Taking Lessons Once More

Due to living in Greece for a few years  and then getting settled into life here in Washington it’s been almost 4 years since I’ve taken any serious lessons.  I mean I wasn’t just a bump on a log plodding along on any horse I could find. (ok not entirely)  I ensured I was still reading good books, I was riding dressage and jumping horses and I felt I was doing a great job.

Well as the summer is drawing closer on glorious Whidbey Island, I decided that I really wanted to work on jumping again but my boys are not quite ready yet. They are out of shape. They haven’t worked on much of anything and I didn’t want to jump them right into doing some jumping so I decided to take a few lessons on a lesson horse so I could focus solely on me and not my horse.

Boy oh boy was it a wake up call! I quickly found out 5 things.

1.) I have been riding dressage length way to long. Jumping length is a whole different story now. Talk about thighs burning after only a few minuets in the posting trot! Don’t even get me started on sitting trot.
2.) My right foot wants to point in not out and ends up throwing my whole body off balance and it becomes VERY apparent when asking  for trot to canter transitions as I loose my balance I also stiffen my entire body and narrow my hands to brace to stay in the saddle.
3.) I have forgotten what it’s like to ride with good contact on the reins. My boys are ridden either in a side pull or very very light contact. Having a horse that needs more contact to work properly I end up pulling and almost balancing on the reins.
4.) I need to focus on using more abs and less hands when riding in contact.

5.) I need to work on my cardio and strength sessions. I’m getting lazy and as I got tired I would start the dreaded knee pinching to stay balanced!!

So I most assuredly have a few things to work on now. Sometimes I’m like “I’ve been riding for 20 some odd years. I got this figured out. I don’t need no stinking lessons!” And it goes great for a while. I’m saving money. I’m feeling confidant in my riding and I get comfortable but then I start getting compliant. I start creating bad habits for myself, like letting my right leg  point inwards instead of pointing my toe out and keeping my calf against my horses sides for better aids.

Then as I get compliant I start to wonder why I’m having issues getting stuff like the left canter lead. Well it’s because I’m out of balance, and I’m not cueing correctly but I feel correct so I get confused and frustrated with my horse. Now enter a second set of eyes from the ground and SHAZAM immediately some problems become instantly apparent. And as I work to improve them suddenly some of the issues with my horses start going away.

The key is finding that good instructor you click with. Once you and the instructor are on the same page it’s a wonderful feeling. Each day I look forward to improving myself and each lesson I’m curious of what she’s going to come up with this time. I’m over here like “Here!!! Here!!! TAKE MY MONEY!!! LETS GO!!!”

I have to hold my excitement down because even in 1 hour I feel great improvements. I get frustrated, I get tired and then something clicks and there goes the excited feeling going off all over again…….And then I watch the next lesson and see someone do something perfectly that I struggled for 30 minuets to do just once and that competitive side comes out in me.

“Oh yeah. Little miss perfect with your awesome little horse. I’m gonna beat you.” And I set a plan for working with my boys and perfecting what I just learned. Who says you need actual competitions to show you what you need to work on. Just pay close attention to you lesson and then watch the next one and aim to make yourself better to “beat” the rider after you. Of course all in good fun now. No getting snippy with the other people!

No matter what your age or experience level never be afraid to take a lesson! If nothing else it’ll nip those bad habits in the bud and keep you in peak form AND you might just have a great time 😀

Until next time!



Is Professional Eventing Going Away?

red and black eventing 2

If you have been following the FEI you know all the changes that are being proposed to keep Eventing in the Olympics. I mean I’m all for riding for the gold (Ok not ME… you know what I mean) but there comes a time when we have to realize that maybe our sport has outlasted its appeal to the olympic masses and that being a professional rider in eventing may be on its last leg.

Now I may get a bunch of hate mail over this but our cultures have changed dramatically in least few years. Everyone wants appeal, shock and awe, and FAST turn arounds to know who has won. That’s why show jumping is such a hugely loved sport to watch around the world. It’s adrenaline pumping, exciting and the race to the victory is relatively short. Don’t get me wrong Eventing has that as well, BUT it’s also drawn out over three days with one VERY boring interlude (Sorry dressage). It’s a sport that you can’t just jump in and easily follow if you really want to know the scoring.  Not to mention it’s an excessively expensive event to put on for ANYONE, especially at the upper levels.

I think we have been very bad about broadcasting our sport in a good way to the media as well. Half the time all I see is on Facebook how many horses or riders were injured or killed a crossed various countries events, and if you don’t think the average joe stumbles upon those you’re kidding yourself. I mean it’s super depressing to see, and I love this sport. Imagine what idea it gives to the “normal” person who doesn’t know eventing?

