Praise be Emily, for some blog content! This was a fun one, as 2010 was the year I got my very first horse, and rode for the first time since I was a teenager.
I bought Jester as a pretty much unbroke 9 year old for $700 with delivery included, and the day he arrived was one of my favorites EVER.
We spent awhile getting to know each other, then headed to our first show, where we dominated the Adult W/T class. Hey, that was what local J-ville shows had to offer.
And when I finally became mobile with my own truck and trailer, headed out on our own to do real shows. He was a hunter extraordinaire.
Then I sent him off for training with an eventer while we waited for the T.D. to arrive in the world, and Jester had a pasture accident that he wouldn’t have recovered from. So he gave me my best day and my worst day.
2014 saw a new adventure…
And in 2015 we headed off to attempt eventing.
2016 brought a LOT of challenges, and was probably the roughest horse-y year for me yet. Trainer issues, barn issues, I wasn’t having fun anymore.
In 2017, after a failed attempt at selling P, we met Trainer B and things just turned around. We were pushed to new heights (literally), but I was having fun again, for a change.
And we had a major break through in 2018, where we finally, FINALLY competed Novice.
Then, naturally, P injured himself- repeatedly (tendon, Foot Hole, eye), and I rode other horses until I finally decided that jumping P was not what I wanted to do anymore, and brought home a new family member. And 5 months after coming off the track, had the absolute most fun on XC that I’ve ever had before.
What an amazing (and expensive) decade it’s been since having horses back in my life. Here’s to 70 more just like it!
With surgery scheduled for exactly a week from now (unless another spider decides to bite me), I’ve been riding as much as I can. I’ve even been taking some actual dressage LESSONS with an honest-to-God dressage TRAINER in a real-life dressage SADDLE.
But it’s been really good for me. I’ve always gotten by in dressage, but I’ve never been what I consider to be a really good dressage rider. I’m way too busy with my aids, I have hunchy shoulders, turned out toes, straight arms, and am forever fighting the fetal position instinct.
But my BO has decided she’s all in on the USDF stuff and has been working with a local dressage trainer who, bless, COMES TO THE FARM. As much as I love working with Trainer B, it’s an hour trailer ride one way, and while totes worth it, being able to arrive 1/2 hr before a lesson and walk 2 minutes to the arena? IN LOVE. P’s less enthused that Home Base has been infiltrated and eyes the arena suspiciously every time we walk down there.
But it’s working and P is more forward than before, starting to carry himself in small bursts, and even the canter is coming along. And as for me, I’m getting more comfortable being in the correct position. I tend to have fairly straight arms, especially in transitions, thinking I’m “giving,” when really, I’m throwing contact away and then yanking it back. And keeping my toes turned in and my ankles out is keeping my leg more correct.
All good stuff. We have another lesson this afternoon, which, depending on her schedule, might be my last for awhile since my surgery is next Friday.
In Leo news, he arrived in Florida safe and sound, but had some trouble settling in at first. I know horses aren’t like people, but I DO feel a bit guilty. He’d only been with me for 6 months and every time we went to Trainer B’s, he, ya know, came home with me. Until the time he didn’t and instead got on a much different trailer and drove 8 hours to a new farm with strangers (minus Trainer B). But he’s been settling down and both working students have even gotten on him to hack him (at the walk only). He’s tentatively going to be hitting a show in February, and I’m so hoping to be able to make the trip down to see him at least once.
I did ask Trainer B to try to ride him like crap at least once a week so he’s not too shell shocked when he comes home and I climb back aboard. We’ll see if he complies with my request.
And speaking of being a total ammy, the other night I rode P and he was sooooo good, that when it hit 20 minutes, I felt like it was enough and hopped off. Went to loosen the girth and…
P & his buddy S got the farrier a thoughtful mug for Christmas (least he could do after stomping him in his quest to insert The Foot Hole). While S has never stomped the farrier, nor chopped off half of his own foot, he IS prone to ripping off shoes within 24 hours of getting them on.
If I don’t get a chance to write again before, Merry Christmas to everyone!
