Thursday, October 29, 2015


You may notice that these pictures are not of me...or of Maggie...but I did take them!

This is my first year participating in 2Pointober! As a new blogger last year I didn't find out about it until it was too late to participate, but since then I've actually been looking forward to it! I like challenges.

I've been keeping track of my times simply in the Notes app of my phone: 

During the first half of the month I was still tack-walking Lizzy (with a tiny bit of trotting) so I figured instead of sitting up there like a lump, I may as well use the time to get my 2-point on.

I'm super pleased that I've been able to steadily increase my times throughout the month. When my trainer told me to get up in 2-point during our latest lessen, for once I thought 'I got this' instead of 'Oh God!'

I can hold the 2-point until my right ankle or calf cramps up to the point that I have to sit. It's interesting to me that it's always the right leg that feels the burn first - does that happen to anyone else? I'd be interested to know. I'm hypothesizing that it's because I'm right-leg-dominant (mostly) so maybe the muscles in that leg are perpetually tighter because I use them more? I really have no idea, but that sounds plausible to me.

Maggie and I are doing a hunter pace on Sunday, so I'll be giving her Saturday off to save her energy and I'll record my final time either this evening or tomorrow evening. My personal goal is to make it to 15 minutes!

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Lesson Recap: Inside Leg and Let Go

I'm trying to get as many jump lessons in as possible before the jump trainer heads down to Aiken for the winter. At that point we'll work on the fancy prancing all winter long for the most part.

It's just lovely here.
Lessoning with her is only being made possible at the moment thanks to having the opportunity to work off lessons by doing weekend chores every now and then. I am super thankful to have this opportunity because in all honesty I wouldn't be able to afford this lady otherwise.

Anywho, the lesson last Saturday. Most of it was spent on the flat, actually, as most lessons with this trainer have - and that's totally fine with me. As she's still getting to know me and Maggie I definitely don't expect to get to jumping right away during lessons. We're still in desperate need of some key flatwork before we can progress with actually jumping. Namely, pony needs to listen to my inside leg. 

And my outside leg.

Ok, so she needs to listen to my legs better in general, but we primarily focused on the inside leg during this lesson. The inside leg is the one that loosens the ribcage and moves the horse forward. Maggie is lazy and therefore she doesn't really want to move forward, which means ignoring my inside leg when it tells her to 'GO'. 

Please, can this be my leg?
Essentially, this is just a matter of practice, which I've said before. And I've been working on it, but still haven't done enough. We need to get to the point where Maggie responds instantaneously to my inside leg at the girth by moving forward. If she doesn't respond, squeeze harder. If she doesn't respond to squeezing harder. If she doesn't respond to a harder squeeze, tap with the crop. If she still ignores that, then give her a big 'ol Pony Club kick.

That responsiveness is the key to truly getting her forward and also balanced; we have to harness the energy as she steps under with her inside and capture it in the outside rein. This is called Dressage. 

It's not a novel idea. 

And since we're still working on perfecting this concept, it's why I'm totally fine with with spending three-quarters of a jumping lesson working on the flat. It's much easier said than done for us at this point.

Yes, Maggie, I would like to live here too.
When we did move on to some jumping, we did a small 6 jump course with everything set to about 2'. My task was to keep my inside leg on at the girth at all times and kick when I felt Maggie trying to get behind my leg, use the outside aids to turn around corners, and to keep my upper body relaxed. 

As I approached the first fence, I heard my trainer shout, "Chin up, let go, and leg on!" So I raised my chin, relaxed, and it was the most flowing course we have ever jumped. Everything came nicely out of stride. 

We pulled up and walked to the center of the ring to talk to her. She always says, "Now tell me about that" after we finish an exercise. I like that about her teaching, because it forces me to process what just happened instead of just continuing along and hoping that I understood what I just did. I told her that when she said 'let go' I relaxed my shoulders and elbows and allowed my arms to move with Maggie, instead of holding her back and then throwing my upper body up her neck to 'help' her jump. And it was because I relaxed and let go that we had such a nice flowing course.

She said that was the best she's ever seen the both of us jump. I didn't try to compensate for Maggie and Maggie rose to the occasion and balanced herself and also stayed in front of my leg. Trainer was so impressed that she raised all the jumps to a whole 2'6"! Woo!

We jumped the same course again and it wasn't quite as pretty - Maggie dropped back behind my leg at one point in particular back to the trot and I ended up circling before re-approaching the next fence - but we still had some really good efforts and Trainer was still very complimentary of the work we've been putting in. 

