First show of the season!

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I was finally able to make it out to my first show of the season with Bear at Morningside last Saturday.

It was quite windy, but he settled right in when we got to the show. The warmup on the polo field was pretty sucky so we had to warm up on the track and in the tiny little warm up ring, which always bothers me, but he seemed just fine with it.

The person ahead of us scratched, so we were able to warm up near our ring on good footing. The test itself was pretty good for the first time out. He was a bit spooky near the judge’s stand because there was a tarp flapping on the side of the hut. He took exception to that during his right lead canter circle at C, but the judge was quite kind and gave us a 25.3, with a 9 on our final centerline!

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I think the biggest thing to think of in the tests with him is to push him into the corners and really “show off” of those circles since it’s such a simple test. Our free walk and the transition to medium walk then trot needs some work and his final halt was square but not quite round and soft, so we’ll be working on those things before Loudoun. In watching myself, I’m still too active and trying to “push him along”. My heel was drawn up a bit and I was tipped forward in some photos, so I’ll be working on keeping a longer leg and a taller, more upright body position.

We went out on the hill after and had a short cross-country school. I’ll be taking him for a jump lesson tomorrow since my plans with Oh So have now changed.

I had a lovely jump school in the ring at Morningside on Sunday morning with Lisa and we went out on the hill to do a slow canter, Oh So’s first of the year. The footing wasn’t the best at some fences, so we literally jumped two jumps, the coffin and a small log into the water.

He had Monday off and was fooling around in the mud on Tuesday according to my mom. When I went to ride, he was most definitely off and I had the vet scheduled to come for chiropractic work, but we ended up doing a lameness exam instead. Sigh.

We isolated it to the left front and blocked it. He got better after we had blocked the lower fetlock/suspensory area and then ultrasounded. Thankfully there was nothing obvious on the ultrasound so we determined he probably tweaked his leg in the field. He’ll have a few days off and I’ll watch him go and decide what to do.

Unfortunately, I had planned on doing a combined test at Morningside this weekend, which will now not happen. I’m keeping my entry to Loudoun for now since we’re 10 days out and I’m hopeful, but really discouraged about the whole situation. I wish I had a real answer as to what it was, but now it’s a wait and see. Will I ever get to go to an event again?

He feels about as good as he’s ever been and his hind end feels really good too, so now I just cross my fingers and wait. And never speak out loud about any competition plans ever again.

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A Whirlwind of Travel

The Fork.

The Fork.

Things are finally quieting down now that I’ve finished up my travel for the time being. I went down to Southern Pines two weeks ago to cover the Carolina International with a co-worker and had a great time. It’s one of my favorite venues and I really wished I had my horses with me since the courses looked so tempting!

USEF Network live streamed the event, which was really cool and I was happy with my photos.

Carolina International

Carolina International

Two weeks later, I went down to The Fork to cover it and had perfect weather again. I’ve really lucked out this year!

Before I went down to The Fork, I had a few really good lessons with both boys. Oh So had a good jump lesson and we went out on the hills of a local cross-country course and we did three five minute trot sets. The hills were pretty steep, but he came back the next day on the flat feeling great. That was a real test for him after a long winter of not being able to ride outside the ring much and after his hip injury last fall, so I’m feeling confident heading into our first show.

That’s right, I said show! My entry is in for a CT at Morningside next weekend and Loudoun Hunt Horse Trials the week after at novice. Don’t tell him though! I’m super excited to get out, but first we have to do a couple of cross-country schoolings.

I also had a great flat lesson before I left. We were working on collecting his canter and Nicky suggested I come down to a 10 meter circle in counter canter and do a flying change the other direction. I was not expecting to try something like that, but the timing was right in the moment and he had a nice, clean change. I’ve never attempted a change that way and it definitely benefitted him since he tries to anticipate.

Oh So's getting bored of jumping novice height.

Oh So’s getting bored of jumping novice height.

Bear went to his first cross country schooling of the year at Morven Park’s schooling day before I left for The Fork and he was a star. It was super windy and the parking lot was full to the brim with people and horses, so a little overwhelming, but it was good to get him out in public again.

Bear enjoyed his cross-country schooling at Morven Park.

Bear enjoyed his cross-country schooling at Morven Park.

He neighed once or twice while tacking up, but he was very settled. Once we got on, there was a lot to look at with horses popping up over the hills and leaves swirling, but he jumped everything I asked very easily. He even went in the water on the first try and up and down the banks.

