NWDA Cooler by the Lake 2018

Phew! It’s Tuesday and I’m still nursing a pretty good Horse Show Hangover. You know what I’m talking about? I am tired, but it’s a good kind of tired. It just takes the mind and body a minute to adjust back to regular life after a weekend of total immersion in the horse world.

We arrived to the showgrounds on Friday evening, and after settling in I gave Clay a quick little ride in the warmup ring and both show rings. He was very relaxed, forward, and seemed happy to be out on a field trip away from our boring old indoor arena.

This is Clay’s fourth year showing, and we have never been anywhere else but at this show-ground (because it is 40 mins from home, and the shows that NWDA put on there are SO nice! There has been no real need to go anywhere else.) This place is like a second home at this point and very comfortable for us both.

Noms!

Saturday morning, bright and early, I was there to wrangle all that pony hair into braids. I think it’s pretty remarkable that that was a roached mane last Oct, with the lower half all rubbed out and threatening to never grow back.

BioMane was really a game changer and brought his mane back to life, in time for the show no less! I was so excited to be able to do braids up the whole mane, no problem.

My mom and my kiddo, hanging out in the shade watching me warm up.

Later that morning, I had a really great warm-up on Clay. He was feeling forward and responsive, and stronger than even a month ago. His counter-canter balance–and his confidence in his own ability–has gotten so much better in a short amount of time.

He was also trying so hard in the canter-walk-canter simple changes, but they were still sketchy if I did not set him up 1000% perfectly every time. We’ll get there, I am not worried about it. The fact that he shows up and tries is what counts. I need to ride better.

Ready to rock! Just need a lucky kiss from my mascot!

Our 2-2 test was up first. I went without a reader this time because I really wanted to challenge myself mentally to do something that is haaaard for me. Memorization has never been a natural thing for me. I have to work hard at it. I’ll think I have the thing down, and then in the moment, when the pressure is on and my heart is beating faster, my mind will go FULLY blank.

But, you know, you don’t get to have a reader when you do freestyles, or when you’re riding PSG and GP tests. Working on this skill now is a step towards those (lofty) goals.

So, with no reader, we marched into the sandbox and did our darnedest. And I did not forget my test! Not once all weekend!

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…I did put my simple changes in the wrong spot the first time I rode 2-3, on Saturday, because I mixed up I and L, but the judge was really kind and did not ring the bell on me. It was still a 2-point error, but at least I did not have to stop and totally mess up our flow. I think Clay would have been like “Nuh-uh, we done.”

Anyway, a wee pat on the back for myself (and a milkshake from A&W on Sunday night as I drove home) for not blacking out mid-test and going off-course. It felt really good to prove to myself that I can do it.

My student Abby and her mom Nicole came to watch us on Sunday. Clay was clearly glad to have his “Fan Club” in attendance (they brought carrots!)
“Did someone say carrots??”

I did both 2-2 and 2-3 on both days of the show, and after getting my scores the first day, I was hoping to improve them slightly the second day. I was happy with them, but I knew we could do better. There was some falling in on turns, some tension through transitions, etc. that I thought I could iron out the second day.

Unfortunately, the footing in the show rings was really soft and deep this year (the grounds crew reportedly waited too late to weed the rings, and so there were large root-balls on the weeds that had to be removed, which created big, soft holes…) and on a short horse, that is a real problem. I felt like we were getting swallowed up by the sand and it was stealing our thunder.

He would feel amazing in the warm-up ring, and then as soon as we were trotting around (and especially when cantering) in the actual show ring, it was a completely different feeling.

I am frustrated that an external factor like that–out of my control–had such an impact on us, but that is the name of the game with any sport, really, and especially outdoor sports. It could have been raining cats and dogs on us, or we could have had 40 mph wind gusts to contend with. Anything. You have to be strong enough and good enough to ride through those things.

And we just aren’t yet.

And so, Sunday’s scores were essentially the same as Saturday’s.

Saturday: 62% at 2-2, 61% at 2-3
Sunday: 61% at 2-2, 62% at 2-3

Hey, we’re consistent! And there were two blue ribbons in the mix for us, which always feels like an accomplishment in the Open division against real trainers who have been at this a lot longer than I have.

Kinetic-energy-stealing-footing aside, I was really pleased with all four of our rides. Clay brings his whole heart to everything he does and I love him to pieces for that. We have improvements to make but with those tweaks and with further strengthening, we’re not far off from being able to put down some really nice Second Level tests.

Plus, the weather was PERFECT. There were no bugs. My mom and daughter, and a student of mine and her mom, showed up to root me on. I didn’t forget my tests. I got a milkshake. We got home safe. We had fun. There can be no complaints when your weekend looks like that!

My husband, who usually takes beautiful photos of us at shows, was home working hard to prepare for a big garage sale we’re having this coming weekend, so I am hoping there was a professional photographer there snapping pictures of everyone and that I’ll be able to purchase some nice images from them.

