Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Post vacation

I just went home to Michigan for the first time in over a year. It was a great trip, I was able to catch up with friends and family I haven't seen in a long time. It's not too often I go days with out riding, or even seeing horses, and I realized I sometimes take my job/ what I'm doing with my life for granted. 

I always feel very lucky to be able to ride horses, but coming back from vacation made me realize how much I really love what I'm doing. I went out for a drink with a very good friend from high school, we haven't seen each other in years. We were discussing how cool it is we are both doing what we always wanted to. She has always loved fish, and has been able to make a career out of that. I always loved horses and I have a job where I get to ride most of the day! I think most people reach a point where their dreams get put on a back burner so they can conquer "real life." Thankfully, I was pig headed enough not to listen to anyone who told me I should get a "real job," and make money and have horses on the side. 

A lot of people didn't understand my love for horses and many more never thought it would be a good career. Going to college wasn't ever a question for me though, I always knew I would go and I even wanted to. I chose a school where I would receive a business degree first and foremost (equine business management), I always wanted a fall back just incase! I have been fortunate to work for wonderful, encouraging people that have helped me along the way. I have no doubt that is why this is working out as a career for me. Don't get me wrong, it is a ton of work, but if you give up, you will never know. I still may not "make it" but I never would if I just gave up. 

I got back to NC last night and when I got up this morning and went to work, I was so excited to be able to ride. I couldn't wait to get chores done so I could get on Union! Then I was able to ride five more horses, a dream come true. Nothing like a little break to make you appreciate what you have and what you're doing!

Friday, October 3, 2014

Bits Part Two: Jumbie


So Jumbie (Cabin Society) is a seven year old Irish mare. I started Jumbie under saddle as a three year old and have ridden her ever since. Jumbie moved up to training level this summer and we plan to move her up to prelim next summer. I currently ride her in a loose ring myler on the flat and a loose ring gag with tow reins jumping.

I start all young horses in a double jointed loose ring snaffle, I have found it to be pretty soft in the green horses mouths. So jumbie started in that bit but she was very unsteady for quite awhile (mostly just from being weak/young). There was a time where I rode Jumbie in a d-ring snaffle, this created a little more stability and helped her learn to be steady and consistent. Once Jumbie got a lot stronger and more capable of sitting and lifting, she became much steadier. At that point I felt like I could use a little more softness, so I went back to a loose ring. I tried the myler because it fits the shape of the horses mouth well and is just thin enough (without being too thin) that horses don't want to lean on it. I fell like Jumbie is very accepting of the contact in this bit I can be very soft with my hand.

As far as jumping goes, it took a little while to figure out what bit worked best. As with flat work, all my horses start jumping in a snaffle. It isn't until they start doing more cross country and cantering full courses that I ever feel like I need a stronger bit.  If they can stay in a snaffle great, I don't think that every horse needs a stronger bit just because they start doing cross country but I also don't think people should feel like they are failing just because they need more bit.

Jumbie can be a little blasé and so I have to generate a more active, forward canter when jumping. When I do this, sometimes it then becomes hard to bring her back and adjust her. I found that I was not going forward enough because I wasn't sure if I could bring her back, that's when we decided to try another bit.

The first bit I try after a snaffle is a wonder bit, it gives you a little leverage with a soft snaffle mouth piece. It's pretty mild and I didn't get much reaction from Jumbie. Denny is a big fan of Tom Thumb Pelhams, so often that's what we try next. This seemed to work really well for Jumbie, for awhile. I found that I could gallop more confidently forward and get her back when approaching the fences. After a little while, I found it was almost too much and when doing a stadium course, she would suck her head in when trying to make turns. I had started having a hard time keeping her head up to the fences and started loosing the adjustability. A big part of it, I think, was the curb chain, even though I used it pretty loosely I think it was too much for her.

One jump school when I was telling Denny my concerns with the Pelham, my friend Lila told me I should try a gag, that's what her two horses go in. I hadn't ridden in a gag much, and honestly it sounds much worse than it is. A gag has a snaffle mouth piece and uses leverage by the reins attaching directly to the cheek pieces. You do have to be pretty light with you hand but when used properly it can be very effective.

I decided the gag was worth a shot and the first time I used it, I had never felt Jumbie jump so well! She stayed up and had a much better bascule over the fence. I was able to ride forward and keep her up as approached the fence. At the time I only rode her with one rein but she became a little more sensitive, so I put a snaffle rein on the bit. This gave me the snaffle rein to us most of the time but the gag (or curb) rein to use when needed. I have ridden her into his for over a year now and I am very happy with it. This doesn't means she won't need to switch her bit out at some point in the future, but I don't see any reason to change anything right now.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Bits part one: Rosie's Girl

I was asked to write a blog about the bits I use on the horses I am currently riding. I decided I would do a blog on each so I can discuss what I use, why, and what I have tried in the past. I'm not saying I'm an expert on bits, just giving my opinion on what I've tried :)

I thought I would start with Rosie since she is the most straight forward. Rosie is an ottb mare who can be quite sensitive, she has successfully made the move up to preliminary this summer.  I currently ride her in all phases in a loose ring snaffle, with an oval piece in the middle. Her dressage bit is a KK, but her jumping bit is a much cheaper bit that looks basically the same. I have never needed to try anything stronger on Rosie because she is very light in the bridle. I think if I tried anything stronger at this point, it would cause her to get tight and would make her bounce up and down more in the canter. I could also see her becoming afraid of her mouth being touched if too strong a bit was used.

