This weekend was not great. The weather was so terrible last week that the horses were in a couple days. It also meant I couldn’t get up to ride much before my lesson Friday. Which means I had a spicy mare to ride in my lesson that day.
Since she had so much energy, our lesson was just not great. The wind gusts were absolutely crazy, which made the windows in the arena bang and every time there was a loud noise, she scooted. We mostly worked her walk, some trot, focusing on my position and get Dawn supple. Lots of small slow circles, changes of bend, not letting her get on a straight line. It was a good lesson.
I can’t lie that I haven’t been feeling discouraged lately. I just feel like I’m riding at 25% instead of 100%, and I’m struggling hard to figure it out. I mentally want to give 100%, but it’s not translating into what I do. I am hoping it’s just winter blues, and maybe when I can get out of the arena again I’ll feel better. My coach is on me to improve, and we’re tweaking a lot of things I have been doing or using since I broke her. it’s a relearning issue, and it’s just been tough.
The horses got out Saturday as the ice got a little better, but Dawn unfortunately injured herself. When I went up Saturday to ride, she had a swollen front left, just the inside of her cannon all the way down. I poulticed it and wrapped her legs. The swelling really wasn’t any better Sunday. I gave her a quick lunge and she is sound, which is positive. I’m hoping when I get up today it’s better after another night of poultice and wrapping. Best case is she whacked it being silly in turnout, worst case…well, I’m not letting myself think of it.
Tonight I’ll check her legs and ride Tribute now that I have all the gear I need for my saddle, so hopefully that goes well!
It’s nothing new to say that I struggle with the canter. Like every rider, when I struggle with something I find it completely frustrating and irritating. It consumes my thoughts- I google cantering during the day, at night I ‘ride’ the canter in my mind, trying to visualize what I think the perfect canter would feel like.
I know what I want from the canter: relaxed, balanced, easy to adjust. I have it in the walk and trot, but the canter alludes me. The reason is very clear to me: I do not reflect the things in myself that I want in the canter, which is what makes it so frustrating to me.
Tuesday for example- I was riding Dawn, working on a few different exercises. I leg yield her to the wall a few steps, and off the wall a few steps in the walk at both sides. I do half circles in walk and trot, figure eights and serpentines. I circled over poles, which was a predominant part of my lesson Sunday until she was calm and cool about it. I worked on my sitting trot, long sides, everything in the walk and trot I could think of. Then I asked for the canter.
Lately I have been having excellent right lead canters, so I decided to ask for it first. It was awful, she was stiff as a board and barely adjustable. Dawn has a powerful canter, so it’s easy for me to loose it. Then I spend a circle or so trying to get it back to me. The single most frustrating thing is point blank, I am not strong enough in my core to maintain my own balance and position.
As my coach keeps saying, Dawn can’t balance both of us. She’s not at the point where it’s possible, nor should I be asking her to maintain my balance for me. I need to maintain my own balance for her to be able to find hers at this point. So the work out regime must kick up a gear, because I’m tired of letting my horse down.
Funnily enough, Tuesday when I asked for the left canter after the right canter, she was easy and adjustable. Maybe it helps us both to get one out of the way to know that’s the worst it can get.
As I said, I google a lot to get information. I came across thisarticle in Dressage Today and really connected to the person who posed the original question.
There was something that stuck out in the answer that really made me say ‘oh!’ and it was about weighting the seat bones and how to tell when to cue the canter.
“The leg aid should be given just as the inside hind is lifting from the ground—it’s actually at the very moment when you would begin to post“- Elizabeth Madlener
That was my ‘oh!’ quote. Really the article has great information and is well worth a read, but that stuck out to me about when to ask.
It gives me a bit of homework to think about- weight the inside seat bone, and ask when you feel like you’re about to post up. Now if I can get my balance together, we should be good to go.
One thing about me is how much I love planning. Seriously- it’s one of my favourite things. Way back when the eventing omnibuses came out in book form I would spend hours tagging pages, highlighting the prices and dressage tests, and planning my moves around the season. I was extremely lucky to board at a barn where we attended almost every event, and worked a job that allowed me to have weekends to go out to shows.
