was not phased by it. He had his hunter pants on today!
They won their Hunter u/s class with a truly beautiful ride on very sloppy footing. Looking like a seasoned hunter here…
An unfortunate break from the canter to the trot right in front of the judge put them out of the ribbons in the Eq class (she was getting squeezed between a huge puddle, another horse, and a jump.) It was too bad because the rest of the ride was beautiful and Abby’s eq is lovely. But she was beaming when she exited the arena because Piper had been so good.
The rain pounded on, and during the lunch break, between the flat classes and the jumping classes, Abby started to have doubts. She was worried about the footing being slippery, and about being able to safely slow him if he took off. We watched the 2′ and 2’3″ classes…No one looked to be slipping at all. She was considering scratching but I told her I really wanted her to at least do the warm up class, feel it out, and decided from there.
Their warm-up round went swimmingly (hardee-har-har). Piper seemed to be cautious about their footing and kept a sane pace. I may have held my breathe for that one too.
Abby went into their Hunter o/f course feeling much more confident and relaxed. She had to navigate her lines slightly off-center in some cases due to deep puddles, and one of the jumps in a line had been eliminated from the course due to footing degradation, but she seemingly wasn’t rattled by any of that. It was a lovely round.
They got second place in that class. Now Abby was having fun! The anxiety gone, she rode into her Eq o/f class with a grin on her face.
The footing was absolutely drowned by this point in the day, but the course designer made some changes to make it safer, and Abby rode it very smart. They received first place in the Eq–a wonderful way to end a weekend full of challenges and triumphs.
Boy am I proud of this kid. I mean, when you can ride an ex-event horse with a serious “go” button in a loose-ring snaffle on sloppy footing and make him appear somewhat like a hunter, you make your trainer proud!
Not only did Abby show grit this weekend, she was also so in-control of her emotions, polite and gracious all weekend long about the help and support she was receiving from her mom, dad and me, and she always thought of Piper first in every circumstance and decision she made. It’s truly my great joy to get to be a part of her journey with horses.
A huge thanks to NWDA, all the volunteers, parents, competitors and supporters who made sure this weekend was a wonderful show experience for everyone. We are so lucky to have shows like this in our area!!