Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015 in Review

January


I was super gung-ho with my 2015 goals (separate post on that later), but in reality we got off to a slower start than I had wanted. Maggie had a wicked case of the shits that came on seemingly out of nowhere (actually during late 2014). I still don't have a clue what sets it off and we had problems with it off and on until I finally found the one thing that has cured it: a daily double-dose of SmartDigest. I played around with the dosing all year long - including the other Smartpak digestive supplements and none of the other ones seems to do the trick. I have no idea why.

This picture sums up the whole experience very well. 
Later on in January we had a colic episode which may or may not have been related to whatever was causing the shits. We'll never know. It was a small impaction colic and after being tubed and staying on poop alert, she recovered well. 

Not feeling so hot.
Also during January: the snow began.



February


It snowed more. Like, a lot more. There was no riding because I did not rent the indoor because I could not get to the indoor. 



I think I legitimately have PTSD from this winter.


March


I rode my horse! I had some lessons! And snow melted enough that we actually started to see the ground towards the end of the month!



April


The snow kept melting and I discovered how rough the outdoor ring at our barn was looking. We squeezed in a ride at the beach. I was still renting the rings next door and got some rides outside there and Maggie figured out how to stretchy trot and I really felt like I might actually have a dressage pony on my hands!



May


We made our first show outing of the season as we pretended to be hunters at a local open show.

Convincing, aren't we?

And we jumped around a 2'6" course!
Photo by Nature of Light Photography. Used with permission.

I also gave Maggie a new 'do, took our first jumping lesson with a local upper-level eventer, and had a grand time at our first hunter pace.   




At the very end of the month (though I didn't blog about it until June) we did a combined test, putting in a somewhat tense but respectable dressage test and a clear stadium round to clinch a yellow ribbon. 

Photo by FlatlandsFoto. Used with Permission.


June


June was the month that I really fell of the blogging train and unfortunately I never really recovered. Part of this was due to some personal things and part of it was taking on some other writing projects that kept me busy. Towards the end of the month (and on a very rainy day) Maggie and I did our first 3-Phase of the year (but blogged about it TWO months later and in two parts). It didn't go amazingly, but I was super proud to have completed!


Unfortunately, the frame of my truck broke the day before the event . I borrowed a friend's truck to get to the show the next day, but it pretty much sidelined us for the rest of the season and slowed down jumping lessons too.  

The husband and I also started house shopping and within two weeks had an offer accepted on a cute little ranch in my hometown!


July


July was a real lull. Still in my blogging funk, I hit an all time low and only posted twice all month: once with an excuse as to why I hadn't been blogging and another recapping a jump lesson from June. I have absolutely no recollection of how much I rode (since I didn't blog about it), but I think we took it fairly easy, since we weren't going anywhere in a hurry with my busted truck. Also, we closed on our house.



August


There was a dramatic abscess popping and that was basically it aside from writing about the 3-Phase in June. We also definitely took some dressage lessons here and there, but I must have skipped writing about some of them?

Baby's first hoof wrap.


September

I got a new truck which meant as soon as I had a hitch put on we were back in business! I did a little better at blogging again and wrote about a dressage lesson wherein we really started to focus on outside aids and straightness, which (along with LEG) essentially became our theme for the rest of the year. 

We had another dressage lesson later in the month, plus our first ever actual XC lesson in preparation for our second 3-Phase of the season (which, sadly, was also our last of the season). This event went much better than the last one (plus it was a lovely sunny day and not a monsoon) - we jumped clear and took home second!

So much fun. Photo by Sophiea Bitel.


October

I helped tack-walk a barnmate's horse and worried that I Maggie and I were a mismatch, but eventually allayed my fears. Since I had a truck with the ability to trailer again, we also continued trucking out for jump lessons and I learned that I need to work on keeping my upper body relaxed and quiet while keeping my leg on.

Oh, and we moved to the barn next door so now we have full access to their rings and indoor arena.

"Where am I?"


November


We did another hunter pace and once again had a great time. Later in the month Maggie was introduced to canter poles during a jumping lesson, which is a great way to get me to focus on keeping leg on. 

Photo by Nature of Light Photography. Used with permission.


December


We've taken another jumping lesson (which I still have yet to write about), gone on some trail rides, and done some dressaging on our own. Up until about the middle of the month it was still relatively warm and if it weren't pitch black we would have still been able to ride in the ring. We're officially stuck in the indoor now though. 

A couple weeks ago I also recapped all my adjunct writing projects and told you to stay tuned as I expanded this blog into a different domain! (I'm still working on it though...so you'll still have to stay tuned...)


