Lesson with Pearl Classical Dressage 2/6/16 – 2/7/16

I already spilled the beans that I had some amazing rides with Elise this past weekend. I’ve taken my time writing down notes and things I want to be sure to remember because there was so much goodness. That’s not to say that I didn’t struggle. I struggled a lot but I didn’t get frustrated and I didn’t give up – my hip did but more on that later.

Although I want to be an interesting blogger, my primary goal is to be able to reference posts like this in the future when I want to look back. Feel free to breeze past the boring stuff for the meat from the lesson!

I arrived late Friday night to Elise’s house and we stayed up talking horses, dressage and flipping through some books together. Nerdery supreme – and it was awesome! In particular, I was devouring The Elements of Dressage as well as Dressage for the Not-so-perfect horse. The latter book Elise sent home with me because she recently read it cover to cover and marked it up with all kinds of good notes. Yay homework! I definitely want to get a copy of both books for my own collection. They are excellent!

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We woke up Saturday morning and didn’t rush straight to the barn. After a stop for donuts (omg German chocolate donut wut), we ran a couple of errands. I picked up a tube of Ulcergard for Nibbles for the move (1 dose/day for 4 days). I also scored a bag of feed as I will be keeping Nibbles on the feed she’s been on when she moves – Tribute Essential K (2/3# twice daily). For anyone unfamiliar, it is akin to Buckeye’s Gro N Win. It’s a ration balancer with a very low NSC (starch content) which I really like because it doesn’t light her little tail on fire. She’s a fairly easy keeper, too, and when she moves she’ll be back on 24/7 turnout with tons of hay.

After a few errands, we made it to the barn where Nibbles is at. Elise had another lesson before me so I plucked Nibbles from her pasture and decided to groom her. She was by herself in the cross ties and was very wiggly. Cue me panicking – I joked with Elise that I have cross tie PTSD after Joker’s cross tie shenanigans. Of course, Nibbles didn’t do anything dramatic, she was just super wiggly and looking around when she was alone and couldn’t see any other horses. She pawed once or twice, I told her no, and that was that. Nibbles rarely argues which is one thing I love about her.

We tacked up and I borrowed Elise’s stirrups because mine are with Joker (whoops!). We agreed that I should do the warm up and be the first to get on. There’s no time like the present to take the reins!

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Elise lunging Nibbles in December

Guys, my horse is a boss. I put her on the lunge first so Elise could coach me through what they have been working on. I’m not good at play by play so how about a list…

  • Starting out very briefly without side reins then attached them firmly but no where near cranked (third D-ring on the side reins we we using).
  • Flick her shoulder/ribcage to create the correct bend or correct counter flexion.
  • Half halt with the lunge line just like when you are riding.
  • After she’s had a few minutes on a 20m circle, spiral in and out at the trot and canter between 10m, 15m and 20m circles. Carefully keep the bend and do not let her fall in at the shoulder. She has a tendency to do this to the right.
  • Play with transitions within the gait as well. She can really sit if you half halt and send her forward into the contact.
  • The goal is to get her warm and swinging through her back.
  • I didn’t lunge her first on Sunday and could tell a big different in her readiness to get to work and accept contact. Elise agreed it may be wise to lunge her first to warm up her back and get her accepting the contact before I get on for a while.

I was really impressed with Nibbles’ ability to not only canter on a 10m circle, but to do it really freaking well. It’s absolutely clear that Elise has carefully worked on her fitness and balance.

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Another from December

I want to note that lunging like this is not mindless circles and it is not about blowing off steam. It is thoughtful in-hand work to prepare Nibbles mentally and physically for the demands of the rider. She really tuned into me and wanted to work. Her expression was, “What’s next? Wheeee!” She’s such a happy horse.

