Category Archives: eventing

What’s The Hurry in Bringing Up Baby?

I have never started a young horse. But over the years I have observed lots of people starting their youngsters or green as grass horses.

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Did someone say grass?

Sometimes it goes amazingly well. And sometimes, there are serious struggles. And guess what? From my observations, I’ve formed an opinion. A completely personal opinion that has no scientific data attached to it. So, take it for what it is: an adult amateur’s opinion.

One of my strongest opinions about starting a young horse is when to start them under saddle. I believe that you should wait until a horse is closer to 4 years old. When I decided to get a 3 year old horse I was fully prepared to wait 8 months to a year before I started riding her. I just don’t feel that most horses are mentally or physically ready to be put to work at 2-3 years old.

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She still needs nap time

To strengthen the validity of my opinion that horses aren’t physically ready to be started younger than 4, I called 3 of my most trusted equine veterinarian friends. Not one of them could tell me that I should absolutely wait to start my horse until she is closer to 4 years old. There is no proof that horses started later in life stay more sound than those started earlier. They thought that mentally, it might be better for the horse, but there is no proven theory that it is physically better. In their opinions, not surprisingly, it has more to do with what we ask of our horses once we do start working them under saddle.

Well damn. There went the theory and belief that my horse would be benefitting physically from my decision. But whatever. There is still the mental aspect.

While some of you may see a 3 year old horse as completely capable to start work, I see a kindergartener. Especially June. She’s lived her life on rolling hills and forested pastures. She was brought in occasionally to be halter broke and get her feet done. She has seen nothing of the world and been asked to do nothing other than stand for the farrier. And while that sounds idyllic and lovely, it hasn’t really set her up to go straight to work.

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This grass is yummy

I feel like my responsibility as her person is to prepare her for the work ahead. So that, one day, when I get on her back, she is ready. I know her, she knows me. She knows what I expect of her.

So, our work will begin with me starting her with ground work. For however many months as it may take. I’ve asked an incredible horse woman and foundation trainer to help me with this process and I am SO excited. I can’t wait to learn with June. I can’t wait to see where she is uncomfortable and not as sure of herself and get her past that. So that one day, when I put her to work under saddle, I have a wealth of knowledge to pull from.

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More grass over there?

I’m not going to rush the foundation work just because I want to get back to eventing. I want to do this right so we can have a great future together. I’m sure I will fumble and be discouraged along the way, but I think having the next few months together, and getting familiar with each other, and learning to trust each other, is hopefully going to lead to a great future together.

The adventure has begun!

 

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Gary Mittleider Clinic

While his name may not be familiar with many of you outside of Idaho, Gary has been training and riding event horses for many years. His daughter, Sara Mittleider, has competed at Rolex and has found success with multiple horses that she rides and trains at her family’s farm.

But the reason I know the name, is that Gary is my trainer’s trainer.

And for some reason I eagerly signed up to take a jump lesson on my trainer’s horse with her trainer. Oh, and when the group list came out I realized I would be riding my trainer’s horse, with her trainer and she’d also be riding in the lesson. Just the 3 of us.

Recipe for disaster.

I decided to make it even more fun by riding another horse- a lesson horse the barn had just purchased who I had ridden about 4 times and jumped once. He’s probably jumped a handful of times in his life. I had no idea how he would be in the lesson.

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Deputy the adorable QH

Well, let me recap for you.

Gary set up a grid. Three poles set 9ft apart followed by a 2 stride gap, followed by 4 more poles set 9ft apart. The 4th pole would eventually become a jump. It was a canter cadence and balance exercise. The gap in between poles would encourage horses to get quick and on the forehand, the poles afterwards would remind you of the cadence you needed before the jump, and hopefully you hadn’t changed anything just because there were some poles missing… After the grid developed you would make a sweeping left hand turn to a skinny cross rail -riding as if there were still poles on the ground encouraging you to have an uphill, balanced ride.

It was a great exercise.

Deputy, the solid as a rock QH  did not disappoint. Once I gave him the support he needed he handled each question easily. Man is he fun. He’s forward but responsive. He did not want to pick up his left lead, so we worked on that. I mean me, we worked on me, and how I can help him with that. (Note to self, looking down and leaning inward does NOT help). He handled the grid so well, and while it took some effort on my part, I was really surprised it wasn’t more difficult.