So since I last posted, uh, 2 weeks ago (oops), not much of interest has happened. Leo was on break and took full advantage:
P and I went to Trainer B’s for some dressage lessons:
P’s been ridden more in the last month than he has in the past 18 months, and is finally in some semblance of shape:
Though he’s sure to keep me on my toes at least 100x every ride:
4 days before I was supposed to have surgery on my nerve, I got bit by a spider AND got poison ivy on the arm that was supposed to be operated on. So now surgery is scheduled for the 27th, which means 3 less weeks of healing time before the end of winter.
But on the plus side, more time to ride P. Oh yay.
Family came from Chicago for Thanksgiving and I tried to show off P:
But really, I have no leg to stand on because, as my mom pointed out, this is what I did when everyone thought it’d be great fun to decorate for Christmas:
And finally, Leo left for Florida this AM with Trainer B. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t tear up a bit (and that I’m not TOTALLY JEALOUS). I’m hoping I’ll be able to find some time to go visit down there, and if all goes well with the arm, be ready to go once he comes back.
Until then, I’ll be here in cold, dark (by 5:30 waaaahhh), wet North Carolina, dreaming of this:
I really dragged this one out, didn’t I? Well, it was my first hurrah since March and my last hurrah for quite awhile, so sorrynotsorry. Plus, I was waiting for show pictures but at this point, 11 days later, forget it. Literally everyone that I know who showed at different venues that same weekend had their pictures within 48 hours and mine still haven’t been uploaded. They have like 1/10 of the competitiors’ pictures up under the VA folder on their website, and it’s been that way for 2 days now.
But anyway, we came out of SJ with Leo getting all the pats from everyone because he was SUCH A GOOD BOY, and then Trainer B and I headed up the hill so Trainer B could do his BN show jumping and I had to get to XC. I stopped by the arena so I could get my XC gear out of the golf cart and was fully prepared (externally, at least) to head to XC alone, but Trainer B persuaded the other competitors and the stewards to let him cut in front of everyone else and do his round so he could come with me to XC.
Seriously. Best Trainer Ever.
During that interlude it was discovered our rail had dropped us from 2nd to being tied for 6th so there were some jokes made about going for optimum time, which Trainer B quickly squashed. He wanted me to stick with the plan of trotting the first fence, then cantering only if Leo was balanced and not rushing. Any sign of rushing or pulling and I was to do a downward transition, even walk or circle if I had to. He said coming out of XC with a better trained horse was more important than what the results looked like on paper (FINE), told me to ignore the fly bonnet message (P’s “Go Fast” bonnet) gave me a few last minute tips and we headed to the start box.
Leo was super game, didn’t so much as peek at jump 1, landed in a beautiful canter and we set off on quite possibly the most gorgeous XC course I’ve ever been on.
While the round wasn’t perfect- he definitely got a bit rushy after some of the jumps, requiring quite a bit of trotting and one circle after jump 6, and then there was the little debacle on our way to the last jump where the pair behind us had gone balls-to-the-wall and galloped past us with no warning (she apparently got reamed out afterwards)- but I just had a blast. There was no question in my mind that he was going to jump all the jumps and even the water didn’t back him off.
He was clearly enjoying himself and I just wished we could go around and do it again and again.
The time penalties added quite a bit to our score, dropping us to either last or almost last, BUT, had we not had time penalties, we would’ve ended up 5th. Had we not had time penalties or the rail, we would’ve held onto 2nd. Which in such a big field, with nearly half the field consisting of professionals (seems a little weird for Starter but whatevs), is sort of amazing.
And as we walked back to the barns, Trainer B reaffirmed that this was, indeed, Leo’s final Starter.
And Fun Fact: the horse we were tied with after dressage has gone prelim/1* with Lainey Ashker. Leo is a champ.
Simply put, it was the best possible way to end the year. Leo gets a break now and will head to Ocala with Trainer B at the end of the month while I try my best to get P back in some semblance of shape before his break while I have surgery and have to take my break.
Ok, so at this point Leo and I had been at the Virginia Horse Center since Thursday afternoon, where on that day I worried the entire time how or if I was going to ride my horse. One of the reasons I’d put off telling Trainer B I’d wanted to ride was because we’d had two, ahem, interestingeducational lessons leading up to the show, and I had this ridiculous fear that if I’d told him I wanted to ride, he’d be all, “I mean…should you?”