After I felt like I understood a typical lunging session, it was time to mount up. Long time readers may recall that Nibbles’ was bad about the mounting block. No more! I mounted up and off we went. Although she wasn’t “up” or spicy, Elise had me do an exercise she uses when she is:

From wall to centerline, walk in tight serpentine loops down the longside. You should be able to fit in 6 or more in a dressage arena. Work towards seeing how little rein you can use and really get her moving off your leg and, eventually seat.

When she’s in a working frame of mind, leg yield at the walk in both directions from just off the wall to centerline – straighten – then leg yield back again. Did I mention my horse leg yields like a boss in both walk and trot now? Yeah, that’s a thing.

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Yay, a photo from this lesson!

Move on to shoulder-fore in both directions. This is still relatively new to Nibbles so don’t over school it. Get a few solid steps then straighten and praise her (scratch her withers and tell her good girl). Praise her before she feels like she can’t hold it anymore and she will get stronger with time. The outside rein is extremely important – do not throw it away or she will trail her hind end. Don’t try to over correct the hind end: correct your outside rein and, like magic, the hind end gets into gear.

If she gets above the bit and/or tense through her back, use an opening rein just off the wall to ask for one step off the track in either direction. It’s amazing how quickly she gets back with the program. Elise rode Nibbles in a clinic with a grand prix trainer and picked up this exercise. Reins should be opening – out but not down. You can do this multiple times down the longside and once, maybe twice, on the short side. We did this in both the walk and trot.

You’ll notice all of these notes are about exercises in the walk and trot. That’s because we were about 45 minutes in when we went to canter for the first time and my body gave a big fat NOPE. As soon as Nibbles went to pick up the canter like a good girl, my right hip started spasming like someone had stuck a hot knife in it. I talked to a PT friend and, without seeing it in person, she hypothesized that perhaps I had been gripping with my lower leg more than I realized. This can create tension and ultimately pain the hips. I think it was a combination of this and me being very, very tight through my hips naturally. I think they were just pushed to their limit considering I hadn’t ridden in the past week and hadn’t done much more than walking in several weeks on Joker. I felt relief only by completely dropping my stirrups.

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Not sending her forward enough, reins could be shorter by the shoulders being improved

Nibbles is green but she is really so easy. My hip was really, really hurting so I kind of freaked out and tried to stretch it in any way possible. This meant one second I was asking her to canter, the next I was frog-legging, bicycling, throwing my leg to the other side like we were going sidesaddle… just trying to find relief. And the mare walked on the buckle like I got you mom. We tried to canter a couple more times. I decided not to drop my stirrups (I was pooped at this point) which in hindsight I wish I had given a shot. We got a 20m circle or two at the canter where I had to really force my hips open. There were a couple of strides where my hips finally relaxed but they would quickly spasm again so I waved the white flag.

We spent a little while thereafter working on the free walk. We didn’t have a correct free walk quite yet – it was more like she swallowed a telephone pole. To her credit, my seat was basically just flopping around trying to stay upright at that point so I don’t blame her.

Unfortunately, my hip pain continued into Sunday which means we made it about 15 minutes into the lesson before, even at the trot, my hips were screaming. It was again primarily my right hip (I think adductor muscle). We didn’t lunge first so Nibbles was colder through her back and not seeking the contact. It wasn’t super pretty but it also wasn’t hopeless – my body was betraying me and she just wasn’t quite ready to get to work. I considered getting off completely but Elise and I had thrown around the idea of going for a road hack and it was 30 degrees and sunny. So we opened up the big loud barn door (good mare don’t care) and headed out.

I’ve never ridden Nibbles outside of the arena. Until Sunday, she’s only ever hacked out alone. Elise says she LOVES trail riding and I was super excited to experience it. Homegirl went on autopilot. She was so happy – ears forward and neck swiveling to look around and take everything in. I say that but she wasn’t looking for something to spook at, I swear she was just enjoying her surroundings.

