Wednesday, November 29, 2023

lots'o lessons

One of my biggest goals in getting a young horse at this particular moment in my riding life is to get back to feeling like I'm learning, growing, developing as a rider. 

Which, I'm not gonna lie, is actually pretty hard for me. People who know me know that I can be a little micro, a little controlling, I like to do things the way I do them for real reasons that generally suit me and my horses just fine. 

So, stepping back, ceding control, letting myself be vulnerable in trying to change the way I go.... ya know, that's challenging. It feels a little exposed. But it's also exhilarating to feel little moments of breakthrough after years of "bad" habits.

she's not standing straight from nose to tail, but is kinda square in her body and is looking more grown!! 
also, everybody say "Hai!" to my ancient Bates dressage saddle from the Isabel days lol
We've since had two more lessons with resident dressage trainer MP. I've kinda been stacking them right on top of each other bc it feels like we're working on important fundamental stuff that can only benefit from supervision and real time coaching.

In my experience with various trainers, clinicians, instructors, what have you, it seems like everyone has a slightly different way of introducing and prioritizing the work. With Charlie, and dressage trainer C, our earliest fundamentals revolved around getting him forward and in front of the leg, and getting his big giant earthbound shoulders up and out of the way. 

lol stella trotting in like she never misses a meal!
Doozy is obviously (and intentionally) a pretty different type from Charlie, and MP is putting our pieces together starting with bridle contact as priority #1. But, from her world view, bridle contact is itself almost entirely a function of rider posture. 

ok. lesson time. be nice bc we are both working very hard on changing our posture and it's going to take time. also i'm in the Beval jump saddle in all these pics
Our last couple lessons were basically all about taking my position apart and putting it back together again. And a lot of what she's telling me is basically exactly opposite from how I've been riding the last few years.... so it's taking a lot of repetition and real time feedback to start to make the changes. 

she's concentrating so hard <3 <3
With each new lesson, tho, I'm getting a better understanding of what it all means. She wants me to 'stabilize my elbows,' which basically means to engage my triceps and feel the place in my back between my shoulder blades --- not pinch my elbows at my side. 

'Suppling my wrists' means a swift (but soft!) rotation from the elbow to basically release tension or rigidity from my arm while staying connected to the bit.  

somehow still manages to make her wispy thin tail look majestic
That all got a lot easier in our third lesson (yesterday, no pics sorry!) when I swapped the Beval jump saddle for my old Bates dressage saddle. It was much easier to keep my legs down under me (and on the horse), to support the more stabilized upper body. Which, ya know. Duh

pretty sure there's a big future horse in here somewhere
Right now, MP perceives that Doozy prefers to lean on her right shoulder. We tend to fall in toward the right, while counter bending left. A lot of my work in getting her straight will, for now, revolve around bringing Doozy's right nostril toward her right shoulder. 

And to do this, I need to keep thinking about my right elbow and right leg (regardless of which direction we're tracking), like I'm putting money in my pocket. 

managed to find a micro moment when my legs are under me so i can sit up lol
MP called me a bit 'wishy washy,' too. Like I'm a bit too much in the middle of the road. Which like, yea, fair, I don't really trust myself with a lot of contact bc I kinda feel a bit like I suck and have bad hands haha. But... ya know.... Again, see the first sentence of this post: Doozy and MP are here with me in this moment to help facilitate exactly this education. 

not gonna lie, it was seriously challenging to try to do the poles without either of us loosing our posture
MP's approach in this moment of our training is for me to bend Doozy to the right, sometimes a little exaggerated if needed, until she gives and releases with her neck. At which point I need to *not* just soften and release everything and turn to jello (lol), but actually be there to support with the left rein and both legs. 

it's easier to see in the video, but pics like this are why MP hates this new saddle, whoops lol
We had a few reeeeeally nice moments at the end of our third lesson (yesterday, again sorry not to have pics!) where I felt like I had a little bit of a breakthrough with my hands. 

MP wants me to hold the reins basically with my thumbs, with the rest of my fingers closed but soft. Which... again, is a little bit opposite from how I've held the reins for... uh, ever, lol.... Apparently I typically hold more with my ring finger... so it's taking intentional concentration to change that. But I also need to feel almost like I'm holding the bit at the corners of Doozy's mouth -- vs feeling like I'm just holding two rubber reins.

Anyway. I was seriously on the fence about sharing the video above bc it's so easy to be critical and see how much work and change needs to happen. But, eh, that's riding, right? Ultimately, I'd rather have the complete record vs only just the best snapshots. 

Tho, it's really pretty crazy to me watching how I look in this saddle with the posture MP is trying to effect in me, vs how I look (and feel!) when I'm just out doin my normal thang. So, eh, for now we'll stick to the dressage saddle unless jumping is on the agenda. 

meanwhile, my old Bates is quite literally unsellable (at least, not without repairs like replacing those dry rotted billets). but, i've always been fond of its neutral geometry and adjustability
Another thing worth mentioning, kinda separate from the lessons themselves: It finally happened that we arrived at the indoor while bff Stella was already in there riding. Which, obvi I knew bc I'd seen her and her person down in the barn and we'd chatted etc. We knew it'd be hard if I got there before they finished, and then had to watch them leave.... But also, ya know, that's life

Like, our farm is the sort of place that, at 11am on a Tuesday, there might legit be 3 different horses in the indoor -- us for our lesson, C doing a schooling ride with Stella, and another boarder lunging her own young horse. 

also got fancy new wide stirrup leathers in a black friday sale from Millbrook Leathers. right now they're on the dressage saddle with my similarly ancient Izzy-era Compositi 'irons,' but eventually some of my nicer irons will get shuffled around onto these leathers
And Doozy was significantly unsettled and upset about Stella being there. Like, by far the worst she's ever been with ring company. But Stella left and eventually... Doozy coped. 