In the meantime time, here is one pretty cute, albeit grainy, cellphone picture of me grinning my face off while my pony marches along in his best gait–the walk! We got good scores on our walk and a “Great walk!” comment from one of the judges. 😉

Running Tests

I can’t really practice my tests top to bottom, because Smartypants McGee memorizes them and then anticipates the crap out of every. single. movement.

So instead, I break them up into bits and pieces and run each part separately. It stinks for my own test-memorization but it keeps Clay waiting for me to tell him what comes next rather than jumping a step ahead.

Here’s some blurry, far-away cellphone video of us running through the 2-2 and 2-3 movements, out of order. Obviously, we still have a lot of things to tighten up for this level, but we’re going to give it our best shot this weekend.

How do you practice tests before shows?

A-Horse-Showing-We-Go

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Clay looking quite summery all of a sudden with that shiny coat!

Yikes! That came up fast! Horse show this weekend, Sat & Sun.

Clay is feeling good and I think I know my tests….

Ready or not, 2-2 and 2-3, here we come! If we can get through both (or one, I’d take one) without breaking to the trot in our counter-canter, I will be on cloud nine.

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That has been our biggest struggle. Actually, it’s going quiet well to the right, but he is absolutely convinced he is going to fall over going to the left (on the right lead). I have spent a good part of this spring trying to convince him that he can indeed remain upright while counter cantering right. He remains skeptical.

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On a better note, our canter-walk and walk-canter transitions have improved a lot over the last month. Very proud of the little nugget for that! Phew…Those are none-too-easy. Now if I can just not forget to shoulder-fore my way in and out of those tricky transitions so that he stays round…

Cross your fingers for us! 😛

Happy Mother’s Day

I’ve written before about how challenging it is to maintain any level of forward progress in this whole dressage journey while also working as a riding instructor and full-time stay-at-home mom. And it is. And I appreciate how this blog and Instagram provide an outlet for a little commiseration with others who know the struggle. It’s nice to not feel alone in the hard things.

But the challenges of doing what I love aren’t what I dwell on most of the time. In fact, the things that make it hard are also the reasons why I don’t take anything for granted and deeply appreciate every precious minute I get to spend immersed in my passion. I am grateful for that.

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My furry child.

And even if I struggle to ride often enough to progress, or I’m not able to afford more than a couple shows a year, or this or that or another thing, I am FULLY aware of how spectacularly lucky I am.

I have had a lifetime already of enjoying the company of my favorite animal. I am actively pursuing my horse dreams, AND I get to live my other dream, which is to be a mom and raise a family with my soul-mate.

It doesn’t get better than this, in my book. That place you’re trying to get to, when you’re in your 20s and looking ahead to the future you want for yourself…I have arrived.

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My mom, one of the best horse show moms ever (she’s had a lot of practice).

My mom always reminds me of the time, when I was maybe six years old, when I was walking outside with her in the winter, carrying a babydoll, and I stopped in my tracks and said to her, “Mommy, this is what I want when I grow up. To have horses and to be a mom and to live where it’s cold.” (Something along those lines, anyway.)

It was probably the combo of carrying my doll and seeing our family’s draft horse snoozing in the winter sunshine that made me say that, but children are so intuitive…I tend to think that I was actually having a premonition in that moment.

My life really did pan out that way. Not by accident of course, but it’s amazing none the less. So many things could have happened to change my course.

I have had that experience a few other times in my life as well. For example, I was 17 and filling up my first car with gas (an old Subaru station wagon with a LOT of liberal bumper-stickers on it. It took about $12 to fill the tank back then…) when the thought popped into my head that someday I was going to live in Bayfield, WI on Lake Superior. I had never even been to Bayfield before. The thought came out of nowhere.

I live 12 miles from Bayfield now, and 8 blocks from Lake Superior.

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I owe so much to the people in my life who have helped make my wildest dreams come true. I have always had supportive people around me, my entire life, who–even if they didn’t share or understand my love of horses–took it seriously and believed in me.

And because yesterday was Mother’s Day, and because she is the best horse show mom ever, I want to specifically thank my mom. She has spent hours braiding thick, unruly pony manes. She always had clean towels on hand to wipe off my boots (and all the boots of all the kids on my show team). She got up at ungodly early hours to drive me to shows 4 hrs away. She and my dad paid for many, many lessons.

And these days, she comes to my horse shows and takes care of my daughter all day in addition to wiping off my boots. 😉 I am so, so blessed to have that kind of support and love in my life and I don’t know what I would do without her.

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I am one lucky mother.

Nothing makes you truly appreciate what your parents did for you like having your own kid. The sacrifice and patience and selflessness that is required to be a parent is inconceivable. You have to live it to get it. Well, I get it now. 😉

But if that sounds like complaining, it’s not. It’s clinché but it’s true: Mothering is both the hardest and the most incredible thing I have ever done and ever will do in my life. And I am overwhelmingly grateful to have the honor.

And with that……Happy Mother’s Day!

Crowd-Sourcing: Do Good Breeches Exist for $100?

I’ve had the same four pairs of breeches for five years, and they are all disintegrating. Considering how much use they all got, I think they held up pretty good! Five years of wear and tear isn’t too shabby. I feel like I got my money’s worth.