But on Friday I bit the bullet after seeing how tiny the XC jumps were, we switched as Leo’s rider, and I did dressage on Saturday, which had us tied for 2nd place, 2.2 points away from first. Now all I had to do was jump my horse over a course of jumps for, well, the first time ever (his 2nd course ever), and possibly even canter fences…another first, seeing as Leo, aka Spider Legs had been solely trotting fences up until that point.
Then my nerves were slightly abated when I heard the announcer say that the horse trial divisions (the show was also running CCI1/CCI2/CCI3 divisions) would be doing stadium up in the arena Leo and I had just done dressage in the day before. So whew. At least it’s an arena he’s already been in.
Until I went with Trainer B to check out the CCI3 SJ course in the big Grand Prix arena in the middle of the Horse Center and saw course maps posted for the FEI levels…AND STARTER.
How cruel does one have to be in order to run the 3* and STARTER in the same giant GP arena?
I considered asking the show office if I could just stick him in BN. After all, we’d done the same dressage test as the BN division- just slide my score in wherever you see fit, mmmkay? I’ll totes jump bigger fences if it means I can do it in a quieter arena. To give you an idea of how nuts the area the GP arena was, when I was standing near it with Leo earlier in the day, FIVE loose horses (in the span of less than an hour) galloped directly past us, as that arena stands directly in the path from all the other arenas/XC back to the barns.
But I digress.
The warmup was next to the coliseum, and while Leo was a little on edge at first, he actually warmed up super. Didn’t do even a little bolting after any of the jumps and was fairly steady to each fence, even the oxer. So with that, we went into the GP arena with the instructions to trot the first fence, immediately do a downward transition, trot the 2nd fence, then play it by ear after that. If he rushed before or after a fence, immediate downward transition. If he was balanced and relaxed, let him canter.
He had a rail at jump 2 because I simply held on too long, but it was so fun to feel his confidence grow as we went along. They had the ground poles set about 6″ in front of each jump, so he whacked at least 3 of those, but the rest of the rails stayed up. And check out that flying change in between jumps 4 & 5!
I was thrilled as we came out, even more so as we headed up the hill to Trainer B’s SJ and my XC and Trainer B said that’s what he needed to see before moving him to BN.
So after finally making the decision to ride (for goodness sakes) and officially making the switch from Trainer B to myself, Leo and I had a most perfect ride around the Virginia Horse Center. It was filled with over crowded arenas, spooky indoors, loose horses, blaring speakers, flapping tents, zooming golf carts, barking dogs, falling jumps…to name just a few stimuli. So why was it perfect? Well, because for how insane everything was, Leo was most decidedly NOT insane.
The team had 5 horses showing: Trainer B was riding one in BN, one in N, and one in the 3*, another student was riding in the T, and I was the last ride of each day in the Starter. Which normally would drive me crazy, having to sit around all day waiting to go, but in reality I didn’t have even a second to get nervous, as we were running around all day, every day. I walked the 3* XC course (which made me really laugh at my Starter fences), helped in the vet box, tacked/untacked/washed horses, etc…thankfully there was ALWAYS something to do.
I did manage to pre-ride Leo Saturday morning before our 3:40 dressage time, and despite almost being run into multiple times from multiple angles, and him picking up the wrong lead going right twice (first time in awhile that’s happened), he felt pretty good and I was just happy he was still holding onto his sanity.
When it was our turn, we headed up to warmup and Trainer B told me I needed to win the dressage (which made me laugh out loud), and we worked on getting some semblance of a stretch out of him, then headed down the hill and into the dressage arena.
Where Leo immediately went, “Ummm, WUT” and got all tense.
But other than a bobble right before we went in (and I immediately circled before he spooked), we went in and rode Leo’s 2nd ever dressage test (video has captions w/scores):
The collectives were:
With the final comment: “Be more forward to help solidify a better frame; show more bend.”
For a score of 35.0
I felt his nervousness throughout, but was super happy because umm, hello, he picked up the right lead, we stayed in the arena and I really felt as if I rode the test, rather than my usual sitting like a passenger, thinking about what was coming up next. So while obvi we wouldn’t win the dressage (there were 19 people in the division), Leo and I had both survived- his 2nd dressage test ever, and my 2nd in over a year.