Overall...

In retrospect, I feel like I can call this a "transition year" - though maybe I'm just trying to give it a label to justify feeling like I didn't actually accomplish much. But despite not having many accomplishments be evident by way of show results, I think we made progress.

Overall I think everything that has happened this year has put us in a better place in life, in my riding, and in this blog, which will hopefully set us up to be more successful next year. Despite only making it to two events (far fewer than I would have liked), the addition of having jumping lessons has made such a huge difference. Even though we're sort of starting over down at the basic, basic level it's giving me the confidence that we'll have the correct building blocks in place to come out stronger next year.

I can't be too hard on myself either for our middle of the summer lull - sometimes crap happens (like my truck kicking the bucket) that makes you just have to stop what you're doing and focus on adulting for a little while. Sometimes good things happen (like buying a house) that make you have to stop and focus on adulting for a little while too. Again, thanks to these things happening I'm in a better position to come out stronger next year (although having car payments again really sucks).

Here's to 2016!









Tuesday, December 29, 2015

FOO Equestrian Blogger Gift Exchange 2015


Sometimes I think part of the excitement of Christmas is just getting mail. Cards, packages, what have you. Email is awesome, but there's some definite charm in receiving something tangible - whether it's a written kind word or a gift. The equestrian blogger gift exchange adds to the excitement because it means something horsey is coming! 

The lovely Karley of All In was my Secret Santa this year and she hit the nail on the head with this monogrammed tumbler from Personally Preppy

All the pink.
Karley, how ever did you know how much I love coffee and how much I need to have it AT ALL TIMES - including on my horse between classes? ;)

This picture definitely didn't give it away. Nor the fact that it was my Facebook profile picture for a while. 
I didn't actually know it was Karley though, until she commented on my latest post yesterday. Digging through the pink tissue paper I couldn't find a note about who the sender was so I'm glad she revealed herself! :)


Nor was there a note inside the tumbler, but there was an additional monogram!


I haven't decided what to put this on yet, so I'm open to suggestions... maybe my helmet bag? I have a Charles Owen, so I'm not sure how it will look above the CO logo on the back of the helmet itself.

It looks wonderful on my little hipster coffee table in the kitchen.
Now I really can't wait for ice coffee season to roll around again! I'm super impressed by the quality of the tumbler and the monogram too. The monogram seems like it's seriously stuck on there, so it's not going anywhere anytime soon. The tumbler itself seems really durable as well. Like, if I dropped it while I was on my horse it wouldn't break or even spill much (screw on lid!) It might even hold up if Maggie decides she wants a sip...


So thank you Karley for the awesome gift! And of course thanks once again to Tracy of Fly On Over for hosting the equestrian blogger gift exchange again - it's such a blast!

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

How 2015 Has Changed My Blog...and What's to Come in 2016


If someone were to tell 11th grade me that one day I would actually enjoy writing and have a few pieces published in various outlets as well as running my own blog for fun, I would have given you a real funny look and called you completely delusional.

Fun fact: I somehow found my way into Honors English classes in 10th and 11th grade (despite being a pretty mediocre writer and really loathing classic literature) which meant I was then eligible for AP English my Senior year. I wasn't required to take the AP exam, but my mom made me do it anyway despite me insistently telling her that she would be wasting her money on the exam fee. I was right.

Anyway...

It all started with this blog post about the potential Boston Olympics (which is no longer a thing now, by the way), when Amanda suggested I send it in to Eventing Nation.

So I did.

And they published it.


I think that's when the writing bug really bit me. Not gonna lie, it was really cool to see my name up in EN as an author. 

A few days later, EN asked me to write something for them about the horribleness that was our epic and record-breaking late winter since I was in the thick of it.


Later that summer, I got in touch with EN again and offered to cover my neighborhood USEA event, Groton House Farm, for them if they didn't already have someone reporting on it. They didn't, and welcomed me to write a show recap for them.

With a severe rain storm scheduled to hit on the third day of competition, the GHF show management made an on-the-fly decision to turn the traditional 3-day event into a 2-day event. I watched (and helped! I fence judged that day too) as show management and the volunteers hustled to compress the event in a matter of hours. I knew then that my report for EN would be more than a run-of-the-mill show recap, so in the week after the event I worked to interview people from each perspective - show management, competitor, and volunteer - about the extraordinary efforts that they went through to make the event work. 

The result was an article that I was really proud of and I think did everyone involved with GHF justice. I learned that reaching out to people - some I had never actually met before - wasn't actually scary in the end (though admittedly a tiny bit nerve wracking at first for this introvert) and it makes for a much stronger piece of writing. 