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whee!

I’d happily ride him again and even entertained the idea of half leasing him. Then I remembered I am short on both time and money.

I hopped off Deputy and onto Macy.

Warm up was tense and reactive. Sarah and Gary eyed me from the middle of the arena and I was like “this is going to be bad”.

After warm up Gary mentioned that I just seemed to be making too much effort. It shouldn’t be this tough. He knows Macy well, and told me he knows she “likes to argue,” so we have to keep from having arguments with her.

We went through the grid a couple of times and he called me over. He changed my leg position. Less heel, more thigh. What? Sarah and I had been working so hard on me having an effective lower leg! What?? Why would I take it off now? He could sense my confusion and said “Don’t take it off, just test the temperature with it. Don’t use it as a brace.”

Huh. ok.

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My toe could be more forward here, but mare is looking pretty happy.

It was kind of like magic.  I had the best ride on Macy I have ever had. At one point I even said out loud that I was having fun.

No head tossing, no arguing, it was like I was riding a super capable horse without all the baggage.

Like magic.

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This is her usual tail position on the backside

I’m not sure if she was having a good day, or missed Gary, or was happy to be riding with her BFF Rapid, but the entire ride was great. Huh. Maybe, just maybe, I’m learning to ride this mare.

Here’s a short video of the grid:

While it has been more about Macy than June lately, that’s about to change. Baby has been settling in SO well and there’s lots to report. So, be prepared for baby horse spam soon.

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Cross Country Schooling

It’s been a year since I’ve galloped around xc. Ok, so not counting the Irish adventure. But still, a full year since Georgie and I went to Rebecca and did the T3D. And that was our last time on a xc course. So, the way things were going with Macy I figured I’d just skip xc this year, which saddened me and made me a bit panicky (would I remember how to ride xc??) but I realized it was reality.

But then one day, when Sarah asked, “Do you want to go school the local xc course on the 4th?” I blurted out “YES!” before thinking the entire thing through. I’d be riding Macy.

Eh, I can always bail or just watch others jump.

So, we went. And I was nervous, which made Macy spooky and me tense and stiff and it wasn’t a great warm up. When Sarah sent us out to do three logs we got them done and I was SO proud of myself. SO proud, in fact, that I said “I’m happy to do Beginner Novice stuff today, but maybe nothing bigger. ”

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She was so happy. And confused why I was messing with her so much

Yeah, that didn’t happen. Sarah wasn’t going to make this mare jump small logs all day.

I want to say that Macy was amazing. She was SUCH a good girl despite my inadequacies as a rider. She was so happy to be out there. Happy for the both of us, because I was still a stiff, leg off, backwards riding passenger. And while I hadn’t ridden xc in a year, she hadn’t been out in at least two years, so she had every right to be a hot mess. But she wasn’t. She stood quietly and waited our turn, and was as easygoing as I could have ever hoped for.

The beginning wasn’t pretty. But the fun group of women I was with cheered me on like I was running Rolex. I forced Macy into stopping a Novice jump. I gave her no leg, became completely unyielding in the rein and she was like “I gots nowhere to go!!” It was a kind stop that unravelled well before we got to the jump. After that I got better. But there was lots of room for improvement.

By the end though, we were actually having fun. We jumped what I would consider a Training line. Corner to corner four stride, then a little gallop to a down bank into water, through the water and 3 strides to a chevron.

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Whee!

Macy was awesome. I was ok. And together we got it done.

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Chevrons are no big deal…

I spent three years riding the same horse cross country, and it was so fun. But I didn’t learn nearly as much as I did in this one lesson with Macy. And maybe that’s not completely true. Maybe I learned a ton on Georgie which enabled me to ride a horse like Macy. She’s not easy, but she’s honest. And I love honest. It’s easy to ride honest. I just needed to learn to trust her and let her do her thing, while supporting her along the way.

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Loving her here

It was SO great to get back out there. Well, the last 30 minutes were great. The first 90 were a bit scary. For no reason. Macy is “hot” and “sensitive” but if I ignore the head tossing (which weirdly minimizes when I ride forward instead of backwards) it’s actually a ton of fun.