I do ride her on the flat in a Micklem bridle. With the flat work improving and asking her to sit and lift more, Rosie was getting a little tight in her jaw. She wasn't really crossing it but I had heard the Micklem could possibly help. I decided to try it and I really like her in it, I tried it jumping and it was a little too much. Rosie can be more sensitive in her mouth jumping than she usually is on the flat. She jumps in a figure eight bridle that she seems quite happy in.

At some point in the future I wouldn't be surprised if I need a slightly stronger bit cross country (I would probably try a wonder bit if I needed more control), on the other hand part of me could see her going the rest of her career in a snaffle. Since she is a thoroughbred who likes to run it is possible I may need more but I am quite happy to keep her in the snaffle as long as possibly. She is very rideable and confident, so if I can keep her that way as she moves up the levels a snaffle may be just fine.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Plantation Fields 2014

Eventing is a funny sport, I guess by funny I mean hard, but what sport isn't hard, right? Just when you think you've fixed one problem, something else arises, possibly the polar opposite problem! With three very different tests, there are many, many skills to master, and even more things that can go wrong. Honestly, it's part of why we do the sport, why do something if it's too easy? Event riders love the challenge of mastering three phases instead of one.

I've had a really great season with Union, it started out a little rocky until I found the right xc bit, then things really clicked into place. We jumped clean around four intermediates, dressage was getting better and we had a couple clean stadium rounds. Denny and I started talking about moving up to advanced next season, thankfully that's still the plan but you never know what can happen between now and then! Anyway, I took Union down to plantation this past weekend for one final event for 2014 and it didn't go quite as planned.

Just before entering the dressage ring, as I passed the judge, Union leapt into he air, and that's about how the rest of the test went. Our tests have been getting much better, but the tense, nervous tb came out this weekend. It can happen with him, but less than in the past. Oh well, onto xc, right?!

The course looked great, big and gallopy with a few technical combinations. I thought it would be a great course for Union but I was worried about the out of the ruins and the last combination, a big table three strides downhill to a very oblique corner. I talked to several people and they all said to go straight the the corner in three, there was a possibility of jumping the table on an angle and bending four strides to the corner. Whenever you do a bending line instead of a straight line there is a greater chance of messing up the line, so I decided to go straight in three. Union was cruising around the course, he was making  it feel so easy and I was right on track to make time (something I never do!) Union locked right on to the out of the ruins which made me feel very confident for the corner combination. I came to the table and jumped in well, but I didn't push enough for the three and we got three and a little, Union went out try and jump but (probably for the best since it was way too long) ended up stopping, chesting the corner and then running out. We did finished the course but I was very disappointed.

Last year, at this event, Union took over and smashed the last combination, almost fell down and I went flying. We worked so much on getting him more rideable and more under my control. We did achieve this and he is more rideable than ever, however, I think now when he is balanced, he does not have a full 12 foot stride. I think this is why the three stride was so long for us, the total opposite problem from last year! So, at least he is better than last year, but now we need to work on him staying balanced but opening his stride within that balance. I noticed it in stadium as well, we had two rails, both from him having to reach to the distance.

So, all in all, a disappointing weekend, but we came home no worse for the wear. I learned a lot, and we are both still as confident as we were before, in fact I feel even more confident with how well and easily he jumped the majority of the course. It isn't like he ran right past the corner either, I know if I had gotten him there better, he would have jumped it. So, good things for "winter work" and onto bigger and better things next year!

Below are the xc videos the Horsepesterer took. Thanks Dave!



Sunday, July 13, 2014


What a weekend!! This past weekend was Huntington Farm’s July USEA horse trial; we take advantage of it being right down the road from Tamarack, and take most of the horses. I took Rosie in her first Prelim, Jumbie in her first Training, and Simply competed in the Novice. I came into the weekend with little expectations as Rosie and Jumbie were moving up and you never know how they will handle it until you try! They stepped up to the plate and showed me they were truly ready for the next level.
                You go into a move up as prepared as you can, obviously if you don’t feel the horse is ready, you don’t move up! Rosie has felt so on task at every event this year, the plan from the start of the year was to try her at prelim if all went well. It’s almost comical how often things go wrong, but luck was on our side and she has stayed confident and sound through the beginning of the season. We took her to the GMHA Team Jumper Challenge on the Thursday before Huntington, where she did her first 3’6” round in public. There was a big crowd and she acted as if she didn’t even see them, she was such a professional! This really proved to me she was ready to move up.
                Over the entire event, she acted as if she had been doing preliminary for several events, she didn’t feel like a green horse in any way. Rosie had never done a full coffin, ditch and wall, or a drop into water (we had at least schooled drops into water!) and she answered each question like a true event horse. She then jumped clean around the show jumping, finishing in second place! I was over the moon! She really feels like she is much more experienced than she is, I can’t wait until the next one!
                Jumbie also had an excellent move up! She had a decent dressage, not our best test but it put her into fifth place. She then had a clean cross country and made the time which moved her into first! She had a few spooky, green moments, which was to be expected but she handled it all very well. I was hoping she wouldn’t be too tired for stadium but she wasn’t! She jumped a double clean show jumping round to win her first training! It is such a relief to complete a first move up, but to win it is just amazing! I am so proud of these girls for handling the weekend so amazingly well!
                To top off an already successful weekend, Simply competed on Sunday, winning her Novice division! She was a little spooky at the jump judges on cross country but we managed to get around clean. There were a couple times I thought she may try to run out, spooking at the people but when I said “jump this!” with my leg she went! She seems to be pretty bold and willing and I think her spooking will go away with more experience. She then had a clean stadium round, finishing on her dressage score!