Elise was on her gelding, Atlas, and we headed up the road together. I dropped my stirrups as we walked because ahhhh relief and Nibbles was showing off her mad skills. Is there anything better than a horse you can hack out on the buckle? Atlas is pretty massive (16.3) and Nibbles is 15.2ish and she was taking her time sight seeing so we were getting left behind. I pushed her into a trot and she happily obliged. I’m pretty sure at this point I was laughing for joy. When I sent Nibbles to Elise, she had a small handful of rides and we had no steering. And now we were trotting up a road with our big girl panties on without a worry in the world. Well, there was one offensive boulder we gave a wide berth. And my hip gave me the bird after 30 seconds of posting. But my joy would not be deterred!

It was a quick hack, up the road, over a small bridge, and back. We had a couple of trucks pass us. I picked up my stirrups for the first one but didn’t bother for the others if that tells you how much she cared about them. When we got back to the barn, it was buzzing as there was a grand prix trainer coming in for a clinic in a little over an hour. So we snapped a quick picture (that I posted yesterday) and put ponies away.

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Notice one of us stole the other’s stirrups? xD

Like I said, I struggled in places over the weekend but it was awesome – none of it was because Nibbles was saying no or being silly. In fact, except for being wiggly the one time in the cross ties, she was foot perfect. If I asked in the right way, she said “Yes, absolutely!” If I asked in the wrong way (ahem pulling on the reins too much), she was a big fat tattle tale and giraffed it out until I fixed myself/asked correctly. Some other takeaways about my position/riding…

  • Really engage my traps and think about pulling my shoulder blades together (like in a low row at the gym) and softening them down. This is more correct and effective than just “shoulders back.” Desk job is killing my position.
  • Hip to heel line is generally good in walk and trot… cantering I definitely close my hip angle but not sure beyond that from this trip because of my mutinous hip!
  • Hands need to be UP (at least one fist above my saddle) – lower is not kinder.
  • Do not nag her with your hands.
  • Really make the outside rein your anchor, especially tracking right and in the lateral work.
  • Send her forward – she will suck back a little if I let her. Forward is the answer. Always forward, even if you change gait, just keep her on the track.

We knew this from the massage therapist back before her show in September but she is out in her C5 vertebrae and needs a chiropractic adjustments. This shows up especially when tracking and bending right. Her mane is also flipping very closeby and I have a hunch it will go back to one side after a few adjustments. I also want to bump her grain up just a hair; she could stand to gain 30-50 pounds.

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Elise and Atlas in the clinic this week. Stole this from her Instagram like a straight up bandit because GOALS. How amazing do they look?

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The Itch

It’s getting worse.

Thank goodness for trainers who text lots of pictures

Thank goodness for trainers who text lots of pictures

I haven’t ridden since my lesson in August. If anything, it only made it worse – the itch to ride again. The itch to have my riding muscles back. The itch to be at the barn, in the saddle, as often as I can. In my heart, mounting up again felt like coming home. My body begged to differ. I know it’s a matter of strength. But building strength takes time in the saddle – something I am short on.

I think I’m normally a pretty positive blogger. I’m feeling a little down so hopefully I can indulge myself in a little self pity and move on.

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The reality is that, with Nibbles in training, my only opportunity to ride is in lessons or through a lease. Being out of shape, I don’t have a whole lot to offer by catch riding or offering to keep horses in shape. Heck, I need them to get me back in riding shape. With a horse in training, I cannot afford to lease another. Actually, I cannot afford to take lessons. That’s really what it boils down to. I’m paying to keep my horse in training – and the results are in incredible. But the consequences are that, right now, I do not get to ride myself. Additionally, some other unplanned for expenses have arisen that, frankly, are large enough to completely squash my ability to even pay for two $45 lessons in a month.

Tucker commiserates with me.

Tucker commiserates with me.