I’m actually adding a video. Again, remember, work in progress, it’s not like this is what I think is ideal…

It was a great way to spend the holiday and I can’t thank Sarah enough for continuing to let me ride her mare and pushing my comfort zone.

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Horse Happiness

Yesterday I headed 4.5 hours (one way) to go see Junebug and decide if she was the horse for me. I brought my most trusted advisors with me, Sarah and Stella, and knew I wouldn’t go astray with them helping me.

Stella got car sick the entire trip up there, which made me feel like maybe we weren’t starting off on the right foot. But once we got there her spirits brightened and she happily ran around while Sarah and I met with Rapid’s owner/breeder.

We brought Junebug in from her pasture, put her on the cross ties and I got to grooming her. She stood and let me groom her everywhere as well as pick up her feet. She wasn’t antsy, or pushy, and literally just stood in the crossties.

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I also got right to work getting lots of pics

Next we took her into the arena, out of sight of the other horses. We trotted her around a bit so I could see her move and then I attached the lead rope and walked and trotted her over some poles. She was slightly distracted, but it really wasn’t until the other horses whinnied for her that she realized she was away from them. She still allowed me to lead her around and was completely sensible.

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We headed back out and I took her for a walk around the property and down the long driveway. She was slightly more interested in turning back to her friends than heading away from them, but was easy to handle and was easily convinced to go with me and leave her friends.

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So shiny!

As we were walking along I thought to myself, I’m buying a horse for her brain, everything is secondary and I need to remember that. When I got back to Sarah and Junebug’s owner, I found out that Junebug had only gotten out a few times in her 23 months. If mare is this sensible with that little handling, I feel like I am getting the brain I want.

Conformationally she is built uphill, has good bone and is the thick, stocky build that I like. I imagine she’ll grow to about 16hh. She won’t be built like a lithe racehorse, but I feel like her breeding will help with getting around xc easily.

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Lastly, after saying goodbye to Junebug, we drove over to go meet her momma. Her mom is a Quarter Horse who has produced some nice babies. Junebug’s maternal grandma produced lots of nice, smart, jumpers. I need to research the lineage a little more, but momma was well built and seemed sweet. Her full brother is a total sweetheart, with a lovely build and great brain.

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Cute momma!

And her Dad. Her Dad is who I hope will get us some nice dressage scores and will give her major athletic prowess. Her half sister has proven to be quite the athlete, so I’m hoping Junebug will also prove to be a great eventer.

As we headed home I started talk things over with Sarah and Stella. Our conversation didn’t last long, as it was clear she was a great baby horse for me to take a chance on! I’m currently figuring out when to bring her home and what our future will look like together. She will be 3 on 6/24, so we have some months of ground work and life experiences together before I get to riding her.

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Not a bad life so far

I’m obviously excited, and nervous, and anxious, but mostly excited. I can’t wait to start our future together!

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Plan #15

It’s been a whirlwind week. I flew to Florida for a conference, spent 4 days there, flew back for one night, and then flew to Seattle for a U2/Mumford and Sons concert. (With guest appearance by Eddie Vedder!!) So, I’ve been travelling a BIT.

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Drinking my favorite drink (or two of them) with my cousin while in Florida.

Somehow in between traveling I’ve managed to get some rides in on Macy. And, they’ve been pretty horrible. What I realized is, that after she spooks or is crazy once, the ride is over for me. I worry about her bolting so I tense up, shorten her and then neither of us can recover. I don’t want to get into every crazy moment she has had, or what she did, but do want to mention that I get why people keep horses that aren’t appropriate for them. I’m struggling with the idea of giving up on Macy and she isn’t even my horse. I didn’t buy her, invest a lot of time or money into her, and even having her doesn’t make me exempt from having to buy a horse in the future. So, really, I have it super easy with her and I am still struggling with giving up riding her. I can’t even imagine what it is like for people who bought a horse and are having this struggle. I get it.

In the past weeks I have realized Macy isn’t the horse for me and lately I feel more unsafe and frustrated than I have since the beginning. I let Sarah know and she totally understood. But then I kinda back tracked and was like ” Well, maybe we can see if I can make it work.” Because I just couldn’t give up, even though I wasn’t really enjoy riding her. It’s so messed up!