At this point, I was truly hooked on writing. However, some personal conflicts manifested around this same time and my writing on this blog took a hit. I seriously considered scrapping this blog...and I might have it it wasn't for a message I received in this blog's Facebook page inbox.

The publisher of Massachusetts Horse messaged me and wanted to run my story about GHF in her magazine. She also wanted to talk to me about writing for her on a regular basis. My answer, of course, was that I would love to!

I've since been assigned a couple different feature articles for the magazine, both involving interviewing some local horsepeople. I've discovered that I really enjoy tell people's stories. 

From the Oct/Nov issue of Massachusetts Horse

From the Dec/Jan issue of Massachusetts Horse

Additionally, over the summer a neat new event in my area was organized: the Area 1 Schooling Horse Trials Championship. I thought this was such a neat idea, so I got in touch with some of the people involved in running it, pitched the story to EN, and they took it.


After this post went live, I really got a kick out of the positive comments it garnered. A few people even commented that they had similar programs in their areas. This gave me an idea...why not feature these other programs too and spread the love? Fortunately EN was onboard and thus the Schooling Horse Trials Series was born. (So if you want your local organization featured, just shoot me an email!)


All this to say, I've had an interesting 2015 in terms of where my writing has lead me.

I started blogging for two reasons: to hold myself accountable in tracking Maggie's progress and to give myself something productive to do during my daily commute on the train.

I've stuck with blogging because I discovered I really liked it. I like the process of writing - I like that it makes me slow down and think. I like interacting with all the other equestrian bloggers I've come to know - you all are some of the coolest, friendliest, supportive people.

I plan to continue blogging, well, because I still like it and I like you, but I'm also branching out. I am so incredibly grateful to the folks of Eventing Nation and to the publisher of Massachusetts Horse for giving me these opportunities to write for them. They've shown me that I'm capable of something that I never really thought I was. And if they hadn't shown me I was capable, I may never have discovered that this whole writing thing is something that I actually love doing and I may have given up.

So in 2016 I'm expanding. I've already set up hosting and a domain and this blog will be incorporated into a website that will serves as a hub to share not only my Maggie Memoirs blog posts, but also articles from these other avenues.

I'm excited to have more to share with you in 2016! Stay tuned for another post about what exactly I'm setting up, because I need your help with it! (and there will be a contest involved!)

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

One Crossed-Over Step at a Time

Maggie has been so good lately, that that's what our recent rides have been very short, sweet, and focused.

Dressage is hard. Tired pony.
I fear we're officially stuck in the indoor now - at least during the week. It hasn't been consistently cold enough yet for the ground to freeze, so riding outside on the weekends (in the daylight) is still an option. For that reason, the jumps haven't been moved inside yet so flatwork is really the best and only option at the moment. And that's fine with me - we've got plenty to work on in that department!

After I zeroed in on Maggie's reluctance to step under herself with her right hind I decided to go right to work on it. The other week I started out working with her in-hand. I worked on getting her to yield to pressure from my hand and the dressage whip for about 15 minutes before I got on, asking her to step her right hind away from me and cross it in front of her left. Essentially, what I wanted achieve by doing this was simply showing her that she can use that leg in the way I'm asking her to.

Can't say it isn't still beautiful outside though, even if it is dark and cold.

I've gotten the sense from Maggie before (and from other horses too at times) that sometimes there's a mental block in the way. She doesn't think she can do it. Sometimes showing her it's possible helps. I know for a fact that the left side of her back is a little tighter and weaker than the right also, so I'm sure that has quite a bit to do with it too! 

The next step was getting on and trying to get the same response from the saddle. We did just a little leg yielding in and out on the circle and from the quarter line, but I didn't ride for too long that night so as not to fluster her. Best to quit while we're ahead instead of pushing for more that day. 


The next time I rode I only worked her in hand for a few minutes before I got on, just as a reminder of what we were doing. Then after getting on and doing some low key warmup, I started asking for the leg yield, fist at a walk and later at a trot. I focused on trying to use very correct, clear, and insistent aids...and for maybe the first time I got some actual crossover of her hind legs.

Worst quality photo ever - but you can see it!

We most certainly still have a long way to go with this whole dressage thing, but sometimes I feel like we're actually making some progress. Little by little, one crossed-over step at a time.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Thanksgivings of an Adult Amateur

I have lots to be thankful forLife with horses as a working adult amateur equestrian isn't the most streamlined at times, but it's also a blessing. I thought I'd take a moment to pinpoint a few things in particular that I'm especially thankful for this year:
Photo credit: Nature of Light Photography. Used with permission.