               I just want to thank Ann Kitchel and everyone at Huntington Farm for running such fun events! And a thank you to Lila Gendal for helping me on Saturday, couldn't have done it without you :)! Also, I want to thank Denny and May Emerson for giving me the opportunity to bring along such nice horses!! I am so lucky to have these amazing horses to ride and compete!

The wonderful Horsepesterer came out and took some great videos of the horses on Saturday, thanks Dave!

Rosie on XC:

Rosie's Stadium:

Jumbie's Dressage:

Jumbie's Stadium:

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Prepping for Plantation

It’s always hard to know exactly how much to do and how hard you should push when prepping for an event. I like to do my hard schools at least a week before the event so the last week is fairly easy and the horses is fresh and ready for the competition. I feel like we gave Union the best jumping prep we could have before Plantation.
A few week before the event, there was a jumper schooling day at GMHA, you could go in the ring and jump a round, come out and do it again! It was pretty low key, but I hadn’t done a 3’9” or bigger round with Union in public since last September. I did a 3’6” round and then they very nicely put them up (it was technically only supposed to go up to 3’6” but they were awesome and put them up for me!). My 3’9” round was much better, it was smoother and Union was jumping amazingly well. I was happy to have gotten a bigger round out of the way so I could focus on the more technical questions in the ring at home.
The next time we jumped, I set up a skinny corner; turning left was three strides to a skinny, turning right was four strides to a different skinny. The skinnies could also be jumped in a straight, five stride line. I also set up very off set one and two stride lines. Today height wasn’t the main focus, rideabililty and holding the line were. I have discovered that what I need to most work on is knowing and counting my striding between related distances (4-8 strides mostly). I usually land, reorganize and then see my distance but I rarely land thinking, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5…. I believe in today’s courses this is a necessary skill, I am very happy I can ride off my eye but I need to become better at riding the line and distance the course designer is looking for. So the arena is full of set distances and I have been practicing with all the horses.
Once I was warmed up I started with the skinny to skinny line, it was a nice five as long as I didn’t land whoaing too much (another bad habit of mine!).  I then did the two off set lines which were no problem, as long as Union can see where he is going and I set him up properly he is good about these kind of lines. I then did the much harder 3 and 4 stride bending lines. Union gets aggressive so everything always seems to come up in a hurry. The four stride rode well but the first time I did the three stride I ended up pulling up in a straight line because he was starting to get too frantic. I re-approached and rode the line, it was a little quick but he was good. We quit after that, these kinds of schools really get his blood pumping, it’s best to do them more than a week before the event; this lets me do one more straightforward school, so he isn’t still in attack mode/ feels quietly confident when we get there.
My last school was almost a week before the event and we just jumped a few straight forward fences. After I warmed up I jumped a couple pretty big (4’-4’6”) jumps. We didn’t’ do much, he was jumping very well and was being very rideable, so we quit while we were ahead. It is always nice to jump a couple fences much bigger than anything you will have to jump at the competition. I always find it’s a bit of a confidence boost for myself and the horse.
The next week I hacked and did light flatwork, when I got to the event I was very happy with the courses. They were fairly straightforward for Intermediate, this was our first one of the year and it couldn’t have been better. There were a few things we hadn’t jumped before, a key hole and a log bounce down a drop but Union jumped beautifully. We were clear in stadium and cross country, with some time xc. I was over the moon with Union, he was so good and positive without being too aggressive.

I really think the preparation leading up to the event made for such a successful weekend. My next event is in three weeks and I won’t need to do anything as technical to get ready since we are coming off such a good weekend. He’d had about two months between his last event and Plantation and it was his first Intermediate of the year, so the prep was a little more specific than this next one will be.

Below is a link to the pictures from the weekend:


Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Hitching Post

Often the first event of the year for many area 1ers, and usually our first event back in New England, is Hitching Post. They run one recognized event and many schooling events over the summer/fall. All of their events are great outings whether it’s your first event after a long winter, you are looking to move up, or if you are taking a young horse to their first show.