It’s been about 10 years since I planned a show season, due to one thing or another I haven’t gotten out. It feels like it has been forever since I last showed, and it also feels like just yesterday. The feeling of running cross country is one that you remember your whole life, and I have never forgotten the feeling.
This year is different, because it finally looks like the stars have aligned for me to get out. Dawn is going well, there’s some fun local shows going on, including a dressage series in barn, so really I have no excuse to not at least try now.
So ever since my coach forwarded the show schedule, I have been planning. I have made a list, formatted it, printed it out, and highlighted it. One colour for shows I definitely want to go to, one colour for maybe shows if things are going well. I have purchased memberships I haven’t bought in years, I have looked up prices, and I have read through some dressage tests. I may have memorized one already, because that’s the type of person I am.
I have started a list of things I need to purchase. I’m going to start my packing list. I have started putting money away. I am starting to remember the joy I had for eventing and showing, something I did loose when I lost Max.
Now let’s hope Dawn takes to cross country like she has taken to everything else.
The single most important thing to state is that I survived. I may have complained and hid indoors unless absolutely necessary, but I still survived.
So saying that, the horses had a nice, long 2 weeks of nothing. I didn’t even try to keep up my riding, just made sure they were well blanketed and trusted my barn owner to be as amazing as she is. Dawn did have a body work session last Sunday, so I went out for that at least.
The body work was so cool. Dawn is extremely stoic and not the most reactive to things such as massage, chiropractic, or body work. For this session, I tried a different body worker who had dawn sighing, blowing her nose, and yawning like a champ. I was so excited to ride her afterwards, but at -20c without the windchill I gave up on that idea.
The other thing I did when the weather was awful was go shopping for the horses. I ended up buying Tributes western saddle! It was on clearance, and actually quite nice and comfy. It seems to fit him as well, so we’ll be adventuring into the world of western now and hopefully get him ready for my mom to ride this summer.
This past Saturday it had warmed up, so I went up to get Dawn ready for our lesson Sunday. After a couple days inside, she was definitely ready to go. I ended up popping her on the lunge so she could work off some of her own steam. After that we had a really lovely ride. It could be placebo effect, but she felt much more loose and easier to move off my leg after getting her body work done.
Sunday we had a lesson. It wasn’t our absolute best work, but it was pretty darn good for as much time off as she’s had. I again had an easier time moving her off my legs, and we worked on that at the walk and trot, using quick corrections with my body when she would get quick, and focusing on my own balance to help her maintain hers.
We incorporated some pole work, which is definitely an area I need to work on. I tend to dressage on the flat and not work on anything but that, I think the poles are a nice break from the monotony on constant plain 20 m circles. It also called out our balance- hers and mine, so absolutely something I need to do more often. Even when I do any pole work I tend to only do it in my jump saddle. I ride 90% of the time in my dressage, so I should add them in that saddle as well.
We then moved to the canter, and it is definitely still rough, but it is improving. To the left I tend to still take back with my inside hand as a way to turn her. We’re trying to focus on shifting from that, to giving with the inside and turning from the outside more. If I leave the hand- there but not holding or taking back, adding more inside leg and using my outside aids to turn. Once I can do that, I can produce a lovely canter, it just takes time to get there.
To the right I don’t have as much issue besides maintaining leg contact. Since she is a horse with a more powerful stride, I tend to not use much leg. I don’t hold with the inside hand, but I don’t support enough with leg to keep the canter. When I got the canter it was nice and lovely, I was very happy with it.
The best feeling was when we did come back down to trot, she settled quickly into her lovely trot we have been working on. That is an absolute win, because it shows me we seem to develop a balanced canter as when she comes down from it she is balanced enough to settle into the trot. So I take my wins where I can.
The other big help for me has been picturing the tempo I want. I force myself to think walk when I’m trotting, and my body does the things I want it to when asking to go down to walk. It’s really helped my half halts and I’m finally getting to the right degree.
Sunday I also decided to hop on Tribute in his western saddle. I don’t have every part for it I need, such as a cinch yet, so I borrowed stuff off my friend and got him tacked up. I haven’t ridden or worked him in months, but I hopped on him and he was great. a little up, but nothing unreasonable. The saddle is so comfortable, I’m definitely in love with it. Riding in it on my chubby thoroughbred was definitely a thigh burner though.