Now I feel confident taking him to do the beginner novice at Loudoun in a couple weeks. I think all the work we’ve done over the winter to teach him about lengthening and shortening and working on his form has paid off and I’m excited to test it out.

We’re doing a CT at Morningside on Saturday and will go for another school on their cross-country course after.

Here’s a short video of Oh So having a jump school at home.

And last but not least, I became an aunt right before I left for Carolina! Meet Ava Berreth! I finally got to hold her when I got back from The Fork and she came for an Easter visit.

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Plugging Away

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The snow finally melted, but not before it made my life a hassle when I tried to get down to Florida for the Red Hills Horse Trials.

After driving through the snow to the Richmond airport, my flight was promptly canceled and I made the decision to drive to the Charlotte airport since there were no flights out of any area airports the next day.

Five hours later, I got a hotel, slept and was on a plane the next day to Tallahassee and at the show by lunchtime. Whew!

It was a lovely event marred only by the sad death of Kyle Carter’s horse, Conahy’s Courage. I don’t have anything else to add to the conversation that’s been swirling since it happened, except that it happened at a pretty simple fence and just seemed like a freak accident, not anything involving course design, speed or experience.

Here’s a link to my coverage.

Once I got back, it was full steam ahead with both boys. Oh So has been feeling really good from behind–back to his normal self since before his hip injury, so now I feel like we can press on and finally get to an event!

The footing is drying out so I’m planning on getting him out on some hills to really strengthen his hind end before we do anything. I’m looking at a combined test in April to get going and then maybe his first event late April or in May.

On the flat, he’s been getting more consistent about his work, meaning he doesn’t always get tense, which has sort of always been him. I’ve found I can ask for a lateral movement or a change in gait or pace and he’s tolerating it and I’m not “losing him” and spending the rest of the ride getting him quiet again.

For awhile, I thought he might never be the same after having so much time off, but he’s coming around. He is getting a bit strong in my hand as the ride goes on though, so I’m trying to make sure he listens to my half halts and that I don’t get tense in my arms trying to hold him. I think that’s the last piece that needs to be polished after his time off, so to speak.

Bear has been going well but I’ve had to modify our plans since we haven’t been able to school cross-country because of the weather. I’m hoping to take him to an unrecognized event in April if we can get a couple of schools in.

I had a conversation with Lisa last week about starting to treat him like an adult and not so much a baby anymore, which means he must move off my leg when I ask, he needs to start moving away from the jumps quicker and he needs to start learning to shorten and lengthen his canter stride. We worked on that in our lesson last week by asking him to shorten his stride across the short side of the indoor ring to a vertical with ground rails on either side, similar to what we did a few weeks ago.

I played around with it in my flat lesson the other day too, but he misinterpreted my aid to mean trot instead of shorten, so that’s something I’ll be working on in the next few weeks.

Here’s a video of both boys this last week. In the flat session with Bear, Nicky and I worked on leg yielding on a straight line in canter to get him to sit a bit from behind and not canter wide behind. He seemed to get it and now we’ll start working more on some counter canter loops.

Oh So’s lesson shows his warmup, which was nice and quiet. We worked on leg yielding to warm him up and keeping a little more inside flexion in trot and canter and the leg yields to make sure he stayed soft.

Product Review: No Slip Pads Put To The Test

Here’s a short feature I did for The Chronicle’s Untacked magazine on no-slip pads. I wrote about the Ogilvy, Success and Nunn Finer pads. I own an Ecogold pad as well and love it, but I think my new favorite is the Success pad.

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Doing A Whole Lotta Nothing

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As the title implies, the last week has been a total waste when it comes to riding. It started a week ago Sunday when we had an absolutely bitter day, with temperatures in the teens and wind chills below zero at night. I can’t remember the last time we had 60 mph wind gusts, and we had to barricade the barn doors because of how strong they were.

I actually had a very good lesson with Bear the day before where we worked on shortening his stride. I guess I’ve always thought that the concept of shortening the stride was a little too advanced for Baby Bear, but Lisa said it was time.

We’re not exactly working on it yet in canter on the flat (mostly just working on proper bend on the circle both directions, some short bursts of counter canter and some lengthening down the longside to get him moving forward), but when we set up a simple vertical on the short side of an indoor ring with a placing pole on both sides set a little short, as long as I kept my leg on around the turn and sat up a bit, he grasped the concept easily.

Oh So actually got a bath before the big snow storm!

