Monday, March 28, 2016

Monday Messiness

While hunting for photos to share as a belated "gotcha day" to Kat, I came across this video.

And cringed.

Some habits sneak up on you, getting incrementally worse until they manifest as they do up there. Compare that to a more recent video of my riding:

Which I choose because I feel it highlights that I am learning to sit UP.

 Thank goodness that although habits are hard to break, they are breakable. That's the lesson to take away here - it's super hard and requires dedication and continuous effort, but it is doable.

Friday, March 25, 2016


I wrote this on Facebook but sort of wanted to expand here -- after all, it's my blog. :)
One year today. <3 Kat, we've journeyed so far. From our Trigger-impersonations, over our first jumps together, and through so many shows. Every day I swing my leg over and settle into the saddle it feels like I've come home. You have taught me about patience and about talent, about heart and courage. I remember the first time you told me you understood what I was asking and when you said you were in it with me. I remember our first show together when I piloted you to countless refusals in the warm up only to have you click on and perform flawlessly when it counted. You've carried me through many lessons, over hills, jumps, and mountains. You've opened my heart and made it your home. To the next year and to the next challenge.

The very first photo of her I ever saw

My first ride at home

Our first jumps together

E's first time on her

Jump lessons at WRR

First experience of full-time training with JM

Some sassiness with JM

Vroom vroom, sassy mare

From showing off for kids at summer camp (please don't ever let me wear sunglasses and ride again ever) with her fierce face on

To being a touch over exuberant while schooling cross country

I'm loving the progress as this mare develops into the athlete I know she can be.

Learning how to navigate trail obstacles

and experimenting with other disciplines

Countless hours without stirrups working on my seat

Celebrating Thanksgiving with me

Bringing in the new year as my trusty mount

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Adventures at Trainer's - pt 2

Continuing the conversation from the previous week's lesson, we worked with Tango on a little four stride line. That I consistently rode in five. And every so often stuffed a sixth stride into.

I hold hold hold and ride right past my distance with Tango (which is 100% the opposite issue with Kat, where I see a long spot and think 'YES THIS IS MY SPOT YES') and then he panics a little bit about having to get all his legs out of the way because of how deep I take him to the jumps.

So we talked about getting me to release and just ride the pace forward (a key word for me was to allow him to move up) for the first three strides, then holding for the last strides. Then she changed the wording to, "take a feel of him in the last strides" because I started stuffing a sixth stride in out of nowhere.

We also talked extensively about how fast I get with my body... I don't really ride the tempo, I just get ahead and ahead of myself, thinking jump jump jump rather than keeping my attention solely on the flatwork between the jumps.

You can see this in the video below, it's like I do this weird combination of drive and hold that's entirely outside of my conscious planning.

Then we had an hour of downtime because N couldn't teach us back to back as it wasn't our normal day. Tango and Kat flirted extensively.
Kat is clearly the boss here

And Tango is upset that his hay has been usurped.
I think the video mostly tells about my lesson with Kat -  I apparently forgot how to ride ENTIRELY and everything is a mess. But Kat takes it all in stride. I promise sweetheart, I'm working so hard to get better at this for both our sakes!

And I don't intend to undercut myself too much -- everyone has things to work on and I have to be patient with myself, too. As we'll see in tomorrow's post: Kat has come a very long way.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Adventures at Trainer's - pt 1

There's very little media to recap this lesson.

Being an eventer whose time living in hunter/jumper land was primarily as the 'get it done' working student, it's entirely possible I rely on my inner eye and stickiness more often than I rely on finesse in the stadium ring.

Trainer N started really nailing me on my lack of precision, asking me to recount exactly what I was thinking about each stride through these bending exercises, expecting me to halfhalt in very specific places, to ride the same track each time through the exercise. 

We discussed the difference between a horse running away with you and moving up to the jump (ugh I know this but it's always good to hear someone call me on it.... agaiinnnnnn).

We did a lot of flatting with Tango because he does this funny twisty thing with his neck when he isn't really filling the right rein, so we played with experimenting techniques that brought him under himself more evenly and into the rein in a straighter fashion.