Can’t wait to get back into the swing of things this week, before the cold front comes back!
I think I have finally cracked into what my mental block is with Dawn. Actually, it was one of those ‘A-ha!’ moments in my lesson this past Friday. I had just finished a canter on Dawn, that had started out as usual in a holy sh*t speed. I did my usual tactics of holding, turning with my inside rein, and praying she would slow down and make it easier on me. My coach told me to let go of the inside and turn with the outside (which was a theme all lesson, naturally) and I did. The canter became better, we came down to trot, then walk, and I honestly was so disheartened.
My wonderful coach could tell, so she started talking to me about the good and the bad that had just gone on. One of my favourite things about my coach is she doesn’t just blow smoke up my butt and tell me what I did was right, or good. She pushes me to realize I need to be better to get a better response.
I could go on and on, but the thing she said that made me really think, was I had to stop riding Dawn like she was still a baby. One of the hardest things in bringing along a horse from scratch is riding the horse you have like the horse you had. Which was definitely what made me feel better about the whole lesson.
Then I saw this on facebook, and it really inspired me to write here.
It made me feel not as alone in this as I had been. Which in turn made me want to extend that feeling as well.
I keep getting caught in the act of riding Dawn like she is still the young horse she was a couple years ago. Even my coach, who rode her when she was younger, said to me she gets where I am coming from because young Dawn did need more assertive riding. Now though, she’s over that phase and I have to trust in not only the training I have done, but that she has matured enough to understand it.
Which she has! She absolutely is more mature, more confident, and a softer ride than she used to be. My brain unfortunately seems to revert back to the times when she wasn’t.
So when we start the canter, I sub consciously take back with my hands expecting her to run off, which in turn leads to her running off because I am now catching her in the mouth. Then we round the corner at mach 10, which means to me I have to pull with my inside rein to get her around the turn for a circle. Then she leans out with her outside shoulder and keeps running now because she has no balance and I’m holding her face.
So when I put my outside leg on instead around the corner, she responds to that and goes lovely, which then leads to me relaxing my reins and her relaxing and just cantering. I’ll always have a big canter, she has a big stride, but it can be relaxed and big not tense and freight train like.
That’s my big revelation for the week, which unfortunately I haven’t been able to put to practice since Friday due to a fun cold that has me sidelined. Have I mentioned how much I hate winter?
I keep writing about my hate for cold weather, but it’s starting to get colder here in Canada and it’s making me sad. I am not made for Canadian weather, everything about the season right now is awful.
It’s cold, but there’s no snow. Since it did go from plus temperatures to minus, the ground would freeze and unfreeze, so now there are hard, slipper ruts all over the place. Poor barefoot Tribute is having a hard time on the painful ground, I had to cork all Dawns shoes because she was slipping and I worried about her hurting herself.
I have to wear so many layers that it’s uncomfortable, and then you have to figure out what layers to subtract and ad to make sure you’re not so hot you get a chill, or not so cold that you freeze. Winter breeches help a bit, but only if you’re at the barn for an hour or 2 and only with long johns. Thermal socks, base layers, sweaters, scarves, and hats are all necessary. Hope you have boots that are warm, or else you forget what having toes feels like.
Luckily my horses aren’t cold backed, but I still warm up my saddle pads, bits, and use my Back on Track products to help.
All I want to do is win the lottery and be able to go somewhere warm with my horses all winter.
All I can do right now is either bundle up or hibernate. Last week I chose to hibernate, and only made it out to the barn for the weekend. Friday was the worst, because it was frigid out and it was farrier day, so I froze my toes off in the barn holding the horses.
My rides this past weekend were good, I schooled Dawn on the flat and worked on our canter, which is my weakest gait and so inherently hers because we never work on it. It was nothing special, but I did feel like I stared to get more comfortable in the canter by the end of the weekend.
I plan on having bodywork done on Dawn sometime soon, whenever I can schedule it, and we have a lesson Friday which will be fun.