The winter was so prolonged this year that our move north was much later than it usually is. We wound up moving one week before the recognized event at Hitching Post. I was worried about entering because I wasn’t sure I would have enough time to get all the horses worked and the barn set up, without any working students to help.  In the end we decided to take Rosie to the recognized event and Simply and Jumbie to the schooling event the following weekend.
Rosie had a few days off with the move, but thankfully she is pretty reliable and becoming very consistent in her work. I took her hacking one day, jumped the next, and then did a light dressage school the day before the event and she was perfect. This was her first training level event of the year, her fourth ever. She performed just like a professional; she had a very nice dressage test followed by two double clear jump rounds, winning the event.

The cross country course was such a good early season course, and the footing was perfect. We had an unbelievable amount of rain the night/early morning of the event and the very hilly course wasn’t the least bit slippery. We went right to show jumping after cross country, which can be challenging if the horse is still in cross country mode. Rosie was very rideable and jumped well around the course. We are looking at moving her up to prelim sometime this summer!

The following weekend I took Simply novice and Jumbie did her first training at the schooling event. These two are a little greener than Rosie so it was nice to have an extra week to ride them after the trip. It again, poured right before the event, but the footing remained excellent, I didn’t have studs on either horse and it wasn’t an issue at all!

Warming up for Dressage, Simply felt like a ticking time bomb and kept screaming to Jumbie in the trailer. She is normally quite good, but she was in heat and apparently couldn’t control herself haha. We had a very distracted, inconsistent test, but we stayed in the ring and got to go jump after! She jumped well around the show jumping but was a little spooky to the first few cross country fences. I had to get after her a bit in the beginning but then she got into the rhythm and jumped clean, finishing in fifth.

Jumbie has been getting better and better, she feels like a different horse this year. Knowing the courses would be very similar, if not the same as last weekend, I felt confident that it would be a good first training for her. She was very relaxed and responsive in dressage, quite different from Simply! She won the dressage and had two double clear rounds, winning her first training! I was very proud of her, she jumped stadium like it was a walk in the park and came out on cross country confident and bold. In the past we have had ditch issues but she just skipped over the ditch on the course. There was one fence near the end that had a large white hitching post silhouette on the front of it, Jumbie wasn’t so sure about this one, but with some encouragement jumped it anyway. I was actually happy to see that even if she wasn’t sure about something and I said jump it anyway she would trust me and go do it.

I want to thank Laurie and everyone else at Hitching Post for having such great events. They are always so well run, the courses are great, and everyone is always so nice! Overall, the girls all had great outings and are set up nicely for GMHA this weekend. 

Thursday, May 1, 2014


Well, Rolex was awesome, but seriously, how could it not be?? I had only been once before, in 2004, when I had only competed in a few training level events. Going now, with a very different perspective, proved to be a very good learning experience for me.

I was lucky enough to leave for all four days so I could watch the entire event. Watching dressage made me realize how you really need a quiet horse, or at least one that will still stay with you if they are amped up. There is a big atmosphere in that arena and a "hot" horse could easily succumb to the pressures.  If you can have a fancy, quiet horse that is ideal but I feel that quiet, or at least rideable, has to come first, it doesn't matter how fancy your horse is if you can't go in the ring and ride it!

Obviously, cross country is the meat of the sport and what everyone is there to watch. I walked the course on Friday and it was big, but in my mind they had been so much bigger. The last time I had seen the fences I was 18 with very little experience eventing. Seeing the fences now made it seem so much more possible, something I felt very relieved about. Of course walking it as a spectator and walking it as a competitor are two very different things. It still looked very tough to me, but it didn't look impossible.

The thing that struck me most was how boldly forward you had to ride.  In every combination you had to land, knowing your distance, and riding forward to make it happen, even if things aren't quite right. You saw this a lot at the coffin, horses would get stuck over the ditch but the rider had to kick for the two strides to the next fence and kick for the next two strides. This made me aware of things I need to work on in my riding.

 I need to set more fixed distances (anywhere from 2 strides to 7 strides) and practice landing and making the distance happen. I also need to start setting up more combinations on different terrain, with skinnys and angles, knowing the distance and riding for it. My horses need to be more rideable and need to start really looking for the next fence. I also want to start doing things with three of four elements, not just jump one and run on to the next. These don't have to be big fences, just things to get them to start thinking and make them confident.

Show jumping was exciting because the scores were so close. It was amazing how well the top riders rode under such tremendous pressure. Knowing one rail would drop them significantly in the standings, they all came in the ring and rode beautifully. You have to have confidence in both your abilities and your horses, and you need to have practiced riding under pressure. Let's face it, just to qualify for Rolex, these riders have been under pressure many, many times. It also showed me how fit the horses have to be, to come into the ring after galloping for over eleven minutes, and leave the rails up. There were only a couple horses that looked tired, most of the horses looked great and jumped very well.

Overall, the whole experience was really inspiring for me. Being able to see the best riders in the country, do what they do best really motivated me to go home and try harder and ride better. I came away with things I know I need to work on to improve myself and my horses, now I can't wait to get to work!

