Tag Archives: horseback riding

A Christmas Surprise

Happy Holidays everyone! I hope you had a great holiday season and were able to spend time with those you love (2 or 4 legged!)

I spent the 24th with family, which is our tradition, which meant the 25th was a day for me to do what I pleased. And while I had plans to spend part of the day with friends, and part of the day walking Shelter dogs, I had the morning to myself.

Which meant, after a nice run, I could ride both of my favorite grey mares!

I hadn’t ridden Georgie in a few weeks, but Sarah asked me to hop on her and tune her up for an older gentleman who takes dressage lessons on her. I was happy to have the chance to hop on her!

I started with June and she was full of it. Not in a bad way, just in a baby horse way. She wanted to root and run through my hand. She wanted to act spooky at one end of the arena. She wanted to skip trotting and get to cantering.

We worked through all of it and it was actually really fun. We’d get a lovely rhythmic trot and she’d start rooting. We’d work on that and she would get spooky. Oh baby horse, so many tricks to get out of work! In the end we had some lovely moments. I love how forward she is, and honestly, love how easy the work is for her. She’s still a baby and so so green, but she clearly has so much talent and if I can harness that, I really think we can have years of fun ahead of us. By the end of the ride we were both sweating, but had accomplished a lot, and I called it a day.

Cute barn cat Willie dressed up in a red bow

While June cooled off, I hopped on Georgie. Georgie will always be my heart horse. Let me start by saying that. She is safe and uncomplicated and she and I have had so much fun together. I have so much love for her and am so lucky she is a part of my life.

Always makes me smile

But, oh my God, riding her and “tuning her up” was more of a workout than I expected. She’s gotten heavy and hard in the mouth. She’s been allowed to go around on her forehand for so long now, that asking her to go in an uphill frame with impulsion was a true test of my fitness (and hers). I spent the entire ride just getting her to come up off of her forehand. We worked on keeping her uphill through corners while not losing impulsion. I worked my butt off to get her to canter over two ground poles, two strides apart, and not letting her fall on her forehand on the backside. She seems to have lost the concept of bend, so we had a conversation about it.

By the end of the ride she was forward, bending, and somewhat uphill. I was dripping in sweat.

As we both cooled off, I thought to myself “Well, if I’m being honest, I enjoyed riding June more than Georgie.”

And if that’s not a Christmas surprise, I don’t know what is. I’m sure the next time June throws me into next week I’ll be singing a different tune, but for now, I’m really appreciating all that is baby June.

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Constructing a Plan

In one week, June will be back home. I’m feeling so much better, and while not 100% better, I feel ready for baby horse again.

I’ve been trying to figure out my plan for her once she returns. My guess is she will have enjoyed her break, but be ready to get back into work.

Please be ready for this June

But before we get back to where we left off, I want to make sure she is fit enough for it. Ideally, lots of long walks in the hills to build up fitness. But taking June on trail rides isn’t that easy.

But yesterday gave me what I hope is a brilliant idea. See, I spent yesterday on a trail ride.

I got to ride the adorable Smokey, and there were about 12 horses on this trail ride. I was thankful to have such a solid trail horse.

But, my great idea came to me before the trail ride even started.

I trailered Smokey and Eleanor, my friend Meg’s adorable draft cross, to meet the group. They were both perfect angels in my trailer and it was so fun to be able to trailer horses again!

I had to pony Eleanor up to the group so Sarah could ride her and Smokey was an absolute rock star letting me pony Smokey off of her.

Hmm. My wheels started turning… Maybe Smokey wouldn’t mind if I ponied a certain grey pony off of her.

So, I ran the idea by Meg and she had a better idea. What if we bring both Smokey and Eleanor and see if either would let June be ponied? And then I thought of another great idea. What if we bring Georgie and Eleanor and see if either of THEM would allow June to be ponied off of them? Or, the first time try Smokey and Eleanor and next time Georgie and whomever?

I mean, my point is… I have options! And I get to go on trail rides with a friend and great horses. So, win/win/win, right?

Anyhow, now I am even MORE excited for June to come home!

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Not So Boring Basics

I’m loving everything baby horse right now. Honestly. Other than not having a horse to gallop around xc with, this journey, so far, has completely exceeded my expectations.

So, obviously, with a baby horse, you start from the beginning. But, I’m finding that this is the perfect time for me to start from the beginning as well. Long story short, I’m hoping I can refine my riding a bit so that I bring June up properly and as beneficially as possible.