Then the texts started coming from friends:
I really didn’t want to know my placing after dressage, and would’ve been happier had we been last, but it was seriously cool to know that despite the tenseness I felt, the judge liked Leo enough to score him as well as she did.
Unfortunately, dressage was all we got to do that day, as both SJ and XC were being run on Sunday, so I got to sit and stew all night about how the only time Leo’s ever done a full jump course was at Windridge with Trainer B, and how I’ve never actually cantered a fence on Leo and the last time we had jumped was a grand total of 3 fences nine days prior…
So when we last left off, after waffling back and forth about who would ride Leo at the Virginia HT, I finally submitted the entry under Trainer B then tried on show clothes.
Well, I had decided that damnit, I wanted to ride. So I prepared a speech and practiced said speech on the way up to a lesson, fully prepared to deliver it once we had wowed Trainer B with how amazing we were.
Then neither Leo nor I could get ourselves together over GROUND POLES without one or both of us freaking out. So I figured it wasn’t quite time to pull out the speech, and went home slightly defeated.
So the next lesson, I had just resigned myself to let Trainer B ride him, seeing as it was 1.5 weeks away from the show and we were still working on canter transitions. Then I packed all my show clothes (because…psycho) and off to VA we headed.
We arrived Thursday afternoon, and I got Leo settled, then tried to find time to sneak off to go look at XC, which I figured would be my deciding factor. If there was something on course that I thought would be super spooky, then I’d let it be and have Trainer B ride. But soon after I arrived, we all headed off to dinner and of course while we were out it started POURING, so when I got back on the grounds, there was no way I could see any of the jumps in the rain and the dark (believe me, I tried and looked like a drowned rat for my troubles).
The next AM, I got to the barn, we fed all the horses, did stalls and then I snuck out to go RUN the course before the day really started. If you don’t know, the rule for recognized HTs is that only the competitor can ride the horse on the show grounds, and the schedule for that day had Trainer B doing dressage in the 3* and then after that, riding his other 2 horses + Leo that afternoon. So I finally had to make the decision.
And…XC was tiny. So tiny, in fact, that I mistook a few Novice fences for Starter (2’3″) and was even a bit disappointed in how little everything looked. But of course, the size of the fences wasn’t the point, just getting Leo to understand the job was. But still.
But that clinched it for me. Now I just had to tell Trainer B he’d lost the ride.
As we walked to dressage, he said we’d go check out the Starter later on. I figured that was as good an entry point as any and said, “Well, I already walked it.”
Trainer B: And?
Me: It looks tiny.
Trainer B: Too bad you’re not riding.
Me: I know.
Trainer B: Do you want to ride?
Trainer B: Seriously?
Trainer B: Do you have your stuff?
Trainer B: Even your show clothes?
Trainer B: They might charge you $25 to change it.
Me: Actually it’s $50.
Trainer B: Did you plan this?
So we made it official in the show office, then I hopped on Leo and we had an amazing ride around the enormous show grounds to prepare him for the madness of dressage the next day.
Last week I had a fitter out to try new saddles on P. Due to Husband’s nonstop traveling mid-September through mid-October, P has been severely on the back burner- having a measly 4 rides in that 30 day period. But I’d already rescheduled with the fitter twice, so if I wanted to try new saddles, it was then or….not then.
And in saddle #1 (which P clearly liked), we made it through trotting both ways and the left lead canter with no issue, but the right lead canter had him bunny hopping a few steps.
And I…well, sorta freaked.
Because while that certainly could mean something as simple as weakness, it ALSO could mean suspensory. So naturally I went with the theory that HIS SUSPENSORY HAS DEGENERATED AND LOOKS LIKE SWISS CHEESE.
If you read my post The Meltdown, this won’t have surprised you at all. For newer readers, I have this weird love-hate relationship with P where I routinely wish him death and misery, then when he blinks funny I rack up emergency vet calls.
I had the vet out. Who watched him race around the pasture, fancy as could be, then watched closer as he w/t/c on the lunge and then gave me his official prescription—
Yes, that’s right. After a solid year of injury after injury, where I had to do everything from hand walking to bandaging feet to putting in eye meds (not to mention chauffeuring him around the state to get ultrasounds, shockwave and eye surgery), a vet is telling me I need to ride my horse more.