Monday, April 21, 2014

Longleaf Pine H/T

Longleaf Pine H/T

I was lucky enough to ride two horses at Longleaf Pine H/T this past weekend. I was really excited to get Jumbie (Cabin Society) and Simply (Beaulieu's Simply Cool) out. Jumbie has never competed in area 2 and Simply has only done one schooling event down here. This was Jumbie's first event since last fall and Simply's first novice!

The girls have been going very well at home and have been schooling much bigger and harder jumps than they would have to face in competition. Still, you never know! I felt like they were as prepared for their first event as they could be. Thankfully, I turned out to be right!!

I had dressage and cross country on Saturday and it was rainy and windy all day! I got on Simply a tiny bit early, thinking she would be a little high with the weather. She seemed tense and was whinnying to Jumbie, but when I started warming her up, she went right to work and felt great. I was told I was the first rider after the break. Simply warmed up so well, I told them if the judge wants me early I am happy to go! Thankfully she did and I went almost twenty minutes early and didn't have to stand around in the rain.

Simply went in and did such a nice test, she was steady and consistent, a real professional. I was so happy with her, she had every right to be tense and unhappy with the rain and wind and she was loose and relaxed. I had a couple hours until Jumbie's ride and went to get something to eat, a woman asked me if I was on the chestnut in the novice? I told her that I was, and she said she thought I had a lovely test and that I would be very happy with my score. So I pulled out my phone to check live scores and saw that she scored an 18.5!!!!! I have scored in the teens once in my life! I was so excited and I felt she really did deserve it. I then headed back to get Jumbie ready for her test.

In the past Jumbie hasn't been the steadiest horse, it's something I have really been working on with her. When I got on her for dressage warm up, I was as happily surprised with her as I was with Simply! She, just like Simply, was ever the professional. After 10 minutes I felt like I could go in the ring! I told the ring steward, again, if they wanted me early I would happily go. There was (thankfully) a scratch so they let me go before the break and I got out of having to sit in the rain, waiting.

When I came down centerline and turned right Jumbie was spooking at the dressage ring that was covered in mud. There was a moment where I thought, oh jeez. I'm not going to be able to get near the track! She quickly got over it and put in a steady, forward, relaxed test. She was such a good girl, I was very impressed with her. When I later checked scores I was so amazed, she scored a 19.5!! Two scores under 20! They were first and second after dressage, what good girls! So, then the pressure was on for cross country, haha!

I thought the cross country course looked really good, my one worry was that is was very wet and I didn't have stud holes. This proved to not be a problem with either horse and wasn't ever a worry when I was on course. I do feel horses need to learn to deal (a little) with wet/muddy footing with out studs and the girls handled it perfectly. I rode Simply first and she was actually quite green around the course. She hasn't competed much and as I said it was her first novice. She did jump around clean and made the time, but there were a couple times I thought she may stop but when I put my leg on to say JUMP she did :).

After her ride I quickly went to switch my tack onto Jumbie. In the past Jumbie has been a bit spooky on cross country, after Simply was so green out there I thought Jumbie would be worse. I couldn't have been more wrong!! When I came out of the start box I just rode her very positively forward, the last few strides I would sit up and really have my leg on but I would try and be soft with my hands. This gave her tons of confidence and she skipped around the course. She felt like a different horse than last year, she's really turning into an event horse!

Show jumping wasn't until Sunday around 12:30 so the girls went home and were turned out. Times were tight so I had Coti come to the horse park and she held Simply at the ring while I jumped Jumbie and then helped me switch horses. (Thanks Coti!!!) We went in reverse order of standing, but they let me jump Jumbie toward the beginning of the division. She and Simply had become pretty attached in the trailer so they were both screaming back and fourth to each other. I thought this may be a distraction, but when they went to work they were focused on their job.

Jumbie went in and had a good, clean round, making the time. She was just as reliable and on the job as she was for cross country. This took the pressure off a little because, even if Simply had a rail, Jumbie would win. When warming Simply up, she was catching serious air time over the oxers. Denny was laughing at me telling me to hang out. She went in the ring and did the same thing around the course. She didn't feel worried or nervous, she just wanted to jump bigger! She jumped around clean with one time fault, which tied her with Jumbie! Simply was closer to optimum time so she won and Jumbie was second. How funny to have two horses finish on the exact same score!

This was such an amazing way to start the season with these two, I can't wait to see what their futures have in store! I am so grateful to Denny and May for giving me the opportunity to ride such wonderful horses!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Consistency Really IS Key

Consistency is key, we've all heard this and quite frankly it sounds a bit like a cliche. You hear people say, it isn't all about talent, having a good work ethic and sticking to it gets you further. I didn't always believe this, I was not a naturally gifted rider. Part of me always hoped it may be true, but I always thought that the people that were better riders than me would forever far exceed my abilities.

It has recently dawned on me that so many people that were better riders than I was when I was younger have mostly fallen off the map. People move on, choose different careers, become disinterested. For a hard core rider, this is hard to understand, they were so good and could have gone so far! I now realize, this life is not for everyone. Sometimes, I think, the gifted young riders that have so much natural ability don't like when they have to try and work hard to get better. They then have the choice of digging in and committing or changing their life goals and having a "real life."