Yesterday I brought her in for my lesson and she was cuckoo bananas. She was tied in a different spot than usual and was so distracted and antsy. I was worried she would pull back, or trample me, and so I was tiptoeing around her. Sarah came over and let me know I can’t do that. Got her to pay attention and Macy didn’t like it, pulled back, broke her halter and galloped around the arena.

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How she reacts to me reprimanding her

I want to take a moment and mention something that happened while Macy was being a wild mustang. There were two other horses present. Both OTTBs and both, ironically, from the same breeder. One was getting acupuncture and one was being ridden in a lesson. When Macy had her meltdown, neither of them flinched. As she galloped around the arena, they stood still and waited for us to catch her. When Macy was caught they went back to what they were doing as if nothing happened.

So, props to those two OTTBs. And seriously, I am looking into who the breeder is and if he has any horses off the track for sale….

Ok, so Macy. Sarah hopped on her to show me a couple things to work on and then I got on. We ended up having a lovely lesson. Mainly because Sarah was there to guide me. I learned the following things:

  1. I need to keep Macy’s brain engaged every single step of the lesson.
  2. I need to be active every step of the lesson. If she gets the frame and bend I want, I need to keep working in order to maintain it.
  3.  If she spooks once, or even worse, if I THINK she is going to spook, I can’t get tight and lose the elastic connection. Because when I do that, it makes things worse.
  4. If she wants to spook, or does, get right back to work. Stop it before it escalates (if possible) but don’t get her short and tight. Get her back into that deep frame. (And when I say spook, this mare rarely just spooks, the spook leads into a bolt, head tossing bonanza)
  5.  I don’t trust Macy. I wouldn’t let go of the reins to even pat her when she was good.
  6.  I should not be riding this horse by myself. I haven’t ever been in a full lesson program, where all I do is take lessons and never ride on my own, nor do I want to be. But with Macy, I am doing neither of us any favors by riding alone without Sarah guiding me on staying relaxed and getting us through the tough spots.

 

So. By the end of the lesson I realized what I wanted to do. Showing is off the table completely. (Despite getting into an over subscribed recognized show, I scratched.) I won’t be riding Macy unless in a lesson. I’ll be doing that twice a week. I will continue to ride her with supervision because the lesson was actually really fun and I learned a ton. Once I learn how to ride her reactivity, I think I can ride her alone again. But that might be months from now. And that’s ok. Some of you mentioned that you worried a horse like Macy would make me lose my confidence. And I think that’s an incredibly valid point. I think that if I continue to ride her the way I was, when I free rode, that could definitely happen. With showing off the table I have no goals I have to meet in order to feel prepared to run her at Training. I can just learn and enjoy. I also realize Macy isn’t my long term horse. But my long term horse is going to be a young, green, unbroke horse, so I better get used to a little crazy in my life.

So, this is plan #15 I believe, and I am excited to give it a go. Plus, I’m going up to see Junebug Tuesday so I have something to look forward to 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Our First Show Together

In the week leading up to the schooling show I was going to with Macy there was a big part of me that was nervous about how it was going to go. But there was also a smaller part of me that was like “eh, just stay on and try to have fun.” As the week wore on, I concentrated more on that smaller feeling until it basically took over my thoughts.

Our trip over was uneventful and Macy settled into her stall and was pretty well-behaved except when I was wrapping her for the night and she refused to stand still. There was a lot of cursing going on. Macy just isn’t the type of horse who is at all concerned about you and what you’re doing. If she wants to move she is going to move.

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Checking things out.

Dressage warm up was in a large grassy field which gave us plenty of space to stay away from other horses. She was mostly calm and relaxed and I felt like we would have a pretty good test. She stood still while we took video of Sarah’s ride and meandered over to the arena. I was like “Oh we’ve got this. This is the new Macy!”

We literally turned to enter the arena at A and Macy turned into a fire-breathing dragon. She cantered up centerline. She was so tense and was taking these teensy tiny trot steps as we approached our first 15 meter circle. I was completely caught off guard and was thinking “Wait, what is going on??” At about our first lengthen (we did the Training A test) I was like ” So THIS is what Sarah was talking about.”

I spent the rest of the test smiling and laughing while trying to get Macy to listen to me a little. Her head was above my shoulders during any transition and for the entire canter lengthen. Yeah, it was a shit show. But, whatever.