Super tired and sweaty. Listening to inside leg is HARD.
So I've got plenty of simple flatwork and low-jump homework to get me through the winter! I'm really looking forward to the day that this concept really clicks with Maggie. It's gonna be awesome. And what's also fun is that this is stuff I can work on in any saddle and in any position - 2-point included! I haven't posted at all about 2pointober yet here, but this is my first year participating and it's absolutely been beneficial. I hate to think of how sore I might have been after that lesson if I hadn't been working in 2-point at least once a week prior to it!

Thursday, October 15, 2015

New Barn

If you've been really observant, you may have noticed a slight location change in the pictures in a few previous posts. This is because the first weekend of October I moved Maggie to a new barn.

And by new barn, I actually just mean the barn next door to our old one. The one I walk over to take dressage lessons at and rent the indoor in the winter. So in that sense it's not a huge change.

There is a mini-Maggie that lives just across the aisle from her stall!
In other ways though, it is a big change! I've left my friends at the other barn and am no longer part of the co-op arrangement there. Leaving my friends was the most difficult thing about deciding to move, but in the end I'm just next door; I can wave to them from the dressage ring, walk over there to head out on a weekend trail ride with them, and we can all still go to our favorite Mexican restaurant down the road on a whim (which we did last night). I think understand my logic, but regardless, we're all still pals and I'm super happy for that.

When I turn her out in the dressage ring she immediately goes over to this corner and watches the other (our old) barn. Perhaps I'm anthropomorphizing...but this makes me a little sad...does she miss her friends?

The reason I made the change is mainly for practicality and financial reasons. I want to keep Maggie in fairly regular work throughout the winter or at least get an early start to training after the holidays and the indoor necessary for that. My husband and I crunched the numbers and as a rough boarder at this barn I'll only be paying $60 more per month throughout the year and that will give me access to a huge sand dressage ring, a separate jump ring that always has a course set up in it, the indoor, and a small jump field out back. Plus, I'll be saving time since I now no longer have a paddock to muck and a water tub to scrub (hooray for auto-waterers!) which leaves me more time to spend at home with the husband. So really, the move just made sense.

"What am I doing in here?"
One big trade off with boarding at this barn, however, is there is a bit of a lack of turnout. Maggie is used to having a pretty decent sized 24/7 run-out at the other barn. Here, she gets put out in one of the rings a few times a day for a couple hours. I figure we'll see how it goes with the reduced turnout - I know it's not ideal, but so far she seems to be doing just fine. 

She does have a nice window in her stall to look out of and watch the cars go by!
It's nice to have some familiarity with the place already too since we already know the trainer. I'm looking forward to working more with her over the winter. Plus, this is actually the barn I started riding at when I was in high school! It actually feels a little surreal to have my own horse here now.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Transformation Tuesday: Praise for my Pony

I hope my last post didn't sound like I was being harsh on Maggie or anything. She really is the right horse for me at the moment despite our height "issues" and I wouldn't trade her for a taller horse any day. The struggle is real with riding two very different-feeling horses though, but I can go back to focusing on Maggie only now. My stint with Lizzy is done as she's moved to another barn for the next step in her rehab.

Maggie has got a lot going for her right now and I can feel that we've made some great progress over the summer, despite not being able to actually show much. Maggie got some really nice compliments from both trainers in the last few lessons we've had that I've wanted to share:

From the dressage trainer:

"She' really is good at listening to your seat. You're really luck to have a horse who is so responsive to your seat - not all of them listen that well!"

"She's a very talented little horse!"

"It would be difficult for her to step under herself because she has a long back, but she uses her hocks very well to make up for it."

From the jump trainer:

"She's starting to canter like a real horse now!"

"She really has a nice jump to her - you don't have to worry about her not being able at this level."

"Her musculature has really improved from when she first saw her at the beginning of the summer. There's more muscle along her back for sure."

I am super happy about how her topline has come along this summer - even my somewhat uneducated eye can tell that there's more muscle up there. There's still some filling out to do, but she has such a log back and prominent SI joint. I don't think that musculature is going to cover it up, but the more we can strengthen her back the better.