We don’t advertise much on the internet, or television for the regular non-horsey person to draw in new people. I think the only commercials I ever see  is for the Triple Crown in racing and Rolex….Really? Thats all we advertise for?! That’s really sad if you think about it.   At some point I believe we need to realize that our sport is loosing traction and we are sitting on a steep muddy hill. Once we get sliding down there’s no way to recovery and we are certainly slipping.

Now I want to point out that I said PROFESSIONAL Eventing may be going away. The majority of people I know never compete above novice, much less prelim. Yes there are those with great aspirations to ride a 4* and cruise around Rolex and obviously a good group that gets there BUT how many people have the time or the money to get themselves to Rolex or even qualify for the olympic team?

I have had some of the most fun at low level events and I have seen HUGE turnouts for them. These turn outs are fantastic for the event and everyone involved, but the higher you go up the levels the fewer and fewer participate. We have a course by my house (Whidbey Island Horse Trials)  that I watched last year and at the upper level course I think they had 13 or 15 participants, (don’t quote me) where Beginner Novice and Novice had well over 100 participating in EACH category. And this is a course that draws tons of people from all over the western seaboard. When does it become to much to maintain for the event holders as well? Setting up and maintaining an  upper level course for just 13 riders? Thats gotta be a hit to the pocket book.

The sport of eventing at FEI level is beginning to forget where the roots of eventing started. It was a military endeavor to test the cavalry mounts and riders to ensure that they were fit for duty.  The evaluation was more an endurance ride with the elements of modern eventing thrown in.  There was a true purpose to what was being asked. If your horse couldn’t complete the evolution for endurance, courage and responsiveness you were not ready for war.(Here’s a great website for a brief history of eventing) When eventing switched to the short format and began changing to more technical courses it began it’s evolution away from the meat and bones of eventing (Some of the changes are good for the safety of horse and rider and event holders) but at what point do you continue to change the sport just to keep an olympic  spot that the majority of people will never meet nor will ever ride at?

Some of the proposed changes are ridiculous just to appease the olympic counsel. (check out the list here ) Some days it’s best to go out with your head held high and realize that we have outlived our stay in the olympic hall. I don’t think eventing will ever go away. I think the lower level events and even events such as Rolex are quite lucrative. But at some point we have to keep the spirit of our sport alive. We have to remember our roots and stop changing it to be “cool and popular” and change it only for the safety and well being of our horses and riders.

My question for those at the upper levels and the FEI counsel….how many sports are NOT in the olympics and yet continue to thrive?  Quite a few if I do say so…I think there may be enough interest that upper levels could continue even if we do not have an olympic seat. And maybe JUST maybe it might actually change our sport for the better when we STOP focusing on keeping the olympics, or ensuring all countries can attend as olympic contenders, and start re-focusing on Eventing FOR the sport and make changes that just might make it more enjoyable for everyone while keeping the tradition of eventing alive.

Do you think our sport has a good future?


Dealing With A Young Horse’s Antics….Oh Jack

Jack riding

It’s not often that Jack shows his age. Most of the time he’s my little angel of a (now)4 year old that outshines his uncle in manners and his ability to remain calm. However our latest ride this was not the case. Every bit of his 4 years showed up! If you saw the video of jack lunging on my Facebook page then you saw his first two days of work after about a week off. Now he was amazing in the lunge but decided that having to listen to me in the saddle was not very fun!  (The video’s below if you want to watch here as well)

Now I want to point out that with Jack, even his worst day doesn’t compare to Cash AT ALL. Cash can make a bronc master proud and a racehorse weep when he wants to. Jack on the other hand, while he tries his hardest, really can’t get much of a rebellion going.  Even in an english saddle he as to really, really, REALLY try to get me even slightly unseated.

Jack has had the majority of the winter off. I won’t lie, Cash is my favorite(I’ve had him longer AND his mom was m BFF growing up) so when time is scrunched and I can only work one I always choose Cash. Now I’m trying to change my ways. I can’t take the “me next” looks anymore from Jack so I’ve started switching off working horses. One day I work Cash and the next I work Jack so they both feel properly loved and looked after. If I have a really good day I might get to work them both!

So it was Jacks turn. The first day I lunged him and he did his best “I’ve never had a saddle on” bronc imitation but it didn’t take long for him to settle back down and remember that he had to listen and that the saddle really wasn’t going to kill him.  His bucks are much worse on the lunge line then they are when you’re on him. They are maybe a little under half has big under saddle. I decided that it was NOT the right time to ride him and that another day  or two of work to get those brain cells functioning was probably a really good idea. After another day of lunging (the bottom picture in the video) I decided that it was finally time to ride Jack.

