Tuesday, September 5, 2017

The Benefits of Really Knowing your Horse

I am in a very fortunate position, I have lots of horses to ride and someone else to own them and help me bring them along. That being said, Denny has always said to me that they don’t have the money to go and buy something already doing upper levels for me to ride. So, I have had to work with the young and/or green ones and develop them myself, with Denny’s help. Fortunately, I love seeing them develop and bringing them through the levels from the start.

I was really lucky to ride a couple of Denny’s horses with some prelim experience, but nothing I have ridden has gone above prelim, unless it was with me riding them. I take great pride in this, I love the fact that I brought Union and Rosie up to Advanced and Intermediate, and Jumbie from an unbroken baby to a prelim horse. Union had done a couple of prelim’s before I got the ride, but Rosie hadn’t ever competed before I started riding her, 7 years ago. At the moment, none of the horses I am riding have done any eventing before I started to ride/compete them. I feel like this gives me an advantage that you may not have if you are taking over someone else’s ride.

Now, I want to start this off by saying I do not want to discredit people who are competing at the upper levels on horses they did not develop. This takes an entirely different set of skills, they have to be able to get on someone else’s ride and figure out that horse’s buttons. They need to be able to adapt to that horse and encourage the horse to adapt to their specific ride. This is not as easy as it sounds, everyone rides a little bit differently, and an upper level horse will have lots of mileage going a certain way. To be able to get the most out of the different horses takes a lot of talent.

The benefit of developing your own horses from the start, is that you know them inside and out. You know their reactions in every situation, and they know yours. You both know what to expect form each other, the signals have always been the same. You know when you are ready to move up, and when you may be in over your head.

I took Rosie to Plantation in June, I had a really good dressage test, but when I was warming up for stadium, Rosie wasn’t feeling quite herself. She didn’t feel like she was jumping as well as she normally does. She as clearing the fences, but she felt like she was hurling over them more than jumping through her body. I started blaming myself, thinking I wasn’t riding her well enough. I went in the ring and had three rails down, sometimes we have rails when she is exuberant to the fences, or if I ride backwards. These distances felt ok, she just felt like she wasn’t picking her legs up enough. Again, I though maybe I am not giving her the best ride, then I wondered if I should go cross country. She just didn’t feel herself. I then thought, I am being a chicken, I should at least give it a go and see how she feels. I jumped two warm up xc fences and she felt ok.  I went on course and she jumped the first couple of fences ok, she wasn’t locking on and didn’t have her usual fire though. I circled before one big table and then pulled up a few fences later. She jigged off the course and I started wondering if I made the right decision. When we got home she still felt blah and we did bloodwork. Turns out she had a mild infection, so she wasn’t feeling well. I am so glad I listened to her, and pulled up on the course.

I do wish I had listened to my gut right from the get go, and realized she wasn’t feeling well. When you are out competing, it is easy to blame yourself and think, I just need to ride better! I try and look out for my horses, I never want to hurt them and I am probably too quick to back off and reassess. I guess I would rather be that way, than regretting it later on.

Rosie’s next event, in New Jersey, went really well, she jumped around like a star and was totally back to normal.  She then did GMHA, it was a tough course, that caused a lot of problems. I felt confident about it and felt that I knew how I needed to ride her.

There was a big mound, with a skinny key hole on the top. I knew I had to ride up the mound with a lot of power and trust her at the top. I also heard a lot of people talking about how spooky the big drop into water was. I know Rosie so well, I knew she wouldn’t spook at it. I rode both fences just as I wanted to and she skipped around the course, making it feel easy. I think if I over rode either of those fences, I would have made her second guess. I know her so well, I really need to trust that I do know how she will react and ride the fences the way I know will give her the most confidence.

This is something that I also think comes with experience. When I was competing Union, he took a very special ride, I needed to add where others never would. Every time I wouldn’t listen to my gut and would ride the line I heard everyone else talking about, it wouldn’t go well for us. This showed my inexperience, I didn’t trust that I knew my horse well enough, or that I would make the best decisions.

I have learned to trust my ride and trust what I know about the horses I am sitting on. I still ask other people’s opinions on the courses and discuss the various options and lines. When it comes right down to it, I always go back to how will my horse react and what will be best for my horse. I have ridden them so long and brought them along, that I know what may be problems and what I can feel the most confident about. There are always holes that show up along the way, and you have to do your best to do back and fill any gaps in, but that is part of learning and developing horses the best you can.

Monday, January 30, 2017

How I Ended up with Punch

Punch on the trailer ride to the farm
I really haven't owned very many horses in my life. I've been very fortunate to have spent the last 9 years at Tamarack riding Denny and May's lovely horses. I originally came to the farm with a horse, but I sold her about a year later. I also had one resale project but I only owned him for a very short time. About two years ago, Denny and May gave me Union, but a little over a year later, his melanoma's got the best of him and I was forced with the decision to put him down.  

Getting a young ottb has been on my mind, but I have always talked myself out of buying one, for one reason or another. This summer, Denny told me he was buying a horse listed on Finger Lakes Finest, and that I was going to go pick it up. So, naturally, I started looking at all the horses listed on their site.

There were two young mares that I liked quite a bit, but one in particular. Denny had been thinking of just getting two horses, since we had an empty slot in the trailer. The day that Sarah Grice and I were going to drive to the track, I asked him if he had seen the little mare, Punch It. He commented on the fact that she was only 3. He didn’t want one that young, and I hadn’t voiced the idea of me buying her yet. That was the end of the conversation for the moment.