Even at a lesson every other week – when that is all the riding I can do without my own horse – is it really even worth it? I know, woe is me. But that’s where I’m at right now. And I still have the itch. But I cannot scratch. Some days, when I feel like I cannot possible stand the itch anymore, I contemplate selling Nibbles and using the money to pay for lessons or a lease for the next year and a half while hubby finishes MBA program.  I live in (nearly) the middle of no where for now and I know two horse people here, neither of which have something I can ride for free.

Please help this lady. She's wearing me out.

Please help this lady. She’s wearing me out.

Anyone know of a horse in northern Indiana I can adopt until March? I promise endless carrots and curries (the brushing kind, not the cuisine, although my husband is Indian…)! I’m trying my darndest to be patient. I know when winter comes, I’ll calm down a little. But right now, in this gorgeous fall weather – my FAVORITE – I’m slowly dying.

Quo Vadis: Part 3 – What Lies Ahead

Quo Vadis is Latin for “Where are you going?” (Before I decided on a business degree, I was a philosophy and classical studies major so forgive me the chance to toss in a little Latin.) In this mini-series, I’m going to articulate where I’ve been, where we are now, and finally where Nibbles and I are heading. This is a personal exercise to make me think critically about my goals but also to further introduce myself to the wonderful blogging community that has supported me so much already.

If you’re just joining us, check out Part 1: A Riding and Not Riding History and Part 2: Current State of Affairs.

A goal without a plan is just a wish.

I don’t know who said it first but I’ve found this statement to be 100% true. I tend to have a lot of ideas and ambitions but if I don’t set tangible goals along the way of a strategic plan, I don’t arrive at the destination.

I’ve seen a lot of you write goals on your blogs and I’ve always admired the practice. I took a stab at goals for Nibbles in spring of 2014 and made progress or accomplished 50% of them. Very shortly thereafter, I lessoned with a trainer who asked me what my goal was with horses. My answer: I honestly don’t know right now.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking and I’ve come to two conclusions:

  1. My riding is important enough to me to deserve a strategic plan.
  2. That strategic plan, once written, can change.

I’ve hesitated over writing out goals because I didn’t think my plan could change. Silly, I know, but I had that mental hurdle. But who says your goals can’t change? Right now, I want to compete. Maybe I’ll get a few shows in and go, you know, I enjoy this a heck of a lot more at home. Or maybe I’ll say man, this is my jam, we gotta up those competitive goals. And that’s the beauty and genius of goals – they can be fluid if you let them.

And because I am that person and I love strategy and lists, I’m going to push myself to make these goals S.M.A.R.T.

SMART-Goals

So, readers, here are my fluid but S.M.A.R.T. goals. This is where we are headed.

Short Term Riding Goals

  • Commit to bi-weekly lessons to primarily improve my in-the-saddle fitness and prepare for taking over Nibbles’ primary training by October 1, 2015.
    • The goal is not perfection. The goal is getting my mind and body saddle-fit.
  • When Nibbles arrives, commit to 4 rides per week for the first 30 days. Evaluate number of rides per week thereafter.
    • This is more about me managing my time better than a matter of what Nibbles needs so it may adjust if she mentally needs more/less.
  • Compete in one (dressage) schooling show (on Nibbles or another horse) in at least Intro C by December 31, 2015.
    • Ideally on Nibbles but since I’m a recycled-green-bean myself, I’m flexible.

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Short Term Nibbles Goals

  • Research and reserve a boarding barn in my area within a 40 minute commute and with an indoor arena by October 1, 2015.
    • This is already under way and it looks like stall board is my only option. More $$ than I hoped. No really promising leads yet however.
  • Maintain level of training at all gaits and including leg yields through May 1, 2015 (AKA when winter is finally gone from this far north). Evaluate strength for more complex work or additional training thereafter.
    • This is conservative. I want trainers’ opinions on how hard to push and what to add to her repertoire when.
  • Obtain saddle fitting and reflocking to ensure optimum comfort by December 31, 2015.