I have given up a lot, and sacrificed many things in my life so that I can ride. Every decision I have made for my future has been about having the opportunity to ride and become a better rider and trainer. I was not a hotshot young rider, I didn't go prelim until I was 23. I am just now starting to feel like I know what I am doing at 28, and I am becoming more confident in my abilities. I have SO much more to learn but that's exciting. I like learning and challenging myself. There are lots of ups and downs and in the past there have been times I have thought about giving up. I think everyone has moments of self defeat, it's getting up the next day and soldering on that gets you better.

One thing that I think has helped me get better is sticking with a program. I am not one to bounce between different instructors. I like to learn a program inside and out, I think it gives your good foundation and helps you build your own system. I have had three main riding instructors in my life, Julie Blackburn, who I rode with for years in Michigan. I left there when I went to college where I started riding with Tom Davis. I left there when I graduated college and started working for Denny.  I have been with Denny for 6.5 years, as with anything, there have been ups and downs, but when I was frustrated I didn't just give up and go to a different instructor. It takes a long time to learn how to ride and everyone teaches differently, I think you need to stick it out and try to really learn and understand everything your instructor has to offer.

Over the years I have had periods where I have felt like I was in a rut, nothing was getting better and I didn't know why. Then, it seems like, all of a sudden I can do things I couldn't do before, the day in, day out consistent practice pays off. So even if you are having a hard time, or you aren't as good as the people around you, keep going, keep riding, and keep working hard, it might not get better but it never will if you give up.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Carolina International

This past weekend was the inaugural Carolina International Event at the Carolina Horse Park. It was also, Union and my first FEI event.  I entered the CIC*, I was so excited to be able to do an FEI event and to be able to do it at the horse park was icing on the cake.

I had dressage and stadium on Friday and cross country on Saturday. The in barn horse inspection took place on Thursday, so I took Union over, after several baths, to jog and get checked by the vet. Union then remained fully blanketed until I left the next day!

Union can be quite, let's say, exuberant in dressage so I decided to hack him in the morning to try and take the edge off. I didn't have dressage until 1:30 so I had plenty of time. I took him out and walked and trotted for about 45 minutes, it seemed funny to be out hacking a braided horse. After our ride I was able to turn him out for another couple hours and then re-bathed him and took him to the horse park.

My warm up with Union is pretty unique, I work him long and low with no pressure. I don't do many of the movements of the test before going in, it seems to amp him up. I do a lot of walking and before I go in I bring him up. At this point I can't ride him as active and uphill as I do at home, without losing our relaxation. Maybe in the future when he is even stronger and more comfortable with it, he will be more engaged at events.

All in all, I was very happy with our test, it was relaxed with no "freak outs!" A huge bonus was I was able to wear my shadbelly for the first time! I have had it for a couple years and was over the moon to finally wear it. My test was much improved over our last event so I was quite happy and I think our early morning hack helped!

The show jumping course was quite twisty and was decently big. I was the last competitor of the day to jump so I had seen several rounds earlier in the day. Rails were falling like crazy, especially the first fence! I warmed Union up and he felt amazing! He was pretty excited when I got the the warm up, so when I wasn't jumping I tired letting him stand still so he didn't wind up more. We jumped one last oxer before heading into the ring, I got him a little bit deeper and he cracked his back and jumped to moon over it! Coti and Tesla were standing next to the fence and I said, I think I'll go on that! They both laughed and agreed.

I went in the ring and like so many before me, had the first rail down! Aside from that, I had an amazing round! Union was so rideable and was jumping so well. When I finished I was so ecstatic with our round, I don't think he could have been much better. It left me with a great feeling heading into cross country!

The next morning I went over to the horse park and watched a few rounds while walking the course one last time. The first horse through had two run outs at the first corner question on the course. The next horse went off course. This isn't exactly what you want to see before you mount up! I watched another horse come through really well, and I moved on.

I had a good warm up on Union, he was much more amped up than he was at our first event of the year. He came out of the box full of run, the first several fences were straight forward galloping fences. Union was much more rideable than he was at the first Southern Pines event! When we came up to the first combination, I knew I would have to really get him back and listening to me. It was a skinny then up a bank, turning down hill to a corner. We jumped the skinny and up the bank well, I then really brought him back and made the turn. I saw that I would have to gun it to make the distance or wait, I decided to wait. In doing so it killed the canter and he didn't have the momentum to jump. So we had a stop, I circled around and he jumped it well. We then continued on and jumped the rest of the course wonderfully! The next turning question to a corner, I didn't make the same mistake again!

One thing I usually don't have to worry about with Union is the water. This water was a house in, two strides up a bank, one stride off a drop, and then out of the water to another house. Union surged through this line like a gymnastic! He finished well and after the 10 minute box he looked like he was ready to go again. It is such a relief to see just how fit your horse was when you finish the course. You always think you have them fit enough but having that tangible proof at the end is very rewarding.

Overall the weekend was a success for us, hindsight is always 20/20 and I am kicking myself for not going more at the corner. Live and learn. It's amazing how many ways there are to mess up in this sport, you just have to move on and try not to make the same mistake twice. That's all part of it, learning and moving on, not dwelling on your mistakes and feeling terrible about yourself. Now, onto the Fork!