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I have some amazing media for this post so GET READY

I have the opportunity to ride a great little Appendix QH named Flint while his junior rider is on vacation. Flint is a GREAT teacher. My first lesson on him consisted of me really struggling to get him going the way Sarah wanted me to. So, I asked if we could stop the lesson and if we could just work on me? Forget about Flint for a minute and get me to stop riding backwards?

And so we did.

And for every ride since all I work on when I ride Flint (and one of the things I work on with June) is to make sure I am not riding backwards.

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The four legged family

Now, I’m sure many of you know what this term means, but if you don’t, here is my interpretation. Riding backwards is essentially not allowing the horse’s energy to flow freely forward.Restricting the motion instead of giving with it.

How do you know if you’re riding backwards? Well, in my experience, if you’re riding backwards, you don’t have an independent seat. When you aren’t balancing with your hands, you can feel it in your abs. A visual that helped me is when Sarah had me think about there being a block in front of the saddle. My hands could not come behind the block, so they keep pushing forward towards the horse’s mouth.

Some people do this naturally. Others, myself included, when we get nervous, or stop thinking about it, start restricting the motion. It is really counterproductive to everything you want the horse to do. They can’t come up over their back, they’ll shorten, and well, it’s just not good.

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Mouth full of hay, of course

So, Flint and I, good boy that he is, just walk, trot and canter, and all I do is think about my connection. His head can be anywhere, he can be unbalanced, and he can careen all he wants. I just keep thinking of bringing my hands forward.

And wouldn’t you know it? After a few minutes of me doing this consistently, Flint accepts the contact and stretches into it. He’s a sensitive boy and the perfect teacher. If I stiffen, or stop the forward motion, he immediately inverts and brings his head into the air.

I’ve ridden him 3 times now and today worked at the canter for the first time. It was so fun! When I ride correctly, and problem solve as to why he’s unhappy, I end up working through it and have a horse who slows down, accepts the contact and actually goes around quite nicely. My hope is, in the 3 weeks I have to ride him, I can keep these moments for longer and longer on him.

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Always making me smile

And, obviously, my ultimate hope is that this way of riding becomes a habit for me. Anything I can do to make it better for June, I’m totally up for. I had no idea how fun the basics of riding are!

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Actual Pics of Me on June

So, I realize I was all “I’m not going to ride June until she’s 4” and that is still 2 months away. But baby horse has progressed so far and well with her ground work, I was kinda like “Well, its time to hop on her.”

So one day I did just that. Sarah saw me walking her out to the round pen with my helmet in my hand and just said “Let me know when you’ve safely dismounted.” I figured the less of a deal I made about it, the less of a deal it would be.

So, I worked her in the round pen and she was her fantastic self.

I sided her up to the rail, and played around with throwing a leg over her, and putting some weight on her back. Then I removed her rope halter, put my other halter with reins attached to it  on her, and brought her back over to the rail.(I don’t have a side pull and #stellasurgery prevents me from buying ANYTHING not absolutely necessary).

I sided her up, and slid on. We stood there for a moment or two. Then we walked around the round pen a few circles, worked on turning, and called it a day.

It was the least dramatic and most exciting thing ever.

A few days later I decided to try again. This time I worked on shifting my weight a bit when we were walking and asking her to woah. She got that figured out quickly, so we did some more walking around and turning. With lots of just looking around and hanging out.

And on Kentucky 3 Day cross-country day, I decided to take a risk myself, and have her walk around the property with two other horses.

She was great! At one point, we were leading, and I asked the other two riders if they wouldn’t mind taking the lead since we don’t really know what we’re doing and they were like “But you have the best behaved horse!”

Apparently I picked the wrong two horses to go hack with.

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They were fun to ride with and DID end up taking the lead…

June got a little tight in her back on the way home, and I could tell she was feeling a bit frisky as we made the last turn to home. So, instead of making a big issue of it, I hopped off, turned her away from home and had her walk over some ground poles and a log that were set up in the jump field. The other two horses left and she was fine with it. I then hand walked her back to the barn with no issue.

I should note that I was riding bareback in running leggings and sneakers. If things had gone sideways I would have fallen off easily. But June hasn’t been ridden in a saddle since she’s been back, and I didn’t want to introduce that the day we went out of the round pen. I have my first lesson with her Thursday so I’ll be putting a saddle on her once or twice before that lesson (I have been doing this all along) so that when I get on her for that lesson she is at least comfortable with the saddle and remembers it’s no big deal.