Over fences we did this very challenging exercise where the poles were placed two bending strides and two bending strides before and after the jump. At crossrail heights, we were aiming to the pole two strides AFTER the jump, focusing on keeping ourselves balanced and paying attention to our feet. As the fence went up (maxing out at probably 2'6"), we did the pole two curved strides before the jump. He was so mellow and chill about the pole that I actually had to (GASP) apply leg to get him to move up to the pole a little bit so that he'd have two open and quiet strides to the jump instead of one too-mellow stride and one HAIL MARY stride.

Kat was a rockstar, although I did receive the suggestion that maybe a running martingale would be a good idea for her, as she sometimes gets so far above my aids and drops her back so well that it's very difficult to get her back to me. I have yet to implement this idea.

We rode a fairly simple course filled with lots of swooping lines and changes of direction. I was asked to keep breathing and make sure that I actually rode the plan.

It was eye-opening. I have either lost this skill or never gained it in the first place... I am very good at getting horses cleanly over jumps, but this does not always mean that I get them to the BEST takeoff point every time, or that I ride that track I originally planned, or that I even keep thinking in the middle of the course.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016


This is a long post, so my apologies in advance.

Thursday the kids all showed up, happily sprung from the necessity of school, in order to bathe their horses and pack the truck. This went smoothly and (miraculously) the only thing we ended up forgetting was a longe line, which is fine because we don’t honestly do a lot of longeing.

 I was borrowing a client’s trailer and I loved it - the whole hauling experience was really delightful. The horses jumped right in the trailer, no hesitations, which always delights me because of how easy it is. And partially, too, my amazement at how trusting these horses are.

I’m going to write mostly about my experience as a coach at this show. I’m writing this for my own documentation, and also because most of the kids read it, and I know they’ll want my viewpoint.

The drive down we had a battle over who could locate geo-filters first on their snapchat accounts (I won a single round...) because much of the drive sort of meanders through nowhere. We arrived at the park and tensions were high - excitement was palpable amongst the kids. After several trips to the office to sort out paperwork and payment, the kids mounted up and we had a really quiet, mellow, boring schooling session.

It’s exactly what was necessary -- there’s nothing left to train by the time we show up, just get familiar with the layout of the park and remind our horses that they do, in fact, know how to half-halt and turn. One of Ginger’s stirrup leathers broke mid-ride, prompting me to torture her rider with a stirrupless workout. 

Settling the horses into their stalls is always such a peaceful ritual to me - tying up haynets and filling water buckets and spreading shavings... it just makes me happy. 

I wrote about my Friday morning in an earlier post. I left all the kids asleep in the hotel and went to braid Diva down because her rider was riding earliest in the day. Fog laid heavily over the ground; as the sun began to rise there was this otherworldly sense about everything, as if these horses were mythical creatures solidified from this magical fog. Riders moved about quietly, the horses murmured and nickered and snorted as horses looking forward to breakfast will do, and I chatted with my sister about online exams and her plans for transferring colleges while putting these braids in. 

Friday went really well - no one forgot their test and I was really pleased with the resulting scores. At one point I shouted at a rider, “remember that we’re here to learn and to have fun, if you expect perfection you’ll just be too uptight to ride the best you can!” and this BNT turns to me and says, “man, that was me this morning.” I laughed and asked if he meant in his riding or coaching, and he replies that he had needed someone to remind him of this for his own riding. (On his CIC*** horse, no less.) 

Due to the impending storm, the show rescheduled everything so that both stadium and cross country would be run on Saturday. It felt a little hectic for me because these riders are so new to eventing (2/3 riders had their very first three day outings) and I wanted to hold their hands as best as possible. 

Pair #1 went out first, and had a bit of a gap before the other two riders went, so I was able to coach them through the warm-up. Diva spooked a bit at something and her rider threatened to panic a little about her being too uptight, but I was super proud of how the rider worked through it and ended up putting in some really gorgeous riding in the warm up. 

Stadium went AMAZINGLY, especially considering they trotted in and Diva took some serious offense to one of the jumps and sort of wheeled around away from it, but later jumped it quietly. They pulled only one rail, and off to cross country!

 I know the feeling of sitting in the start box, trying to visualize the course in one desperate ten second run, before you’re given permission to head out and then the ride takes over. I can talk a kid through that, warn them that it’s okay if you think you’re going to die because of the adrenaline... you’ll make it out. I think I need someone to remind me that I, too, will make it out alive. I sent them off and was only able to see the first two jumps before they disappeared over the hill. My heart wanted to thump out of my chest and I couldn’t feel my legs. This insane pride and love and excitement for the pairs of riders just never seems to lessen, no matter how often I send them out.