April 2015 - Not the best pic, but I have been really bad about taking any conformation-type photos. You can see from this pic though, that her back is a little sunken on either side of her spine.
August 2015 - An actual attempt at a confo pic. I think her back looks a little more filled in and less sunken.
October 2015 - I don't know if you can tell anything from this terrible quality photo, but here it is anyway.
October 2015
I also asked both trainers in my respective lessons about her weight since I've been starting to think she's a little skinny and we all agreed that she could do well with gaining a little especially before the winter. I can easily feel her ribs and can see them too in the right light. I'll be honest here though, I've never supported the 'fat horse is a healthy horse' saying. Ever since Zipper had an episode of laminitis I've been a stickler about getting a good balance of nutrients without over-feeding. 

Maggie had been doing just fine with her current diet of hay and a balancer pellet, but she's in enough work now that she needs some extra energy. I've added in a second grain to her ration that's a soy energy based extruded nugget that should add a little more fat to her diet without the sugar, so we'll see how that goes!

I think the loads of stretchy trot that we've been doing has been awesome for her back. I try to incorporate it during warm-up and cool down of every ride. What's your favorite tool for building topline? Have you ever had to change your horse's diet as they begin to work harder? Any advice for continuing to build up Maggie's back?

Post-Publishing Edit: Facebook just reminded me that today is actually the second anniversary of Maggie's first show!

October 2013 -PHHT Grasshopper 2-Phase

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Out Of Place In Another Saddle

Maggie is 14.0 hh on a good day. I'm 5'6". I've never felt too tall/big for her until just recently.

First time on her back.
There's another horse at our barn, Lizzy, who is recovering from a tendon injury that she sustained earlier this year. This horse's owner is away at grad school and her mom is currently taking care of the horse for her until she gets up to the point where they can lease her out again. Getting to the point, I've been recruited to tack walk/ light trot this horse a few days a week as she continues her recovery. This horse is 16.1 hh - a pretty typical Thoroughbred.

I can probably count on one hand the number of times that I've ridden a horse other than Maggie since I began fostering her four years ago. I'm so used to her that when I ride her body feels like an extension of mine. Cliche, but it's true.  And it's pretty amazing.

Just the other week.
However, it now feels incredibly foreign when I get on any other horse. I climbed aboard a friend's 15.0 hh Mustang for fun a few weeks ago and even that felt so much taller than Maggie. 16.1 hh Lizzy feels downright giant. 

Walking on Lizzy was no problem, but now she's allowed to do some light trotting for a couple minutes each time I take her out. The first time I trotted on her I almost got popped out of the saddle.

I immediately got scared.

Me on Lizzy. Tense much?
Not scared that I was going to fall or anything, scared that I've become so used to Maggie that I'm incapable of riding any other horse; or at least riding any other horse well.

The fact that I felt loose, bouncy, and kind of incompetent bothers me. However, what actually bothers me more is that riding Lizzy has changed the way I feel when I ride Maggie. Particularly when I get on Maggie right after I've been on Lizzy.

Riding a 14.0 hh pony right after riding a 16.1 hh horse makes me feel...kind of ridiculous. It's impressive how much of a difference 9 inches makes. Additionally, Maggie is also really narrow so being on a slightly larger-barreled horse only adds to the alien feeling. When I sit on Maggie after riding Lizzy it feels like I'm sitting on a Mini.

Hello down there!
Now that it's been several weeks since Lizzy has been allowed to trot I've slowly gotten a little more used to her big stride, though I'm still much more comfortable on Maggie. I've also only been getting on Lizzy after riding Maggie, which has helped to negate that out of place feeling somewhat.

But still, I worry: will an actual horse-sized horse ever feel normal to me again? I can ride, but can I only ride Maggie or can I ride in general?

I've heard pros say many times that the only way to become a good rider is to ride as much as you possibly can. To me (and many others, I think) a good rider is one who can get on any horse and perform well. Before I owned a horse of my own, I catch rode as much as I could via various part-time jobs and bumming rides off friends. Thoroughbreds, Quarter Horses, Morgans...I wasn't picky.

Thumbs up for Thoroughbreds.
I'm still not picky - I just happened to have taken a likening to a quirky 14hh Arab/Mustang cross and now that I'm an official adult I really only have time to ride one horse a day (unless it's a laid up TB who needs to walk around for 15 minutes and I'm getting paid for it...then I have time for that too.) But I don't have the opportunity to hop on five different horses a day to school them and hone my skills. 

I imagine that there are other adult amateurs out there that might share this same insecurity. How often are you able to get on a horse other than your own? Do you feel out of place on another horse?