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Good old Kerrits, lasted forever. Too bad I never liked how the crotch-seam is on these or I’d buy them again. There MUST be breeches out there with comfy crotches, right?? That seems (hah, seams) like a pretty basic design consideration for RIDING PANTS. Or are all these things designed by men? Please. I don’t want to have to wear padded underwear.

And now, it’s time to replace them. Having no tack shops nearby, that means online shopping. Enter, the rigamarole of figuring out what size I am in a bunch of different brands, comparing prices/shipping/discounts/return policies on all the various online retailers, and then trying on and inevitably returning many different pairs of breeches.

Not as fun as it may sound. Which is to say, it’s not fun at all.

As it turns out, I am picky. I guess? I never thought of myself this way but I have not liked one single pair of breeches I have tried yet, so I guess I am.

Here’s what I am looking for:

  • 1 pair of 3-season weight (spring, summer, fall) breeches that are nice enough for attending clinics (i.e. sturdy fabric with classy details. No logo in huge letters, no contrasting piping or bling. Full-seat, mid-rise, belt-loops, conservative color–ideally black. Reminiscent of Piker styling but without the ridiculous price tag.)
  • 1-2 pairs of summer weight riding “tights”. Light but supportive, comfy, “yoga pant” style waist, full-seat (silicon grips, preferably) and most importantly NO UNCOMFORTABLE SEAMS–especially in the crotch. Prefer solid colors (one pair in a “fun” color and one in black.)
  • 1 pair of winter-weight breeches. Comfy and WARM, full-seat, preferably with elastic leg openings because winter socks are bulky under boots. I usually layer a pair of long-johns underneath, so stretchy fabric is good.

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But here’s what I have been finding:

Weird fabric that seems cheap and like it will stretch out after the first ride (ahem, Dover riding tights) or attracts every speck of dust and piece of hair in the county (ahem, Piper breeches), or raised seems that are scratchy and downright PAINFUL (um, hello, doesn’t anyone ever sit the trot in their Pipers or am I the first person to try that and realize that they are definitely NOT designed for dressage riders???)

Hrrrmmmmm.

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PSA: Black Pipers show everything. They were discusting-looking after just five minutes of being at the barn. So much for “water and dirt repellant fabric.” Not even close.

Granted, I am not shopping top of the line breeches, which I am sure are wonderful and don’t have any of these problems. I have been looking in the $100-and-under category, and maybe you just get what you pay for. That’s still a lot of money, though! I feel like I should be able to get something decent for $100! If I spent more than that I’d never be able to afford to have more than one or two pairs, which just doesn’t cut it when you ride a lot and live in a place that has four distinct seasons.

So, friends, if you feel like playing personal shopper for a minuet, I would love you to share with me what breeches do you love and why.

Bye Snow, Hello Mud

Alternate Title: Be Careful What you Wish for, Folks!

lol…

I am back from vacation (it was wonderful to be in warm weather and sunshine for a week!) and while I was away, The Longest Winter Ever finally decided to give way. It is now 60 degrees and sunny and all that snow we had is gone, leaving behind an EPIC amount of mud in its place. Yay?

I don’t know what is worse–a winter that lasts way too long, or mud. At the risk of complaining YET AGAIN about weather related woes (we’re already there), I’ll say it’s a tie. Next up: Tonia Complains About it Being Too Hot This Summer (stay tuned! You won’t want to miss it! ;))

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The magical color-changing pony dragon.

The mud is so deep right now, my boots almost got sucked off my feet today when I was bringing Clay in from the pasture. Yum! And the horses don’t even want to walk in it at all…I had to drag Clay to the barn and every step was a triumph.

While everywhere else in the country seems to be wishing for rain, all I can think is “Please dry up soon…Pleeeaaaassseee!” We always seem to have the opposite weather/problem as everyone else.

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But, on the bright side, I got a ride in on my favorite Golden Nugget this week (in a t-shirt and summer-weight breeches!!!!!!), and he was fabulous. We got spring vaccines and coggins out of the way this week as well, and our vet was happy with how he’s looking.

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So–mud aside–all is well, and I am eternally thankful for a sound and healthy horse. He turns 12 in June. ❤

Buried Alive

Help! We just endured a late-spring blizzard and are currently shoveling out of over a foot of fresh snow.

The equine dentist was supposed to come tomorrow, and I was going to use the opportunity of a very-sedated-Clay to do some of the more unpleasant spring cleaning jobs (sheath cleaning, clipping legs…he’s not a huge fan).

But looking out the window at our white world, that idea is laughable now! I’m sure we will be rescheduling.

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In the meantime, I am running away to Florida with my husband and daughter for a week. Yes, I am a life-long northerner who has survived 31 winters and many late snowstorms like this. I know how to cope with cold and snow, and I choose to live here. But sometimes you just need a break. And for that reason…

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Looking forward to soaking up some vitamin D, playing on the beach with my toddler, and then coming home to muuuuch less snow and maybe some true spring-like weather??? Maybe?? Please??