I'm thankful to I have a job that, though it doesn't involve horses, allows me to afford and have time for them.

I'm thankful that I get to participate in a sport that I love, and though I may never be at the top of it, I can still have fun and be successful




I'm thankful that I get to go see my horse after work, breathe in that barn-smell, and be in a place that instantly relaxes me.

And I'm thankful for the great barn that I board my horse at and that I have the option to skip stopping by if I'm just not feeling it that day, without having to worry if my horse is being well cared for. 




I'm thankful for my amazing friends who have helped me by being there and waiting for the vet when something was going wrong and I was stuck on the train coming home from work.

I'm thankful that I only had to make two after-hours calls to the vet this year, and that they even turned out to be reasonable bills - and one of them happened when freezing outside! (I know there's still time left in the year to add to this, ponies - don't get any funny ideas.)


Just some casual butt-stitching by headlamp.

I'm thankful for my questionable sanity in spending over one third of my income on a creature who essentially eats money and then poops it out, because it's ridiculous how happy that creature makes me.

I'm thankful for my husband's questionable sanity in allowing me to spend over a third of our income on this money-eating creature. (Let's be honest though, he doesn't really have a choice.)

Sometimes date nights are actually course walks.

I'm thankful that he accepts the fact that I spend more time with the horse than with him. (Which he doesn't really have a choice about either.)

And I'm thankful that even though he doesn't have a choice about the horse, he realizes how ridiculously happy it makes me and not only does he choose to stay married to me, he actively supports me and my crazy dreams.

Photo by Sophiea Bitel. Used with permission.

I'm thankful that years and years ago now, my parents (somewhat reluctantly at first) acquiesced my request for a pony.

I'm thankful that my parents didn't buy me the pony - they made me work for it and earn it myself.



And I'm thankful for that pony, who taught me almost everything I know about commitment, responsibility, and hard work. I'm thankful for those traits because they helped shaped who I am today - and I like who I am today. 

I'm thankful that horses weren't a phase - they still teach me patience and compassion everyday, and continue to help me become a better person. 




All in all, I'm thankful that I'm able to live this life doing something I love alongside people and animals I love.  

What are you thankful for?

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Lesson Recap: Canter Poles (with video!)

I trailered Maggie out to an early morning jump lesson on Saturday. I warmed her up on my own and tried to get her nice and forward before our trainer came down. Inside leg on asking for forwardness, outside aids steady to capture the energy. My inside leg resulted in more forwardness to some degree, but it also had the side effect of creating some serious cranky ears. Maggie may have been a little cranky because she didn't get to finish her breakfast, but I can't say I blame her. I'd be cranky over that too.

Enjoy some video stills!
There were already some canter poles set up in the area and the game plan for this lesson was to utilize them.  We started out trotting over them, though. I'll say this about ground pole work before talking about the rest of the lesson: I haven't done a ton of it before. Sure, I took Maggie over a bunch of ground poles when I was first starting to introduce her to jumping, but every time I try to do anything that resembles cavalletti or a series of poles on my own I get a little nervous. I'm just not confident about it; so I was really glad to get to work over poles during a lesson to learn what I need to work on, and how to do it properly.

In our first pass trotting through the poles I mistook forward for fast. Immediately, Trainer stopped me and instructed me to come at it again with that same inside leg to outside hand connection that I had been been asking for in warmup. It's not just about getting though the poles, it's about being balanced though them, and I can't expect Maggie to be balanced if I'm rushing her and throwing away the reins instead of helping her stay connected. After Trainer pointed this out to me I realized I had reverted to the exact same tactic I had originally been using over fences - speeding up and bombing through it. Funny how just a little change in exercises will bring us back to square one and really reveal our weaknesses!

After a few passes at the trot, focusing on staying balanced and in steady rhythm, it was on to the canter. I knew this would be difficult for many reasons, the main one being that I've never actually done a series canter poles with Maggie before. 

So hard. Such attitude.
It went better than I expected at first - she certainly tried. I was kind of expecting her to do one of two things: immediately break to the trot or try and deer leap over them. To my surprise she actually gave it a good try right from the start, properly cantering the first few before we lost balance and broke to trot. 

And what is the obvious solution to keep from breaking to the trot?

You guessed it: more leg.

So basically this was a really, really good exercise for getting me to keep my leg on because the consequences of not doing so were immediately apparent. My goodness, it feels like I'm never squeezing hard enough. 