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Short Term Together Goals (after Nibbles is local to me)

  • Commit to bi-weekly lessons that advance both myself and Nibbles’ training towards Training Level through December 31, 2015.
  • Schedule trail rides at least twice monthly depending on buddy availability to continue Nibbles’ exposure to all the things through December 31, 2015.
  • Continue incorporating trot poles and cavaletti into Nibbles’ training regime. If possible, introduce cross rails for cross training, strength and confidence building by December 31, 2015.

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Long Term Together Goals (aka the scary but awesome)

  • Obtain our USDF Bronze Medal by December 31, 2020.
  • Complete a limited distance ride by December 31, 2016.
  • Break Nibbles to drive because why not whenever I can find someone with a harness and cart.
  • Take my stepdaughter to her first leadline class on Nibbles by December 31, 2017.
  • Ride bridleless. Someday.
And maybe even have a baby one of these sometime...

And maybe even have a baby one of these sometime…

Frank Sinatra Gives Me a Lesson

The verdict on my first lesson in over a year can be summed up in two words: humbling and amazing. It was a balmy 90 degrees and muggy with rain storms on the way. My parents were in town and my husband came as well which meant that a) I would have media and b) everyone would see that I’m basically a beginner all over again.

Meet Frank Sinatra

Meet Frank Sinatra

My ride for the day was a 16.3 hand Hanoverian/Paint gelding named Frankie (short for Frank Sinatra). Frank is a confidence builder supreme and let me flop around while I struggled to find my balance. Being used to 15 hand Arabians, Frank was a tank to me but I really, really enjoyed him.

blue eyed boy

blue eyed boy

As soon as I mounted (using a massive mounting block I might add), my right hip started spasming. I’ve always had weak hips and it didn’t take long for my body to remind me that I’m no longer a teenager. The instructor – we’ll call her Trainer J – showed me some stretches that were challenging but really beneficial. And off we went!

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The first thing I noticed was how tight my body was and Trainer J noticed the same. My seat wanted to stretch tall and long and be supple but there was a massive amount of rust. One of the first things I appreciated about J’s teaching style was her incorporation of baby yoga stretches. Frankie was content to plod along no matter how I contorted my body.

Eventually, my hips started to swing and my leg got a little longer and draped a little better. She also had my exaggerate pulling my shoulders back. A few years behind a desk will really destroy your posture! Looking at photos and videos after makes me realize my shoulders weren’t near as far back as it felt like they were. That was eye opening!

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Trainer J encouraged me to keep the same width between my collar bones as between my shoulder blades. I think this may be a Sally Swift thing but that image really helped me. After getting my joints loosened up at the walk, we moved on to trotting. Boy, I better get used to eating humble pie.

While I can certainly post and I haven’t forgotten my diagonals, the rest of my trot work needs rebuilding. Immediately she called me out on posting much too far out of the saddle and not allowing Frankie’s motion to create the movement. I also started tilting forward and undoing my work to get my shoulders back and core engaged. Darn it!

Best husband ever took some video on his iPhone. Blogging is about the journey and being honest, right? Here you go. I wish it was longer but hubby had limited memory space.

Obviously my toe starts leaving the building but I’m ok with that because I know it’s a lack of strength. She laughed when I told her everything she was saying made sense, I just had to get my body to listen up.

I will say that by the end of the lesson, I felt a lot more confident and I could see a big difference in my leg. Big difference meaning instead of looking like a sack of potatoes I looked like a solid handful – but I’ll take it!

As humbling as it was to be hit in the face with yes, you are a beginner again, I haven’t been so happy since, well, the last time I was on a horse. I am completely consciously incompetent and I have never been so excited to be a novice.