Now I didn’t feel like trailering out to the arena and I figured that the ground was probably dry enough in the pasture for a little ride.  So I gathered up my helmet and reins and headed off to the second pasture. Now he was a little snorty about the trees and the manure bucket but nothing way out of the ordinary. I got on and he stared out really good. He even paused long enough for me to get a picture. Then I asked him to walk away from Cash and into the more muddy( his hooves sink a little more it’s not really that muddy) part of the pasture.

*Insert Baby melt down here*

He didn’t wanna, so he thought rearing would be a good idea. Now jacks idea of a rear is probably no more then a foot or two off the ground. Just enough to know he went up. I rolled my eyes and asked him to move forward again and he did. I praised him when he halted like I asked. I asked him to walk forward again and I praised I’m for that. Then he decided he REALLY wanted to go next to Cash, who was calmly standing in the corner watching us.

Jack is apparently buddy sour after hanging with Cash all winter and he seemed to be saying “OH my god i’m 100 feet from cash! There might be a lion hiding behind this tiny bit of grass! I need the herd!” And he proceeded to try to rip the reins out of my hands and walk towards cash (high speed is NOT in Jacks vocabulary thankfully).

Oh no no no. That’s not allowed! So I calmly asked him to turn. Well he thought that THIS was just the most RUDE thing I could ask him and began to do his imitation of a bronc. I pulled his head up a tad and asked him to go forward. I mean really it’s more of an excited rocking horse motion, or maybe one of those old time merry go round in high speed. I almost laughed at him but he was trying so hard I figured I wouldn’t tempt karma or fate and held it in.

Now Cash can get those heels up above his head and spin and put a bronc to shame. (He’s got multiple areas of talent ) and Jack was just kinda humping his back and hopping with all four feet off the ground in a smaller version of his excited lunging. He was very displeased with how I responded to it. He thought I should be shaking in terror and ready to do as HE wished.  Silly boy gets a break from riding and think that he’s the alpha now. So I waited for him to finish his tantrum and just asked him to walk forward again. If I could have seen his face from the ground I’m sure he had the frumpy kid face when his plan was foiled. I’m sure he was thinking “But this would work for Cash! Why is she still on my back? grrrrr” If only he knew what Cash has put me through.

I kept asking for simple walk and halt transitions and praising when he did what I wanted and ignoring all his temper tantrums, other then just doing a correction to stop the action like bucking. But I never kicked him, I never yanked on the bit. I pulled his head up if he was bucking but as soon as he stopped I released everything. I kept my reins long with little contact until he pulled a temper tantrum. And you know what. It wasn’t long before he was sighing, licking his lips and doing what I asked! Once he realized that he wasn’t going to win he quietly submitted and realized it was futile to fight. And I never once had to truly punish him for any of his antics.

This whole session probably lasted 15 minuets (If you’ve been reading my blog for a while you may start seeing a trend here) but when he continually and calmly did what I asked I halted praised and then got off. It was a great note to end on and a high point for me. It’s the first time I’ve managed to react so calmly to a horses temper tantrum. With Cash I think I know what he’s capable of and fear makes me act more heavy handed with him when he acts up. I KNOW Cash can unseat me and hurt me if he gets it in his mind he’s not gonna. I’ve learned that the hard way a time or two so I try to hard to stop the action before it progress to something worthy of a winning 8 second ride.

Now waiting out a tantrum is not always safe to do on a horse, depending on the horse BUT if you can I feel it is well worth the effort with a horse like Jack, and even Cash’s smaller antics. I find that sometimes horses are trying to get you to act up and start a fight (*ahem* Cash). Sometimes the best thing to do is make a quick correction to stop the action and then carry on like nothing happened. Each horse is different on what corrections work but after the episode is over try your hardest to let go of any anger or fear that accompanied it (I know it’s much harder said then done)

The biggest thing Cash ever taught me was how to take a deep breath and release my anger. He WANTED that fight and manipulated me to get it. He wanted to prove he was alpha and if I gave him to opportunity he would take it. Once I learned to anticipate when he was going do something and then how to release my anger at his antics afterwards, our bond has really became strong. That ability to release my strong negative emotions is paying off ten fold now with Jack. It took me AGES to finally figure it out so give it a try when you seem to be having a bad ride! It may just end up being a great one if you can get passed YOUR emotions.

While I didn’t get a chance to Go Pro my episode with Jack. It died as I was getting on (One of these days I will remember to charge it BEFORE I ride)  I hope you got a little laugh at his antics and maybe just a slight insight on working with babies.

Until next time!