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So many pics of her trotting…I know

The groundwork I’ve done with her has done exactly what I wanted. I’m so confident around her on the ground and feel like I know her so well, despite only having had her in my care for 5 months. I’ve learned so much about her and am really loving the horse I have. If she understands the question, she tries her hardest. It’s when she doesn’t understand that she “acts out.” And even her acting out is short lived and quite minimal. When she acts out, my first question is always “what doesn’t she understand?” And I LOVE trying to figure it out with her. She’s been forgiving of my training flaws and seems eager to see me when I come to her paddock.

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First IG pic of me on her back

That said, she’s got a strong personality and opinions. I need to work on things like her getting in my space and being a bit more responsive, but she’s still young and I think those things will refine themselves with work and time. I’m excited to start working with her and Sarah so I can have homework and continue in the right direction.

The other day Sarah said to me “Remember, she’s only in kindergarten,” and that really struck a chord. Kindergartener’s have a short attention span, they have temper tantrums, and they can be easily scared by harsh teaching. On the other hand, they’re curious, eager and very forgiving of what life throws at them. For June, I think exposing her to new things continues to be of the utmost importance as well as “having conversations” about what is expected of her. I’m looking forward to going slow with her, letting her tell me when she is ready for the next challenge. I think this mare has lots of potential and I can’t tell you how excited I am about the partnership progressing and for her to show me what she is capable of!

 

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The Tattletale

I’ll be honest. I’m feeling close to zero motivation to ride Macy these days. Maybe it’s the fact that I am riding Georgie again and she is SO easy. Or maybe it’s the fact that despite the easy winter that we are having, we’re still confined to the indoor because it’s Idaho and it’s cold. Or maybe, it’s the fact that Macy is just being a bit more ornery than she has been in the last few months.

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What easy looks like

It’s also tough for me to stay motivated to keep riding and keep working when I know I don’t have a competitive future with this horse. I’m competition focused and motivated. Riding Macy sometimes feels like a lot of work for no payoff. (Because for me the payoff will always be galloping around cross-country). I know this is incredibly narrow-minded and selfish to say (I have a horse to ride, I should be so incredibly thankful for that), but it’s how I feel and I can’t help it.

Whatever it is, I am finding it difficult to muster the motivation to get out there and ride her. We still have our weekly lessons, and for this I am grateful. With Sarah’s guidance I stay focused and we’ve had some fun jump and dressage lessons.

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wheeee

But it’s almost like Macy and Sarah have this secret communication going. Years of friendship where they can talk to each other without speaking. And Macy has decided that she’ll tolerate me riding her. But she is going to be a tattletale whenever I do anything wrong.

If I stiffen or drop my hand, Macy lets Sarah know. Not enough inside leg to outside rein. Oh, she’ll happily let Sarah know. Should I get distracted and not keep her haunches from drifting in, oh, she’ll happily toss her head, go around crooked and let Sarah see all of it. See, she tattles by showing her displeasure with my riding. She tosses her head, bolts, or gets tense. When I ride well, correctly, she is smooth sailing.

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I’m happy and she’s happy

So, I work my ass off to keep Macy from tattling on me. I work my ass off to make the ride easier on myself. Getting her straight to a fence without a lot of head tossing, is a lot easier than trying to do so when her head is straight in the air.

So, Macy continues to make me a better rider. Even if some days I would rather just take the easy way out. And in the end, I’m definitely thankful for it.

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And… We’re Done

While the title reflects my current mood, it may not accurately describe the future. Maybe. Hopefully.

In the beginning of this month I was raving about how much I was enjoying Macy and how amazing our jumper show and xc schooling went.

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This. This was so much fun

But if you have a horse you know that for every high there is a low.

When we got back from the show, Macy seemed off. She wasn’t eating or drinking well, and when the veterinarian was called to check her out, she confirmed that Macy had an impaction colic.

So many reasons why this could have happened, but what was most concerning was that this was Macy’s 2nd colic in 6 weeks. And this mare, who is 17, had only colicked once before in her entire life.

The thought was the colic was spurred on by her ulcers, which used to rear their ugly head quite often. Macy is on an NSAID which could have been inflaming her ulcers and causing her to colic. To add to it, I was an idiot and forgot to bring her ulcerguard when we traveled. So, when she was flemming and not eating well at the show, I passed it off as her being in heat and being too concerned about where Max was and not to her  feeling off. That still could have been the case, but considering she felt like crap when we got home, I think she was already beginning to colic.