My big takeaways and homework are:

  • Post from your inner thigh, not your knee. Let your leg drape and your toe come in by engaging the inner thigh and not pinching elsewhere.
  • The distance between your collar bones should be the same as the distance between your shoulder blades. Even though my shoulders felt jammed back, seeing myself proves that they definitely were not.
  • Keep a following feel in my elbows while keeping my upper arm draped loosely by my side. This is the only way that I can (eventually) establish elastic contact.
  • Let the horse’s motion create the post. I don’t need to come high out of the saddle, just barely and briefly (which if you switch to is way harder!).
  • Practice stretching my hips (she showed me a few yoga poses) as well as keeping my shoulders back and stretching them regularly at my desk.

Another thing that made me like J is that she brought up lunge lessons. I may have said “YES PLEASE” before she finished her sentence. I would love nothing more than to be put on the lunge line and have my reins and stirrups taken away. Sign me up for independent seat bootcamp!

Money is tight right now with Nibbles’ show so my next lesson won’t be until around September 1st. I’m counting it down.

Quo Vadis: Part 2 – Current State of Affairs

Quo Vadis is Latin for “Where are you going?” (Before I decided on a business degree, I was a philosophy and classical studies major so forgive me the chance to toss in a little Latin.) In this mini-series, I’m going to articulate where I’ve been, where we are now, and finally where Nibbles and I are heading. This is a personal exercise to make me think critically about my goals but also to further introduce myself to the wonderful blogging community that has supported me so much already.

Last time, I covered where we’ve been.

This time, I’m going to try to objectively talk about where we are now. To help organize my thoughts and not drag you all through a giant narrative, I’ll break this up into my non-horse life, my riding life (or lack thereof) and Nibbles’ life.

My Non-Horse Life Status

Woo, actual headers to break up my ramblings! I think it’s important to reflect on where I’m at now in my life outside of horses because we all know it has a big impact on what we can realistically commit to horses and riding. In the past 3 months, I’ve experienced a massive amount of change. I got married (in June) and we moved for my husband’s two-year MBA program. That means I left my old job (working in the marketing world with many equine clients) and started a new job (that I really enjoy but has nothing to do with horses). Don’t they say the most stressful things in life are starting a new job and getting married? If not for my husband’s amazing support, I couldn’t have accomplished both at the same time. Throw in a European honeymoon and we’ve been, literally, all over the place!

Photo by Jamie Abitz Photography

Photo by Jamie Abitz Photography

As stressful as that sounds – and it was – things are better than they have been for me probably ever. I have an amazing support system, steady employment, and I know I’ll be in this location until at least May 2017 (MBA and all).

What does that mean for what you care about, the horse part of my life? It means I can finally look at a budget I know isn’t changing anytime soon, look at my other commitments requiring a lot of my time, and carve out what can be “spent” on horses and riding.

It’s taken a long, long time to get here. I know it won’t always be smooth sailing. Exhibit A: Surprise, we have to buy husband a new laptop for grad school. But it feels good to finally be mostly stable.

 

My Horse Life Status

The last time I rode was visiting Nibbles July 13th and before that was in April. But I’ve taken the first step to change that:

I scheduled a lesson with a local trainer. I am beyond excited. My last lesson was last May and, while I was annoyed with what I couldn’t make my body do, I had a blast. This Saturday can hurry up and get here as far as I’m concerned. I’ll be riding one of the trainer’s school horses since Nibbles is still 4 hours away and will be until at least after her first show on September 20th.

Ok so those half chaps ARE pretty fugly...

Ok so those half chaps ARE pretty fugly…

Additionally, I’m trying to sell my trailer. It needs some work so I’m not asking much and hoping that will lead to a relatively quick sale. In fact, I’m working with a local dealership to trade it in for a flatbed trailer that I can then sell (I hope) much easier.

As far as tack goes, I really don’t need anything right now. I have everything I need to ride. Given, I still have my ugly helmet that does need replacing but that will come after I’ve committed to regular lessons (as a little incentive, ya know?). Given that we now live pretty far north (think Chicago-ish), I have a feeling I’ll be investing in some winter riding pants and boots. But for now, I’m going to delude myself into thinking I can survive with what I have and pat my wallet.