The look on P’s face was priceless:
So I’m trying my best to fit more time in on him- right now he’s learning how to steer and stop off just the neck rope (and bareback because saddle fit woeZ), in anticipation of my December 2nd surgery. And then when we do “real work,” it looks an awful lot like the rehab protocol we followed last year.
And in a little over a month he’ll be my sole focus, because Leo is heading to Florida for the winter with Trainer B since I’ll be out of the saddle for awhile.
It goes without saying that P is obvi back on suicide watch. We’ll see how this pans out.
When the decision was made to enter Leo into the Windridge HT, my biggest dilemma was deciding who would ride him. Trainer B opined that I could do it just fine, but if I wanted him to do it, he would. I hate making decisions like that. I’m no good at it. For being as decisive as I am at home and in my job, when it comes to these horses, man, I can’t make a decision to save my life.
In the end, I decided it would be in Leo’s best interest to have a pro ride for his first competitive outing. Leo’s a bit of a ball of nerves and I didn’t want my ammy nerves expounding his- I want him to find outings to be as positive as they can be. That tends not to be the case when you have someone who’s competed once in the last year to be sitting on you while vibrating with adrenaline.
Ad I’d be lying if I said I didn’t still suffer a bit from haunting memories of horse trials past.
And the final reason was because of my hand. I’ve mentioned this issue sparingly in some posts, but I finally have a diagnosis (after nearly 2 years of MRIs, nerve tests, injections, therapies, etc) for why my right hand/wrist/fingers are failing to cooperate with me. And that’s because my radial nerve has decided it no longer has a reason to live and is choking itself on some scar tissue and, ya know, dying. In other words, I have a suicidal nerve. I’m now past the point where there’s hope for anything other than surgery to stop the degeneration, and while I canwill still ride until then, the uselessness of my right hand doesn’t make for the most stellar rider.
But the plan HAD been for Trainer B to pilot Leo around HT #1, then for me to take the reins (literally) for #2. So to prepare, I brought Leo along on my excursion to Carolina Horse Park the week after Windridge. I was already going to support and help some friends who were competing, and got Leo a stall so we could participate in the schooling day on Saturday. Our instructions were to trot all the Green as Grass (18″) and Maiden (2’3″) jumps and work on downward transitions after each fence.
And he was, in a word, AMAZING.
He was just so game for everything, yet so rideable, that I never wanted to get off him. Even fences that backed off other horses with much more experience than he had (this was his 4th time seeing XC fences) he took without so much as blinking.
AND we jumped his first (flagged) BN fence AND cantered into water for the first time. It was so hard to call it a day, let me tell you.
So two days later, when I was staring at the Rider blank on the entry form for the upcoming HT, I couldn’t understand why I found myself in the same dilemma as before. Leo’s already done a HT, we JUST had an incredibly successful XC schooling, he’s never stopped at A-N-Y-T-H-I-N-G….there seems to be no reason why in the world I was still hesitant.
But I am. And it’s ridiculous. I’ve done 99% of the riding on the horse, and 99% of THOSE rides are outside of lessons (aka, unsupervised). I clearly haven’t messed the horse up yet, and doubt one weekend would do that, even if I were to ride like a total monkey.
And it also makes no sense that I would be more nervous to show than to school. Schooling at CHP, which I’ve done twice now with Leo, is not exactly a chill environment. It’s actually fairly insane, with hundreds of horses/riders of all levels congregating at one facility and schooling the same 50 or so jumps during a single 6 hour period. That schooling day has made even PILGRIM melt down. If Leo & I can handle that atmosphere, we should be able to handle anything.
So in a nutshell, I KNOW I’m blowing this way out of proportion, but I seemingly can’t do a thing to stop myself.
And after talking with Trainer B about it, I decided he’d ride Leo again. Then I hung up the phone and immediately felt sad. I almost called him right back to go, “NEEEEEEVERMIIIIND!” but figured I’d sit on it for awhile longer. And after getting home and staring some more at the entry form, I finally submitted it under Trainer B.
Then I went upstairs and tried on my show clothes.
Let me tell you, it’s SUPER fun being Husband right now.
That’s right y’all, Leo is a newly minted event horse!