Oh So actually got a bath before the big snow storm!

I was excited and inspired to continue with some homework later in the week, but that never happened because of the Polar Vortex 2015 edition!

The ring was quite dry and unfrozen last Sunday despite the temperature being in the low 20s and I could have ridden if I wanted to deal with the horrible wind. On Monday late afternoon, we got our first serious winter snow storm–about 5 inches that fell over night, luckily.

And ever since, it’s remained below freezing, save for this Sunday, so no riding! I’m bummed that we had to get pretty much all of our winter weather within the span of a week. We got another 3 or 4 inches of snow on Saturday, canceling any plans I may have had to trailer out to an indoor to see Lisa.

I walked Oh So up and down the driveway one day and actually took him to an indoor about 5 minutes away on Sunday, but the footing was not good, so I decided not to take Bear and ended up walking him around the outside of the ring where my dad had plowed and it had melted because it was 50 degrees (!!!). We went up and down the driveway a few times and that was that, unfortunately.

It’s not looking like we’ll get much melting until later in the week and I scratched the dressage show Bear was going to do last weekend and the derby cross for Oh So this weekend.

Will it ever end? :(

I’m more concerned about Oh So losing fitness since he’s ring fit, but is lacking with hill fitness. Bear will be the same when I get back on him as he was the last time I rode, which is a strange feeling for me!

My tentative plan, depending on how much we can get out to school cross-country, is to enter Bear in a combined test at Morningside in March and then Morven Park beginner novice, but only if he feels very confident and I don’t feel too rusty! We can always make it a CT if the footing is bad or we’re not totally ready. If he’s not sold by then, he could do CDCTA or a starter trial at Loch Moy in April.

Oh So is going to need to regain his fitness on the hills since he wasn’t quite there last year after he did something to his hip. We’re going to be very careful about when we start competing and probably won’t do a full event until late April, maybe Loudoun Hunt HT.

I’m a planner by nature, so it’s really hard for me to not have a schedule for Oh So, but roughly, we’ll do a couple of novices, mostly to get me back into jumping the bigger fences, and do training for most of the year and see how he goes. The vet was pretty confident about the strength of his tendon last year and as long as we’re careful about what kind of footing he goes on, I don’t see why he couldn’t do prelim again. I’m actually more concerned about his hind end now that he’s older and had that injury to his hip. I hope that was a one time thing, but I’m guessing he has some arthritic changes in his hocks too, so we’ll be continuing with hock injections once a year like we’ve been doing for a few years.

But this all hinges on the snow melting and actually getting out to school cross-country and see how he feels.

A circus world at WEF.

A circus world at WEF.

As for my trip to Florida a couple of weeks ago, I had a really awesome time, save for it being quite chilly, but I guess it doesn’t even compare to the -1 we had last week at night!

I covered the Adequan Global Dressage Festival CDI 3* and 5* and unfortunately the winners were the usual suspects and a bit boring to interview, but how can you complain about watching some of the best horses and riders in the world?

I went over to the WEF showgrounds on Saturday night and watched the Great Charity Challenge, a fun costume class run like a relay against the clock. I hadn’t been to WEF since 2004 when I won an award from the American Hanoverian Society, and it’s changed so much. It’s pretty much a circus world, like, literally there were fire throwers and circus food!

I had to miss a big jumper class the next day because of my flight, but it was fun to get a little glimpse into a world that I will probably never be able to participate in.

It was a wet weekend in Florida.

It was a wet weekend in Florida.

Connecting You Head To Your Body

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I took a big step this past weekend and decided to take Bear and Oh So for their lessons together since I’ll be traveling this coming weekend. Bear has been in the trailer with my mom’s horse a couple of times, but he was quite “friend sour” when I tried to take him away from his buddy once we got where we were going.

Baby stuff I know, but it’s hard since we have such a small group of horses at home–they’re all sort of attached.

They both traveled well and Oh So probably thought I was crazy to put him on the other side of the trailer, but I wanted to make sure Bear was in his usual place since he’s less experienced with trailering (by about 10 years!).

I convinced my dad to come up and help babysit/video, so off we went to an indoor in Middleburg on a frigid, sleeting afternoon.

I decided to do Bear first since Oh So stands on the trailer well. And…that idea went out the window when Oh So neighed once and Bear got uptight about it. Since the trailer was right next to the entrance of the indoor, my dad tied Oh So up with a haynet and he was perfectly content.