Hoping this is not in my future with Nibbles

Hoping this is not in my future with Nibbles

Nibbles’ Little Life Update

Nibbles is broke. I love writing that sentence! That was the whole point of sending her for training and it’s definitely been accomplished. She’s green but she is most definitely broke.

August 11 - photo by Trainer E

August 11 – photo by Trainer E

I’ve committed to sending her to her first dressage show on September 20th. I’ll be heading up there as groom, cheerleader and photographer. After that, it seems likely that she will be making her appearance in my neck of the woods which means I am fervently looking for the right boarding situation (hopefully even at the barn of whomever I decide to lesson with). She’s green and I’m out of riding shape so I want to be as close to a support system as I can be.

Next up: the good stuff – where we are going in the future.

 

Back To Reality

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Photo by Elise

I’m a married woman! Trainer Elise posted the photo above on instagram the morning of my wedding. She was the first to make me cry. It was the next best thing to having my horse be there for my big day. Everything was beautiful – no wedding photos just yet – then we jetted off to Germany and Austria for almost two weeks. We checked a big item off of my bucket list – the Spanish Riding School. But that day deserves a post all to itself.

So while I’m back to reality and back to work, Nibbles remains with her super trainer for the time being. We don’t have a set end date which is perfectly fine with me because my brain is still sizzling from so much change and Nibbles is doing so incredibly well.

Photo by Elise

Photo by Elise

Nibbles went on her first “trail ride” which was really just a large field. Elise rode her in a halter at walk, trot and canter without any problems. If you ask me, Nibbles much prefers the outdoors and that halter. Hippie horse. Elise also rode Nibbles with a fabulous clinician in a private session and had a great experience. The clinician liked Nibbles and thought she had a lot of potential.

The private lesson started with groundwork, cleaning it up. Nibbles gets a noodly neck to on e direction and gets her nose to close to you when you break over her hindquarters.  So they worked on preventing that by reaching up with the leading hand to improve her balance and further engage her hindquarters. She said they worked on waiting a little longer so she can’t rush and that overall the work was light and easy. Next, they did the same thing but in the bridle with a lot of stopping and turning but not bridging the the hind through or fore across like in the halter.

They worked on making her more steady at the mounting block. Elise reports that Nibbles has been okay but hasn’t really improved much. She said she gets anxious when going between the mounting block and wall/fence line. They usually come to the outside or circle it. The clinician spotted this, made a few tweaks and in less than 5 minutes, it made a huge difference just by changing how they asked her to walk up to the mounting block. I’m excited to see this in person!

Finally was the under saddle work and really asking for more control of her feet: bringing her hindquarters under just like the groundwork, thinking about asking the forehand to come across, and slowing down/speeding up her feet with just your seat (which Elise says she already does super well). I also can’t wait to see the adjustment they made when she gets wiggly in her head: he had her widen her hands way more than she thought and showed Elise how this made a difference by having her hold the bit in her hands. They also added a slight push of the hands forward through upward transitions to help eliminate head tossing.

Photo yet again by Elise

Progress – Photo yet again by Elise

Basically, I’m dying to see my mare. My husband (!!!!) and I have plans to make the trip to see her next weekend, July 11th.

A Lesson & Goals

When I left you last, I had a lesson looming. The day after my lesson, I left town for a few days for some R&R. The R&R was semi-successful but it broke down like this:

Day 1 – 11 hours driving, dinner in the city
Day 2 – touring the city, out for drinks that evening
Day 3 – 11 hours driving, crash upon arriving home

So it wasn’t so much R&R as it was just getting away but I suppose it served its purpose. But you don’t really want to hear about that; you’re here to read about my lesson, I’d imagine.