Thanks to David Frechette for these videos:



Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Riding with Mike Plumb

On Sunday. I was lucky enough to take Union over to Mike Plumb's for a jump lesson. Mike had told Denny we could bring some horses over to school at his place over different jumps if we wanted. When this turned into having Mike watch Union and eventually to Mike teaching me I was thrilled (and incredibly nervous!). I mean how often do you get to ride with an eight time Olympian!

My nerves quickly dissipated when I actually started to ride, Mike was clear with what he was asking me to do so it was easy for me to follow what he was looking for. I've said before that I don't usually ride well when I ride with someone new, I try to do only what they are telling without integrating it into what I know how to do. Thankfully this was not a problem with Mike. He didn't have me do anything that I haven't done with Union, but what we worked on with jumping I usually do on the flat.

Mike really wanted to see if we could quiet Union down and get him to relax more when jumping. Union is a pretty intense, aggressive horse when he starts jumping so focusing on that was really great. Mike would have me really use the rail to work him in between the jumps. We would do a few jumps, work to get him quiet and do a few more. We kept cantering for a lot longer than I usually do when jumping. Instead of jumping a few and giving him a break we kept going to get him more supple and calm.

Mike would have me counter bend him, and sometimes ride him down the long side deep, patting him on the neck with my inside rein. I would then put him back together around the short side and go to a jump or two. After the jumps we decided upon, I would go around the ring again either deep or counter bending. I do this a lot on the flat but I have never worked it in between jumps. It was nice because both Union and I were used to doing it so it worked into the lesson well.

Denny and I have been doing things like jumping little fences quietly and turning and bending on landing to keep Union supple and quiet. I think what Mike had me doing will be a good addition to what we have been doing with Union. I think if in practice I can get him more relaxed and rideable I will have a better chance of keeping him with me at competitions. I am very grateful Denny allowed me to ride with Mike, I was a great opportunity!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Evolution of My Eye: Part 3

So I had an interesting thing happen last year, I had a pretty reliable three stride eye and I started seeing four strides. I wasn't actually trying to see four but I would every once in awhile see four instead of three. This sounds like it would be great but, it wound up being a bit of a rough patch for me seeing my distance.

When I approach a fence in my head I say one, two, one, two, three, two, one and then we jump. I start counting one, two somewhere around 6 or 8 strides out to get the rhythm I want. This worked really well for me until I started seeing the occasional four strides. I then started getting confused, thinking there were three strides when I actually saw four (usually the result was me running) or thinking there were four when there were only three (causing me to ride backwards). I talked to Sue Berrill about it and she had said she went through a period like this as well. It made me feel better to not be the only one that has had this problem, but I wasn't quite as confident seeing my distance as I had been.

The way I got through it was just trial and error, with lots of poles and hoof prints when I wasn't jumping. I just started to make myself realize when I was far enough out that it was in fact four strides. This phase lasted the entire spring, summer, and fall. I didn't often bring it up, I didn't want to make excuses, I think it was chocked up to me missing the distance (which I was). It wasn't something anyone could help me with it was just something I had to figure out on my own. This fall I didn't jump any of the horses for about two months, they all had time off and when we started jumping this winter, I all of a sudden had a reliable four stride eye.

Now I am not saying I can see four strides and make the distance be perfect every jump, but I am much more reliably seeing the four strides and changing the horses canter to make the distance fit. I never dreamed I'd have a four stride eye, I was so happy when I finally had a pretty good three stride eye. I have to say though, seeing the distance one stride sooner gives you, what seems like, so much more time to fix the canter and change the stride if needed.

So, moral of the story, you can develop a three or four stride eye if you practice! It is a lot about the quality of your horses canter and how rideable they are so that you CAN make changes when needed. If you work at it all the time, even when you are doing flat work (using hoof prints) you will get better!

Monday, January 13, 2014

The Evolution of My Eye: Part 2

So you have cantered an endless number of poles, hoof prints and jumps. You are starting to usually see three strides but, sometimes you can see it is going to be long, sometimes it is going to be short and every once in awhile you nail it. Well, now what do you do to change the distance? This was a big step for me that took me a long time to really work out.

What really did the trick for me was having a casual, bold horse. That sounds like a contradiction but in all actuality it is the perfect kind of horse. A horse that is low key enough to 1. let you ride them and 2. not get upset when you mess up, because you are going to mess up! The horse is, however, bold and clever enough to jump from wherever so you have the opportunity to experiment. I am very fortunate to have had the chance to ride and compete Nicole Diana's horse Chequers Superstar a few years ago. He truly is a superstar and did wonders for my confidence jumping.

In the past I was afraid to mess up so I would just stop riding or I would chase for the long one. I didn't want to make the wrong decision and didn't know how to help the horse fix the distance so I would often do nothing. With Chequers I was able to say ok, I see three strides but it is really long. I could then try and move up or ask him to wait and change the three to four strides. Like I said, I could mess up and Chequers wouldn't hold it against me, he would just jump from whichever distance we happened to get to. Now, trying to change the distance and not really knowing what will and won't work will cause you to mess up, a lot if you are anything like me! It is important to keep the fences small at this stage so that if and when you make a mistake it isn't a problem for your horse.