A few days after she arrived
Then, that afternoon, I was having a lesson on Tense and he was telling the other person riding that I was going to pick up a horse at the track. He then told her that I was trying to get him to buy me another horse. I told him that I liked her enough that I would buy her! He sort of laughed and again, end of conversation.

The trailer had been getting worked on that day, and wasn't back until around five o'clock, so we got a bit of a later start. Sarah and I planned to drive most of the way to the track and spend the night in a hotel so we could pick up Denny's horse, Portada, at 11am. As we were leaving Denny told me I should go look at Punch It since we would already be there.

On the drive out, I called the trainer listed for Punch. No one answered, so I left a message. On her listing it said that it was a landline and not to call late. As we drove on, and it got later and later, I worried she wouldn't call me back and that it was getting to late for me to call again. I told Sarah, if it didn't work out then that was fine, I sort of didn't need a horse anyway. I wasn’t going to look at any other horses if I didn’t see Punch, I didn’t want to just buy a horse, it needed to be the right horse. Eventually, we were able to connect and the trainer told me she was not at the track, but at a farm down the road. We decided to meet at the track at 10 and she would drive us to see her.

One of her first times hacking
We drove as long as we could and ended up stopping about an hour from the track, for the night. The next morning, on our way to Finger Lakes, May called me. She told me that Denny showed her the pictures of Punch It, and that she was beautiful, but not to buy her just because of that. I agreed, I said if there is anything I don't like about her, I won't get her. I said that I would be very critical, again, I didn't really need a horse.

So, we get to the track, and the trainer drives us to see Punch. I look in the stall, turn to Sarah and say, I want to get her! All practical thinking out the window! Sarah gave me a look, and I tried to be more serious and watched her jog and looked at her legs. She jogged quietly past a horse rearing, incessantly in the next stall. I thought, that's pretty good! She did move a little wide up front but not terribly, I went outside to call May and discuss what I saw, before making an offer.
First time jumping!
I told May that I thought she maybe moves a little wide up front, but not terribly. She told me that since she is only 3, she will likely straighten out as she grows.  She proceeded to say that she I didn't see any reason not to get her! Ha! So, I made them an offer, which they accepted and we picked up Portada at the track, swung by and picked up Punch, and off we went.

The trip home was uneventful, they traveled super well. I was really excited but, I wasn't 100% sure, whether I bought her or Denny did. When we got back to the farm, Denny asked if I bought her for myself, I said yeah, if that's ok. And he said, yeah that's fine. So, turns out I bought a horse!

We gave her about two months off and I slowly started to work with her. Once I started riding her, we started taking her out hacking and she could not have been any better. Now, she seems like an old pro out on the trails. We are now starting baby flat work, and jumped her over a few tiny jumps for the first time a couple of days ago.

It is always a risk buying a horse, especially one you can only watch jog in hand (and don’t vet). She wasn't expensive, so it seemed like an ok risk. I could not be any happier with her, she is exactly the kind of horse I like. After not owning one for a long time, I think the idea of buying one was a little daunting but, it all seems to be working out. We will see what the future holds!

Wednesday, January 18, 2017


One day Denny and I were talking, I can’t quite remember what started the conversation, but I said I do not think of myself as being that brave. He looked at me like I was nuts, I think he even said, but you went advanced!  My response was that I am brave enough, but I am not crazy brave. I am not the type of person who would hop on anyone’s horse and just go intermediate with it or hop on a horse I was just watching rear and rear. I know some people who are totally confident and would do those things, but I am not one of them.

I think bravery means different things to different people. I also think that your level of bravery will differ doing different activities. I know there are some people who are just adrenalin junkies, the scarier the better. These people are amazing, and have complete confidence in themselves and their abilities.

Personally, I find that my bravery stems from being educated and prepared. I have also found that the more experience I get, the more brave I become. Also, the more technical skills I acquire, the more confident I am that I can do the job I need to do. I find tremendous confidence in being able to see my distance. That is probably the greatest skill Denny has taught me. When I leave the start box and I am confident that I can get my horse to more or less the right take off point, time and time again, why wouldn’t I feel brave?

Of course there are many other factors that come into play, for me, having a ‘relationship’ with the horse makes a big difference too. I like to be the person who rides the horse everyday, even the days that the horses just go for a walk. I like to know everything about them, their quirks, what the like, and how they react to things. I really like to be able to start them as young horses and bring them along myself, I think this helps you have a really good understanding of each specific horse. Tackling a big course on a horse I have ridden for years, makes me feel the most confident.

I think confidence and bravery are funny, I may be more nervous about jumping a wild young horse over a 2’6” course than jumping a horse like Rosie around a 4’ course. I think it entirely depends on what you are sitting on and your skill level. What is great is, these are things you have control over! If you are scared to jump 18” because your horse is going to take off, get someone else to do it to teach the horse, or maybe you need a quieter horse. If you aren’t confident because you don’t know how to see a distance, that is a learnable skill. If you don’t have a solid position and you get nervous because you lose your balance, that is something you can fix, with the right help.

Just because you are not as brave as you want to be, does not mean you won’t get there. If you are willing to be honest with yourself and figure out what makes you nervous, or figure out what specifically makes you confident, then you can work to cultivate your own bravery. Don’t ever think you could never do something that you really want to do, just because the idea of it makes you nervous right now. You can set small goals and with the right help and motivation, eventually you get where you want to go.