As it turns out, the trainer I took a lesson with is someone who Karen from Contact works with. I worked my normal day, changed in a restroom, and then rushed to this new farm amidst Derby parade traffic. I made it there on time, although my schedule and Karen’s didn’t match up this time, I’m pretty sure I spotted the handsome Hampton in his field.

As it turns out, I’d be riding a solid citizen named Pirate, who I did not manage to sneak any pictures of. Pirate is a bay Thoroughbred gelding whom I was told would take care of me but test me at the same time. I immediately liked Trainer upon meeting her in person and we chatted lightly while I tacked Pirate up. As luck would have it, Trainer’s saddle was stolen so I took my dressage lesson in a jumping saddle. Not ideal but it got the job done.

We headed up to the dressage arena and Trainer told me to just get to know Pirate so she could watch me. For a Thoroughbred, Pirate’s gates weren’t all that lofty which was good for me because I’m very much out of riding shape. After I confessed that I had previously schooled all of first level and pieces of second, Trainer asked me to make some adjustments and see how Pirate did. As I’ve basically only ridden babies for the past six years (has it been that long?), my riding has become very defensive. I used to have soft, following hands but it took some work to get my hands and elbows out of baby-green-horse-don’t-kill-me mode.

Overall, I was thrilled with the lesson. I rode for a solid hour, trotting and cantering. My groin muscles are still cursing me but it was worth every minute. I’m going to experiment with how to recap lessons as I definitely intend to continue. For now, let’s see how a list format works:

  • In the trot, I post very quickly – as soon as my butt hits the saddle, it’s off again. This is likely from riding Arabians for years and years. I worked to slow down my tempo; Pirate was a much happier camper when I accomplished this.
  • In the canter, I need to leg go of the horse’s face. In Pirate’s case, he was not going to run off with me. In a really cool moment, Trainer had me ask for the canter and then throw my reins up to his ears and ride only from my seat and legs. In response, Pirate gave me the most beautiful and round canter. I’m sure I was grinning like an idiot.
  • I need to get out of the habit of using verbal cues. Again, from breaking baby after baby, I use verbal cues on dead broke horses without even thinking about it. I need to quit cheating.
  • To my own surprise, I remember how to leg yield and even did some while trotting circles to sit more on his hind leg.
  • I need to work on achieving more bend with my inside rein. My inside leg/outside rein aid is definitely still there.
  • Apparently Pirate has a “trick” where tracking right, he will hop out of the arena if you try to steer him with your inside rein. I’m proud to say that we remained firmly in the arena – until the end of the lesson when we walked on the buckle in the large jump field<3

I think the lesson was a huge success and though I had to take a few walk breaks because of my lack of stamina, I was pleasantly surprised at how much I was able to achieve in an hour. When we were getting started, Trainer asked me what my goals were. Originally, I told her I’d like to get my bronze medal. I mentioned that I’d like to do this in five years, thinking this was reasonable. Thankfully, she was honest with me and warned me against getting stuck and becoming a Training Level Professional (and I know exactly what she is talking about). She said I’d have my bronze well before five years. In regards to my own mare, Nibbles, I wanted to take her out at Intro in 2014. I told her I wasn’t really sure what my ultimate goal with Nibbles is. And I don’t.

Which brings me to the big point of what has been bothering me: What is my goal with horses? It used to be to run a small breeding program and show when I could. I had that breeding program and was forced to sell it (and still am). After dabbling in the market, I know I no longer want to try to breed and/or sell in the horse world. I want to be able to enjoy my horse(s) and not worry about making a profit from them.

So what’s my goal? I told trainer I honestly didn’t know at this point. This was very frustrating to me. In a perfect world, I’d love to be able to ride a competent Grand Prix test one day. I’m not delusional enough to want to go to the Olympics (kudos to anyone with that dream!) but I’m also way too competitive to not compete.

My dreams and goals are very much a work in progress. More posts to come I’m sure. Readers, help me out – what is your goal with horses? Why or how did you come to decide on that goal?