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How do you know you’re in Idaho? There is an enormous Mormon temple behind you while xc schooling

So, we take her off the NSAIDS and give her some rest. She starts to feel great after about 3-4 days (we also took her off her grain and Quiessence, which I only knew had happened when I got on her and she was her old flightly self. She went right back on the Quiessence…)

And, as expected, she felt a bit uneven and unsound. Old mare needs her drugs to feel 100%. So we started her back on them and she started to feel looser and more even. And then, the following day, I took her for a walk down the driveway and she felt completely off on her front left. At the walk. When we went back into the barn and I began to untack her she was resistant to put weight on it. I checked the foot and everything looked ok. I asked Sarah to check her out the next day.

When Sarah went to go check her, leg was swollen and hot.

Now, Macy is old and a bit of a delicate TB flower. But she had just gotten a week off for a colic/ulcer issue, and now she was lame on a front leg- usually the stifle is what is the issue. And while I wanted to be like “give her a week off and we’ll see how she is” I have a recognized event in about 2 weeks. And closing day was the following day.

liz leon

I don’t think a good horsewoman would look at this horse, who is basically breaking down around us and say “eh, she’ll be fine to run her first Training event in 3 years.” I don’t think a good horsewoman would think “I REALLY want to go to this event so how can we patch her together to make it happen??”

And while I like to think I am a good horsewoman, I thought all of the above thoughts. And others. But then realized I am NOT a good horsewoman and I emailed the show secretary and scratched our entry.

I’m not sure Macy can withstand the level of work I am asking of her. I think she would happily jump anything I point her at, that’s the kind of horse she is, but it’s tough on her body and she’s starting to show her age, as well as why she was initially retired.

The biggest bummer for me, selfishly, is that I felt like I finally got her. I felt like she had made me such a better rider and we were now a team. I really liked Macy, if not loved her. I haven’t met a horse with such an amazing work ethic before.

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Now, we’re not sure what’s wrong with her front leg, but hopefully the vet will tell us that she still has some riding left in her. Sarah and I have both prematurely come to the conclusion that we need to take it a bit easier on her. If she hasn’t blown a suspensory (always imagine the worst, right?) we’ve discussed doing some dressage work on her for the future. Maybe no more jumping.

Since I scratched the event and was feeling down in the dumps, Sarah offered to give me a June lesson, maybe I could back her. I pulled June out, threw her in the round pen and went through our routine. Brought her into the indoor and began to brush her. That’s when I noticed a cut on her left front. Plus lots of swelling and heat. So…. I went and cold hosed her, gave her bute and wrapped her. So much for my consolation lesson.

Horses. It’s never a dull moment is it?

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Learning to Chill

In my last lesson with Trainer Dana and June, I proudly showed off all we had been working on. I mean, June is basically a genius. I explained that I was having some trouble with June trotting and cantering when I didn’t want her to.

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She’s always ready for the lesson to be over

Well, it didn’t take Dana long to see that I was basically amping things up when I didn’t need to. So, here was my learning moment. When Dana told me June should move when I ask her to move, I took that as “she must move fast and in order to be responsive she must be moving quickly and be slightly frantic.”

This is not true. June can be responsive at the walk. The halt even. So, we basically worked on slowing both our brains down.

My genius baby totally figured it all out and we had a very successful lesson.

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This is her figuring it out

I’m excited for her to go to Dana’s place for a month but also sad because I’ll miss seeing her everyday. I know she will learn so much and be such an amazing horse when I get her back.

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She learned about bits this week and blow dryers. Neither were of any interest to her

She continues to be adorable and make me happy every day. Every day that she doesn’t jump through a trailer….

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The cutest

 

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So.Much.Progress.

In working with June almost every day, I’m seeing tons of progress.

I think I’ll just photo spam in order to get you up to speed….

Our lessons get better and better. And while she may have had a bit of a meltdown in my trailer where she cut up her face and leg pretty badly, the next time she traveled in my trailer she was a perfect angel. Oh, and I can send her into my trailer without issue. No more trailer loading issues. It’s amazing.

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Me goes in trailer now. And behaves

She has learned to side up to the fence. This was a super exciting part of our lesson where June got used to literally a monkey (me) up around her back. She is totally fine with it.

And while my weight was mostly on the fence, and not on her, it’s a great step before we actually put me on her back.