Tribute and I are experimenting with clicker training. I have done a few sessions with him and he’s picking it up rapidly. I just did an Amazon order of some supplies, so when that all comes I will do a post about how I do it, and the why. We’re working up to the western riding still.
When I began riding many years ago, the barn I started at was a western barn. I started my riding journey with zero interest in english riding, perhaps because I was ignorant to different riding styles, but the barn I rode at was western and that was what I wanted to do.
While I have ridden western, and did so for many years, english and eventing riding took over my heart with a vengeance around the time I was 10 and I haven’t looked back since.
This summer my mom expressed interest in riding Tribute, but she much prefers western, so I borrowed someones western saddle and tacked him up for her. Unfortunately he was a bit spooky that day so she wasn’t comfortable riding, but I ended up getting on him western and riding around.I actually really enjoyed it! Trib seemed to do alright, but it was a one and done sort of adventure.
Since then though, and especially lately, my mom has mentioned a few times that she really wants to ride Tribute. I have had an amazing barn friend offer up her very kind horse for my mom to ride, but she is more interested in riding Tribute. So, I am looking down the western path.
Luckily for me, one of my best friends is very well versed in western as she rides her horse western and will be helping me along in this adventure. Tack is similar but different, the saddles are a bit daunting, and I do feel a little overwhelmed.
Firstly is a saddle- I need a big enough seat for my mom and I, and if I were to guess I think Tribute would need FQHB (full quarter horse bars, versus semi, because he’s a plump pony) and I don’t want to spend a fortune because I don’t know how long this western adventure will last.
I could ride him in an english bridle, but I think I’ll need a bit more rein, so picking up the reins at least for now would be beneficial. bit wise he can stay in what he has, no need for a curb bit.
Lastly the saddle pads are interesting, so I’ll have to get my friend to walk me through them.
All in all I’m excited to take this english pony into the western phase of his life. This horse is an absolute blast, and I think plodding around in a western saddle is well deserved as he approaches his teenage years!
It has been a while! Honestly the holidays were hectic for me, Christmas and New Years were a blur and then my birthday was this past Sunday, so I finally have some down time to sit and write about my past few weeks.
The last time I posted, I documented the difficulties I was having with Dawn, training, and making my body and brain work the way I wanted it to. I wish I could post that I am 100% confident in my abilities and the grasp I have on the new way I’m trying to ride, but that would be a lie.
What isn’t a lie is how much easier it has gotten in the past few weeks. My coach took the last 2 weeks off for some well deserved R&R, and our last lesson before she left was actually fantastic. I rode well, Dawn went well, and we left with positive things and a little homework.
Our flatwork has come along quite well, my half halts have actually been meaning something lately, and I’m being conscious about my hand position and seat and leg aids. So like the little eventer I am, I felt confident enough to try a little over fences work.
I jumped her New Years day over some tiny little cavelleti, and it went really well. She felt confident and like she had been jumping all along, not like she had been off for 2 years. Most importantly, she felt sound and happy, which is what I was hoping for.
I then jumped her this past Sunday on my birthday. I set up a simple grid, trot poles to a small cavelleti, 1 stride to a crossrail. She was so keen, rode well through it, and landed both leads when I asked, so I was over the moon. The first trip over the crossrail she jumped quite-ah-enthusiastically and I got pitched into the backseat a little, but the other times were fantastic. I have a video on my Instagram of the line, but check out this launch over the crossrail!
I know I don’t post about Tribute very much (or at all, it seems) and I feel awful about that. Unfortunately he’s been on the back burner- though I don’t think he’s minding too much lately. He gave me his all this summer, and I can’t thank him enough for it. I a actually toying with the idea and teaching him to go western, so if that happens it will be a fun thing to blog about. As soon as I figure that out he’ll have his own little posts about the journey!
I’m always going to be completely open and transparent about where I am with my training. Last week was not my best week.
There’s 2 things going on with my riding that’s making it challenging. One, is that I am very much stuck in the ‘use hands to slow horse’ mindset. Or really, I was, because that brings us to point two: I’m working very hard to change that habit.
My coach and I have been working towards the transition for using hands to turn and stop, to using seat and leg to do that. I understand the theory of it, I can see it in practice by accomplished riders, but I do struggle with it in my own riding.