And I actually asked my trainer to take video for the last couple minutes so - voila! Actual lesson video! (For reference, the first few poles were set at 9 feet, which trainer said is a good distance for a bounce for Maggie, the second to last was at 10 feet which was a good stretch distance for a bounce, definitely not beyond her ability, and the last one was a one stride at 18 feet.)


And I'm so glad I got this video, because it really highlights a whole other issue outside of the canter poles that I don't think I would have paid much attention to otherwise - or at least it wouldn't have hit home as hard without seeing it for myself.

In the saddle, I didn't realize just how much I was moving my upper body. I could hear my trainer coaching me and tell me to use my core and "kick her without moving your body", and I indeed tried to tighten my core without bracing my arms. 

I didn't 100% realize why we were focused on my core and upper body all of a sudden, but from the video I can see that it's because I'm sliding around in the saddle. My whole body is braced and it's moving as one entity, when different parts of my body should be moving independently or at least more controlled in order to help Maggie balance. So...there's another thing to work on over the winter.

Best canter of the day. Still kicking.
Ah, video. Making honest people of us all. 

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Just Stuff

Random stuff that is.

It's been quiet and low-key lately since our show season is over. With the arrival of Daylight Savings the other week it now goes completely from daytime to total darkness all while I ride the train home from work. Between no shows to prepare for and it feeling like it's nine at night when it's actually five-thirty, I'm left with little motivation for lengthy training rides. 

So sometimes we just lunge.
I've toodled around on Maggie a few times each week though, and we did have a super productive jumping lesson two weeks ago. This past Saturday I took advantage of the being able to ride during the daytime and brought Maggie out to the jump ring to try and reinforce my new mantra: "chin up, leg on, let go". I'm pleased to say my muscles remembered what to do and we jumped very fluidly as long as I 'let go' and kept my lower leg solidly at the girth asking her to stay forward. 

On the flat I've been working on bend and leg/seat aids, mainly at the walk and trot. We've been saving the canter work for jump sessions. Getting her inside hind leg more active and stepping under herself has been a common denominator in both our jump and dressage lessons. Maggie moves off my left leg and seat aids pretty responsively, much better than she does the right. That right hind leg seems stuck to me and under saddle isn't the only place I've noticed it.

Always putting more weight to the right...
When I've got her out on the crossties, Maggie always likes stand more to the right side of the aisle. Some days it's a bit of a struggle to push her over to the middle of the aisle just so I have room to groom her. I've noticed that when I try to push her haunches over from the right she only takes baby steps with that right hind instead of crossing it under her belly to take a big step. My trainer and I did spend a little time poking at her back after our last lesson and her left side is tighter than the right, though not seriously and nothing that a chiro session won't fix. So I wonder if a tight back on the left side means she can't step under with the right hind as well? Does that make sense? Just thoughts... On that note too though, I've been toying with the idea of doing some in-hand work over the winter so I can really watch what her hind legs are doing and try to help her strengthen them.

We've been enjoying the new barn that we're at. I miss seeing my friends next door every day, but we've still trail ridden together and hung out a few times. I've only actually ridden in the indoor twice since I've been at the new place - both on rainy days - otherwise I've been sticking it out in the dressage ring. We've had some unseasonably warm weather for November over the past two weeks so it's seemed a shame to ride in the indoor, even though it's pitch black out. Luckily there are lights over the dressage ring!


I had been planning on clipping Maggie this year anyway, since I plan to work her more over this winter than any winter previously. Last week was a good time to do it since when I got to the barn after work one 70-degree night last week poor pony was super sweaty just standing in her stall! Fuzzy winter ponies do not appreciate the warm November.

This was PRE-ride.
This is the first time I've clipped her at all and she was pretty nervous. I had done some desensitizing with tiny clippers previously, but this was her first time with the big guns. We took it slow and she got her face stuffed with post-Halloween marked down candy corn (her favorite). 

We finished the first session with just a bib clip:


And then a couple days later I extended it  into kind of a low Irish clip:

Seriously though, those lines looked straight in person...
I'm planning on extending it more and doing a low trace once I decide what do do with the belly hair...leave it or no? Anyone have an opinion?

And fun fact - this is actually the first time I've clipped a "real" horse. This one time in college I body clipped Zipper in the spring because she was so hot as the weather got warm. It was kind of a hack job, but she still looked adorable in my opinion. 

Holy dapples!!
And this other time in college I clipped show cows...

Because isn't that what everyone does in college?
So all in all, not a whole lot going on - and that's ok! It's nice to have a breather.