It’s just so completely out of my hands, like I’ve given you every tool I can so far and this will tell us what we need to tackle in the future, but here’s to you and your horse and your guts and your focus. I can only wait to congratulate you at the end.

It’s been a long time since I last sent a rider out cross country.

They reappeared over that hill and I literally started crying. (I know, I’m a mess.) I was so unbelievably proud. It was raining. We were all soaked.

So when they cross the finish line and I sprint over to give a high five and some well earned congratulations, a little bit soaking wet, and rider turns to me and says, “I think that was the best thing I’ve ever done,” the tears definitely threatened to overwhelm me again but I really didn’t want to embarrass my student. (I do that enough as it is.) 

When my other two riders warmed up, it was a bit messier. The GingerPony said HELL NO to a few warm up jumps and for some reason then decided that the only way she could make it over the small jumps was from a DEAD GALLOP which I have to say I do not condone. Chente decided that he could not jump using his back in any way shape or form but was otherwise obedient. I had never seen the GingerPony move so fast, and I still don’t understand how Chente scrambled over some of those (very small) jumps. 

GingerPony’s stadium went well. Her rider rode her heart out. Then I sent them immediately out to cross country, watched the first two jumps with my heart skittering down my ribcage and my excitement overwhelming, and SPRINTED back to the stadium ring to watch Chente’s round. 

This is where reading the rulebook is a valuable thing.

4. DISOBEDIENCES a. The following are considered as disobediences and are penalized as such (EV153): 1. a refusal; 2. a run-out; 3. a resistance; 4. a more or less regular circle or group of circles no matter where they occur on the course or for whatever reason. It is also a disobedience to circle around the last obstacle jumped unless the track of the course so requires.

To my eyes, Chente was forward but under control, but his rider felt a bit helter skelter and used a circle to rebalance. She had one refusal, and then circled after the jump, thus resulting in an elimination. We were all so disappointed, especially with how well everything had been going. We went over to the cross country warm up and jumped over the log there a few times, with E the fabulous photographer there to at least capture their very dapper showing outfit and some pretty enthusiastic knees on Chente’s part.

However, to the rider’s credit, she was SO stoic about it. “it’s okay, we’ve learned so much, and it happens to everyone. We’ll work on it and do a lot better next time!” LOVE HER! 

We tore down, packed up, and loaded the horses. The sun sat over our loading up. The rain continued.

I started receiving slightly concerning messages about highway 17. The most notable was, “17 is treacherous. Stay out of the right lane.”

Uhhhhhhhhh..... apparently the rain was coming down so hard that the mountains were revolting and there were trees down and mudslides everywhere. The power was out. The highway itself had turned into a river in parts.

We crossed our fingers and headed for home. The music was loud, the laughter plentiful. I felt so much pride and joy for the way these wonderful kids had handled themselves out there, showing off the progress they’d made with their horses and proving their mettle. Yeah, there’s a lot to learn, and yeah, we’ll do even better next time. But in that moment, hurtling north through the rain with our amazing horses towed behind us, re-telling stories from earlier in the day as if they were already legends, the music a pulsing undertone to our drive -- I was happy. Euphoric. Fulfilled.

It’s moments like those that remind me that my work with these kids and these horses gives me more than I could ever give them. And I want them to know, always, that I see the work they put in and I acknowledge the heart and I recognize the vulnerability.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Sometimes blogging is hard

Not because the physical act of writing these posts is challenging, but because when I have lots of ideas or really great experiences I want to capture them in the most accurate way possible. I put too much pressure on myself to capture the experiences well.

Anyhow - this week we'll do a whirlwind tour of what March 2016 has brought us thus far.

Friday, March 4, 2016

First event of the year

It's 5:30am and I'm listening to John Mayer, cutting threads to start putting braids in. My charges are still asleep - they need to rest to prepare for the competition today!

This struck me as hugely funny - but it's the sort of humor only fellow horse crazy people would understand.

(Relatively) live updates of our progress mostly on Instagram: @kelequestrian if you're interested!