I’d decided to have Trainer B ride him for this first one, to give him the best first outing possible, and while I kept waffling back and forth about the decision (even packing my show clothes and gear), I’m so glad I stuck to it, because it could not have gone better for the horse. He came out of each phase looking more and more confident in his new job.
Leading up to the Big Weekend, I was a nervous wreck that he would hurt himself. Thanks P, for the PTSD. So last Monday (T minus 5 days til showtime) when I tried to curry off what I thought was mud but turned out to be a gash that blew up his leg, you can probably imagine my reaction.
And then when he had an allergic reaction to fly spray (of which I’d bought a gallon of), I pumped him full of Benadryl and physically stared each hive down.
BUT we made it to Windridge intact, Leo settled in nicely, and Trainer B hopped on him to hack around the show grounds….then promptly got chased down the street by loose dogs.
So the next morning when it was time to go back that way to get to dressage, Leo was understandably a bit nervous to return to the scene of the crime and required a lead into warmup. Windridge’s dressage arena is quite a bit spooky, as it’s plopped in the middle of the woods, and while there were some moments where Leo couldn’t contain himself, Trainer B is such a quiet and patient rider that he was able to get some really nice work out of him before heading in.
He scored a 36.9- the lows being the canter transitions (5.5 for the right lead unsurprisingly), the free walk (he jigged, which earned him a 4.5), and the highs being his medium walk (an8!!!!), the canter circles (7 for the right, 7.5 for the left), and the left trot circle (7.5). The rest of the scores were a mixture of 6’s and 7’s, and collective marks were 6.5’s across the board, with the comments mostly noting bend and tension.
A few hours later we headed up to SJ. I was an absolute wreck by then, as Bette can attest to (thank you SO much for coming and cheering!). I couldn’t manage to properly ask her to hand me the girth, as I’d forgotten how to pronounce “girth,” and then I put his open fronts on backwards. One would think I’d be less nervous with someone else riding, but in fact, I was MORE nervous. I’ve had the horse for 4 months and Trainer B had ridden him maybe 5 times at this point. 99.999999% of everything has been done by me, so if he sucks, it’s on me. If something were to go wrong, you couldn’t even blame pilot error, like you could if I’d been aboard. And Leo hadn’t jumped for nearly 2 weeks at this point, as we’d focused solely on flat work at home and at Trainer B’s leading up to the show.
And Windridge had decided to change SJ up. They typically hold SJ on grass, but this time they’d decided to hold it in the middle of the XC course. So there was A LOT of terrain and A LOT of things to look at. Leo was a little excited to be jumping and tried to run off upon landing for the first few warmup jumps, then put in a few solid efforts and we hung out and let him watch the commotion. Well, Trainer B hung out, which chilled Leo out. I fretted and tried to stay away from the horse so I wouldn’t pass on my insanity.
He went in and had the first rail down (because trot fences are hard when you have spider legs), which upset him, but lots of transitions by Trainer B and he went around really nicely for his first real jump course ever (that was more than 3 jumps). Cantered some, trotted some (had one more rail at another trot fence), and ended the round just looking pleased as punch with himself.
The next day I was even MORE nervous, which I hadn’t thought possible. We’d walked the course the night before and the biggest unknown was going to be the water. While he’s gone right in both waters at Carolina Horse Park, he wasn’t so confident about the water complex at Trainer B’s (which, in Leo’s defense, is dyed TURQUOISE), but then when we were headed up to SJ, you have to pass by the water and Leo was definitely giving it some serious side eye and a wide berth. While there was an option to take a jump instead of go through the water, Trainer B wanted to go for the water, since it’s usually NOT an option. So he made a plan to try to get him in the water on his way to jump 5 (the water was flagged as 10) to get his feet wet.
Husband had thankfully driven up that AM and of course I’m lucky to be a part of the best team ever, so between Husband and I, and Trainer B’s wife and another client, we all scattered on XC to get as much of the course as possible. And besides only one uncertain fence where he didn’t seem to know where his feet were and how to coordinate them, Trainer B piloted him around, uh, like a pro (duh) and Leo finished his first horse trial looking like a real event horse.
Which, even with the 2 rails and the time penalties, landed him in 4th place and he got his first ribbon!
So here’s hoping I have the same success when it’s my turn!