I have had conversations with my coach over the past month where I know I have reached a point in my riding that I need to stop trying to control Dawns energy and just redirect it. I have mentioned it here already, but I have struggled with it fully in practice.
So when I rode in the clinic the past weekend, she really worked on it for me, and I had some really amazing moments that gave me that euphoric “A-ha!” feeling we all seek when we are riding. But I do struggle with my timing and aids, so without someone on the ground I have found it difficult to put in the work by myself.
When I went into my lesson on Friday I made 2 mistakes. The first was not telling my coach I was having a hard time with the concept. Coaches are there to help us learn, understand, and bridge the gaps we have in our training. To do that successfully, we have to be completely honest. The second mistake was trying a new bit. I tried Dawn in a myler, and she said NO very emphatically. So for a lesson where I am still learning to use seat and leg to slow, I couldn’t even half halt without her objecting, so I was frustrated.
I once read a quote that said the only 2 emotions that belong in the saddle is humor and patience, though I am paraphrasing here. I broke that and got frustrated. I wasn’t frustrated with Dawn so much as I was with myself- I knew what I had to do but I just couldn’t get it right. It doesn’t matter though, I might as well have been frustrated with her because she can’t tell the difference, all she feels is I’m upset and it makes her tense.
Don’t get me wrong, we got some moments where things felt amazing, but there were far more moments that were not great at all. So at the end of my lesson, I was so disappointed and my coach had a very earnest talk with me that I can’t let myself feel that.
This weeks been a struggle, I’m struggling through this change. In the mean time, I’m doing lots of reading to try and help myself, and just really trying to ride correctly.
Change is never easy, but I know when I do finally connect all the dots it will all be worth it. I found this great quote that I’m going to share here, because it’s going to become my mantra for the rest of my life.
Weekends are always the most jam packed with good horse fun, obviously because I don’t have to worry about my day job and get to focus on the horses every hour of the day. This weekend in particular was a very good one for me.
Firstly, I finally got the stars aligned and had the vet out to do a recheck on Dawn. He gave her the go ahead for full work! She’s looking great, she’s feeling great, and the only thing we needed to address was her teeth. I’m excited to see how she goes now that her teeth are done, it could explain some of our recent contact issues. So I have to do up a proper schedule for her riding, now I can add in more ‘work’ and less just ‘fitness’ rides.
The check came in perfect time, because the next day I was having a dressage lesson with a dressage judge. I explained our issues, strengths, and what I wanted to change in my riding. She completely agreed with me and helped me out tremendously. Dawn is naturally athletic and forward, which is a wonderful trait, and I want to encourage her natural athleticism, but also harness it in the most positive way.
I worked a lot on adding leg when I wanted her to slow down. Instead of going straight to my hands, I would half halt, squeeze with my whole legs, and sit deeper. Isn’t it funny that she immediately slowed! We did tons of work in the walk- from halts, to almost halts, and changes of gaits in the walk, mostly free walk, working walk, and medium
walk. It all made a difference when we went up into trot, because I had taught her to slow and balance off my seat and leg in the walk, it translated into the trot for the most part. The trot was still a little quick, my timing wasn’t perfect, so we did lots of walk/trot transitions which helped. By the end of our ride she was loose in her back, stretching, and we we’re both exhausted.
Sunday I rode her lightly, working on the same feel from the Saturday. I would have given her the day off, but she had felt good enough to keep going at the end of Saturday and I wanted to really reaffirm what we learned for my own knowledge. I also did a bit of lateral work; just some leg yields both directions.
The other exciting horse thing was starting Tribute back! He worked so hard this summer, and we had such a struggle with his feet, allergies, and saddle fit that it was just in his best interest to give him time off. I ended up giving him about 2 months- most of October and all of November, and pulled him out yesterday to pop him on the lunge. This is also the third time he’s worn the new saddle that I bought and had adjusted for him. Also happened to be the first time I have seen that horse stretch his neck down at the walk and trot. I’m hoping that means he likes his new saddle!
This weekend I have a lesson Friday, but it’s a pretty calm weekend compared.