Something that quickly became apparent was the quality of canter I needed when jumping. Denny often talks about how Jack Le Goff always said when jumping you need a canter with enough speed, balance, and impulsion. Speed is just the speed needed for the level and/or height of the fence, Intermediate speed is much faster than say Novice speed. Balance and impulsion, however, are contradicting qualities. Often one overpowers the other. Usually either the horse is too balanced with very little energy and the rider riding backwards or the horse is just running on its forehand with no balance. To get a canter with both qualities creates an adjustable canter that you CAN use to adjust to the appropriate distance. If your horse comes running to a fence with very little balance, your only option is the long flat distance. Conversely, if you come down with little impulsion you are likely to get deep and the horse will have to crawl over the fence or you will get a long weak distance.

Once I really thought about this I was able to analyze my canter after a bad fence. Ok, I got really deep to that fence and the horse had to crawl over, I probably needed more impulsion. So, next time I came to the fence I would try coming with more gusto. Maybe that time I would be too quick and way too long and flat, ok I need a better balance while keeping the forward momentum. Once you know what you are looking for you can start to play around with the canter and work on adjustability.

This isn't something that you are going to get overnight. It takes hours and hours practicing jumping hundreds and hundreds of fences. Every horse is a little different but once you can start adjusting the canter and trusting your eye it can give you an amazing amount of confidence jumping.

Friday, January 10, 2014

The Evolutioin of my "Eye" Part 1

I went through many years of jumping, just cantering at the fences. I didn't know what or how to see a distance, or that it was something I could even do. Some people believe you should see your distance and help get the horse to the correct distance so the horse has the best ability to jump the fence. Others believe you should get a good canter and let the horse figure out the distance. Then there are those that tell you to just canter down without worrying about the canter or the distance.

Now that I can (usually haha) see my distance, I wouldn't want to jump any other way. I find it gives me great confidence to know when I am three or four strides out that the distance is going to work, or if it doesn't that I have time to change the canter to make it work. This year I am becoming very confident at seeing my distance four strides out, it has taken me a very long time to reach this point. There were many learning curves along the way for me, my eye has definitely evolved over the last several years. I'm going to break this up into a few different blogs, they will be about the different turning points while developing my eye.

This first part is about starting to recognize what three strides looks like.

Denny was very adamant about learning to see your distance. He had told me that in the past people told him it wasn't something you could teach, you either had an eye or you didn't. He learned to see a distance and now teaches all of his students how to. So I began learning about seeing a distance by cantering a pole on the ground. When I thought I was three strides out Denny would have me say 3, 2, 1. Sometimes I started too soon, sometimes I started too late but it started to give me some sense of what three strides looked like. Denny is also a great believer in what he calls "the hoof-print game." You pick a hoof-print, a leaf, a stick, anything and you try and see three strides to that. Now when I started this I got it right every time yet when I jumped a fence I would mess up! I then realized I was picking a hoof-print three strides in front of me, I wasn't looking far enough ahead and then riding the canter. Once I figured that out the "game" became very useful. I still think you need to test yourself over poles because you can cheat a little with the hoof-prints and just "sort of" get it right without something there to "jump" over.

So I started to recognize what three strides looked like over poles and hoof-prints and took this to actual jumps. It was slightly different for me because there was a certain amount of nerves when actually jumping, if I messed up the consequences were greater. Also, when you canter poles on the ground you don't have to have as much impulsive as you do when jumping bigger fences. So I needed a slightly different canter when jumping, this was when I started to realize how important the canter was to seeing my distance.

The next blog on seeing my distance will be, about the canter and realizing I had the wrong distance but how do I fix it?

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

New Year, New Goals

With the end of one year and the beginning of another you can't help but reflect on the past year and create goals for the new year. Riding wise, 2013 had its ups and downs. Overall, I think it was a very positive year and a lot was accomplished.

In 2013 I, for the first time, jumped clean around an intermediate cross country course. What a feeling that was! Rosie moved up to training successfully, I started competing Simply, and Jumbie worked through some cross country issues and was able to finish the season successfully at novice. Overall it was a great year, the horses all improved through the season and each finished the season confident and ready for more.

With each horse I have specific competition goals and many other training goals. I think it is good to have many small goals working toward a bigger goal. This makes the big goal seem more attainable and you have little "victories" along the way. For example, we are hoping to move Rosie up to prelim this year. Rosie moved up to training last year and completed three events with no jumping penalties. So my smaller goals with her are to school some harder cross country, jump around a 3'6"-3'9" show jump course at home, improve her dressage, and complete a few more harder training level events. My small goals will all help me achieve the bigger goal of going prelim.

You always have to be ready to adjust and change your goals. Sometimes (with horses often) your plans don't work out, and you will have to go to plan B. You may even need plans C, D, and E and that's ok! You just have to keep looking forward and when things go wrong you have to be willing to make adjustments.

So bring on 2014 and a new season of goals!! Happy New Year!!