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I brought Stella and she and Smokey could have taught Macy a thing or two about relaxation

When I got over to Sarah she said “You stayed in the arena!” Which is what every instructor says when they have absolutely nothing else positive to say. We laughed about it and she gave me some advice and we have some things to work on (get her DEEP so she can’t pull that shit with her head!!) I feel like I got the true Macy dressage experience and I am going to be far better prepared for it next time.

My jump time was soon after dressage- I was doing 3′ since Macy hadn’t been jumping much. Warm up went ok… There was WAY more head tossing than there had been at home and I felt like Macy would suck back at the corner and then take off when we landed.

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But I wore my new lucky socks L gave me for secret Santa!! I love them!!

Luckily Sarah came over before I had to go over to the course and I asked her for pointers. Keep my elbows moving and have a plan for when I land. Don’t just do nothing. Great tips, and they helped. We had one final lovely jump before I headed over to the course.

So, no one I know actually watched my ride, but in my head, here’s how it went: Macy was ready to JUMP. She listened to my aids, I don’t remember a lot of head tossing, I let her go as fast as she wanted, I was uncomfortable with how fast we were going but didn’t feel unsafe, I dropped my hands a couple of times when we got in a little short to the jumps, but basically she was a rockstar and I had a lot of fun. A LOT of fun. I need to get more comfortable with her speed and power, but the nice thing about Macy is she knows her job and takes it seriously so I know she is going to take care of herself and since I’m on her back, will take care of me, too. Mare loves to jump. No jump faults but I forgot to wear my number so our time wasn’t recorded. I like to think we were in the ribbons 😉

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Some kind stranger snapped this photo of us!

So, it was fun. I had fun with Macy. We have a LOT to work on. Especially since Sarah and I agree that we can compete at a recognized show together. So, I got my entry in today, and hopefully we will be doing our first three day event together! This mare has already taught me so much, and I think that if I just keep an attitude that is laid back and eager to have fun, we should have a great season together.

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Keeping the Sanity

While I would love to give myself credit for how amazingly sane Macy has been acting lately, I don’t think that’s giving the full picture of what’s going on.

Sure, I think Macy tolerates me. Maybe even kinda likes me. She definitely likes that I let her get away with things Sarah NEVER let her get away with. And while I don’t always push her to her potential, or ask more and more of her, I do work her hard and expect her to work when I am on her back. Some days she is fine with that, most days in fact, but she does still let me know her opinions. But to be honest, her opinions have been far less dramatic recently, and today I rode her without draw reins. While I have ridden her without draw reins jumping, or hacking out, the thought of leaving them in the tack room for dressage seemed a bit risky.

But. She was perfect.

So, I’m going to give a shout out to some pharmaceuticals that I think are helping with her brain. And helping me enjoy this mare as much as I have.

Sarah has tried some calming supplements in the past. Nothing had really worked. In fact, the calming supplement from SmartPak “SmartCalm” made Macy even crazier. When she called SmartPak, they mentioned that yeah, that could happen in like 1% of horses. Oh Macy.

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Sarah telling Macy that if she doesn’t behave she’ll be getting draw reins again.

But something about having a baby and hormones changing seemed to make Macy more receptive to drugs.

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Macy on drugs that work

Sarah started her out on Regumate. It hadn’t worked in the past, but this time around it seemed to take the edge off. She was still a bit whackadoodle, but better. Because there was a positive difference, Sarah switched to the injectable regumate. There is some controversy over this drug, and how it affects horses, but so far Sarah is happy with it. And should it become banned from horses competing in recognized events we can deal with that.

Because what seems to have made the biggest difference is Quiessence.

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It’s like a miracle drug.

It has completely taken the edge off.

And while Macy will always be Macy, (today she wouldn’t let me groom her, so I had to let her gallop around for about 10 minutes) once she gets the ya yas out, she is ready to go to work. And doesn’t pull any of her crap. It’s not like being all wound up lasts for the entire lesson like it used to.

Um. Amazing wonder drug.

Now, we’re headed to a schooling show this weekend. And to be honest, I 100% expect Macy to be tense and slighty crazy. It’s who she is. But even if she is, the fact that I can enjoy her at home, safely, means the world to me.

So here’s to sanity for both of us, and enjoying the use of safe and legal pharmaceuticals!

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