Bear settled down once he could see his buddy, but subconsciously, I was already undone a bit. Mostly it was because they both had to have two days off while I was away and I usually like to have a flat day before jumping, for me and for them to get back in the swing of things.

We started off OK by cantering over two verticals on a half circle. At that point, he was settled into his job and not worrying about Oh So, but I was worried about having “lost my feel” for a distance a bit.

I just got wrapped up in my own head a little. I wasn’t picking to a spot, which I can do with Oh So when I get nervous, but I was more taking long spots or just not seeing anything at all and doing nothing. Thankfully, Bear is such a good baby that he kept jumping from any spot, whether I took my leg off (which I also do when I feel like I’m going to get it wrong) or not.

As a result, he was jumping a little low in front and landing in a heap over a few fences, so I had to make sure I sat up even more on landing.

It’s frustrating when you can’t connect what’s going on in your head with your limbs! I know how to jump Bear over beginner novice jumps in an indoor ring, but for some reason, my subconscious worry about not having ridden for two days, added to the fact that we only had two hours to use the ring and that I was nervous about bringing two horses and how they would react, made me lose that connection and ride badly.

After watching my video, it actually didn’t look as bad as it felt, and we ended on a good note. As my trainer Lisa said, I should be happy we were out, not stuck at home because of a snowstorm, and he was going great considering the new stress we put on him by adding a travel companion.

I knew I didn’t want to carry that bad energy over to Oh So, and once I got on, I felt immediately at home since I know him so well.

My dad and Lisa took turns holding Bear in the ring because it had started sleeting outside and I knew he wouldn’t stand tied to the trailer with his buddy out of sight. He seemed perfectly happy to watch and learn though!

I started off on a good forward note with Oh So over a similar exercise on a bending line and he was actually relatively compliant for him. There’s a short clip of him at the end since we didn’t do too much. He does fuss a bit in between the jumps, but he wasn’t actually running off with me like he can when he gets really into it.

He felt really good over the jumps and was jumping in a nice shape. Once we can get out in a bigger ring, we’ll start bumping the fences up again, but right now, it’s more important that we work on strengthening his hind end, which is proving hard with the crappy weather and footing. So lots and lots of gymnastics!

I ended the lesson by walking him up and down the cross-country hill for about 15 minutes while Lisa led Bear by hand and let him handgraze.

I’m hoping to get in a couple more rides before I leave on Wednesday for Florida. I’ll be covering the CDI***** for COTH until Saturday. I’m excited to get a break from this cold weather. I was gritting my teeth last night as I rode Oh So for about 20 minutes in the dark with the wind howling and the ring freezing beneath our feet. I’m ready for spring!

Book Review: 200+ School Exercises With Poles

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Who knew there were so many ways to trot around poles?

Claire Lilley’s book, 200+ School Exercises With Poles (JA Allen, 2012) ensures you’ll never be bored again in the ring, whether you jump or just do dressage.

While it’s a bit of a dry read from cover to cover, I found it easy to flip through and pick out a few exercises to try, all of which require four poles or less, making them easy for nearly anyone to try.

Poles can be used for everything from teaching a young horse to be straight on the centerline to giving the rider a visual “longside” on the diagonal when learning half pass. You don’t have to actually trot over them to benefit.

There are 30 pole layouts in the book using between one and four poles, and each layout has about five exercises each.

Each exercise gets its’ own page and Lilley explains how to lay the poles out by distance (which is in meters, unfortunately for us U.S. readers) in a standard sized dressage ring. There are illustrations using different colored lines with arrows to follow for particular movements or gaits and Lilley describes each exercise in detail with bullet points for more ways to ride each one.

She also includes bullet points on common rider faults to watch out for during the exercise and “Teacher’s Tips” that focus on the finer points of rider position and can be useful in any situation, not just for the particular exercise they’re included with.

On alternating pages, there are some cute inspirational quotes like, “The horse must respond to and respect the rider” and “You’re sitting on the greatest teacher in the world: learn from your horse”.

I think the biggest thing missing from the book are more exercises actually trotting or cantering over consecutive poles. There are a few that include four trot poles at about 4 1/2′ apart to go over, but for the most part, the exercises require you to trot around or between poles, focusing on your flatwork.

I think this book would most benefit dressage riders who might want to spice up their routine, but I think it can definitely benefit eventers too, especially those of us stuck in the indoor all winter!

The book is available and Horseandriderbooks.com for $45.00, but it can be found for cheaper on Amazon.