And speaking of things on her back… she now happily wears a saddle WITH a girth 🙂

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Picture taken prior to girth being put on

She is amazing at posing with friends, too…

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And, trot poles are no big deal. I can send her right over them.

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Every time I see her I get excited about how uphill she is built

She makes me so happy. Even when she is sassy. I love the sass. The other day when I sent her around the round pen she pinned her ears and tossed her head at me. Bring it baby, bring it.

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Ground work has been so fun and so meaningful. She is teaching me so much and our bond grows stronger and stronger each day.

She is smart and sensible; brush boots, fly masks, scissors near her face as I tame her mane, no big deal.

A barrel falling right in front of her. Whatever.

LOVE.

Another lesson this coming Monday at a new location. We’ll see what fun things Dana has in store for us!

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History

There has been much talk of history in the news lately. And while this is in no way a political blog, it’s tough for me to turn a blind eye to the atrocious acts that have been occurring in our country of late. I am embarrassed by our country’s leader and horrified that hate groups feel emboldened to come out of hiding. Our country has parts of its history that we shouldn’t be proud of, but instead of moving forward, we’re bringing the past into the present.

History is a tricky thing. You can’t erase it. But by living the present in the way you want the future to be, you can change the course of the past.  That made sense on my morning run, I hope it still does now, as well.

Macy has a storied past. You really can’t say her name around someone who knows her without getting some sort of story about her past. And while her event record on paper is quite flawless and speaks to the athlete she is, the entire picture of this horse is more than what you see by looking up her record on useventing.com

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Macy has a history of being a difficult horse. She’s quirky. She’s a pro ride. She doesn’t make it easy.  She’d spook and bolt and bite and kick and really wasn’t very pleasant to be around.

I got to hear all about this when I decided to start riding her this spring. And, as you can imagine, hearing the history of this horse made me feel a bit less than confident around her. And, as you can imagine, Macy took full advantage of this.

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Even Sarah couldn’t get Macy to listen to her

And we had our mishaps and frustrations and my confidence plummeted. To where I dreaded riding her. And dreaded having a lesson where Sarah would yell at me because I over reacted when Macy over reacted and the entire thing was a disaster.

So, I stepped back and essentially started over. I stopped riding Macy as if she were my next event horse. I had lessons that were completely at the walk. My attitude about riding her began to change. I slowly started to trust her more and more. I could sense when she was going to spook, or toss her head, and reacted appropriately and with minimal fuss. We moved on, instead of letting it overtake the lesson. I rolled my eyes when she wanted to bolt and made her get right back to work. I was over the behavior. But more in a motherly way than that of a scared child.

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And since then, Macy has begun to change the path of her history. She’s become a rideable, calm, enjoyable, dare I say it, fun, horse to be around. We have been having a fantastic time together. We went and schooled cross country and Sarah was essentially silent the entire time I was riding. She had a few pointers for me, and there were some laughable moments, but all in all, it was a great outing. Macy was calm and relaxed and so was I.  We haven’t had a bad ride in over a month, maybe two.

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I have my theories about why Macy is a changed mare, but they are theories. Sarah thinks it’s because I am riding her better, and am more confident, and that may be a (large) part of it. I think the other part is that a) it’s bloody hot and who wants to put in the effort to be bad? and more likely, b) Macy realizes she isn’t a 2* mare anymore and is ok with just plodding along. I honestly believe that so much of her past behavior came from a place of “I MUST BE AMPED UP WE ARE JUMPING BIG JUMPS AND GALLOPING FAST.” We haven’t done any of that together and I think she’s realized it’s a thing of the past. Her future is going to be all about galloping at a moderate pace over pretty insignificant jumps. And I think she’s ok with it. More than ok with it.

So, here’s to not letting history dictate our future. Enjoying the present and letting it be the guide of what our future holds.

 

 

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My Current Favorite Picture

Sure. It should be of June. Since she's my future.

And I do love this pic of her on a bridge casually relaxing.

But my new favorite picture is of Macy. You know, the mare I have been struggling to ride. The mare who can kill my confidence in the blink of an eye, (or bolt across the arena). I haven't hidden the fact that I'm not sure I'm the rider for her.
And I'm still not positive I am. But man she's been great lately.
And I've actually been having fun.
And letting go of the reins

And while she isn't impressed with any of it, I really am. Because it shows progress. And happiness. And those are both reasons why I spend all my money on this crazy passion.
So here's to more fun with this mare more learning and perhaps more surprisingly good rides on her.

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