Then she continued coping while we did our lesson in one end of the ring while the other young horse lunged. Then she melted down a little again when that horse left.... But eventually she coped some more and we finished our lesson with actually legitimately nice trot work. 

Millbrook Leathers threw in a really cute USG-knockoff belt as a gift with purchase too!! i love these stretchy woven belts and have a few from USG already
She is for sure going to be a more difficult management case at shows and in warm up rings. I don't think she'll ever be like Charlie was. But I'm also seriously impressed with her (eventual) willingness to cope and relax again even after being pretttty worked up

good girl, Dooz, see ya later!
So. Lots of long details in one mega post.... But it's so helpful for me to write it all out and try to commit a least to mind if not muscle memory (yet lol)! 

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

bebe's first dressage lesson

Alrighty --- we're getting into that busy time of year when everyone is traveling for the holidays and lots of stuff keeps cropping up on the weekends... But I wanted to get this written out before it's lost from memory lol!

unrelated hacking with charles and his unreal mane <3 <3
Doozy had her first 'real' dressage lesson! This time, with yet another new name in the ever-evolving training landscape. Well, sorta. Long long timers might actually remember MP, who worked with me and Isabel during the infancy of this blog

Scheduling eventually became difficult bc life is like that, so those lessons dropped off.... But now with Doozy, this opportunity became available again. So we went for it! Eventually Doozy will travel off farm for lessons, but it sure would be nice to be able to train at the same facility where we board....

nosy ponies will be nosy
Anyway. I'm gonna try to keep the rehash brief and semi-staccato, bc it was one of those significantly tactical task-managing puppet-mastering type rides where the live action coaching was more of a feature than the lecture portions. 

Not bc the lecture portions weren't like, useful or important... But bc it's just been so long since I've been accountable for anything as a rider, I just really need somebody there telling me every few minutes to fix my shit LOL. 

oooh and then there's resident barn panther Icee! 
Michael was adopted by a boarder after one-too-many run-ins with other cats required vet care. he was so deeply beloved here, but i guess the feeling was that he was too nice a cat to be consigned to the hard fate of most barn cats. we miss him, but understand and are happy for him!
So! Let's dive in. MP's step #1 in improving my ride is to stabilize my elbows. But like, seriously. More. More. Almost feeling like they're behind me, and not moving. 

Be like side reins, creating a stable structured operating space in which Doozy is now expected to stay. But still be tall, still hold my hands up -- not down by my thighs. And also not necessarily with elbows pinned to my rib cage either --- feel like I make a "V" shape from elbows to bit. 

Doozy's small mare group grew by two more --- cute ponies!!
The tricky thing is to not tighten elsewhere as I work on reducing motion in this one joint. For example, MP reminded me to keep my wrists and fingers more supple. She wanted me to have softer fingers, particularly ring finger, with my thumbs (on top!) doing the job of holding the reins.

Her method for ensuring that softness through the wrist and communicating that suppleness to the horse is to do a little turn like I'm turning a door knob with my wrist, while maintaining that same straight stable connection from the elbow. 

cute, but still a busybody tho!
Long time readers know that this type of posture work is really hard for me, and goes pretty much counter to how I want to ride (ie, with my hands floated out in front, doing only-god-knows-what). It's also a bit of a challenge for me bc I struggle with adapting my riding style to different pursuits -- like with jumping when I know I need to get my hands more forward. 

But, eh, that's what lessons are for! And Doozy responded very nicely. Lots of concentration, lots of focus, and definitely trying to figure out how to adapt with me to this different posture. 

lol my aunt made the mistake of casually saying 'sure!' when i asked if she wanted to ride during her visit to town haha. maybe she didn't quite think i was serious ;P
Once I could more or less hold the position MP wanted to see, we started putting it to work in exercises and figures at the walk. Starting with Walk-Halt-Walk practice. 

This is not something I've done a ton of with Doozy yet, but felt like a really nice exercise. It highlighted a few key habits - like Mondeuse gets a little crooked and leans on her right shoulder. So MP wanted me to think of keeping her nose centered in her chest, even as I endeavored to accomplish a smooth step into halt using mainly seat and core. 

but she did it!! and charles was such a saint <3
This exercise was also useful bc it gave us a nice predictable routine into which I could start adding more leg aids, and Doozy could connect those leg aids with something other than just spurting off. 

From there, we moved to turns on the forehand. First from the wall, and then from the center line. Again, the key was kinda holding onto my position here (as in, not completely taking one leg off as the other went on), and starting to introduce the idea of moving Doozy off each leg individually.

and so was Doozy, omg!! 
There were a couple moments in the lesson when it felt like there was a bit of a translation error -- meaning I wasn't entirely sure what MP wanted, and so wasn't really sure what to tell Doozy. But the horse was super and never got frustrated or claustrophobic. She just kept trying, and I did my best to not be too rigid or stuck (especially when *I* was the one who didn't understand). 

We didn't do too much in trot, other than to work on recreating the same postural corrections even while working harder to hold Doozy's tempo and rhythm with my own post. I know that's a recurring theme around here, literally everybody who has seen me ride Doozy says the same thing, "Slow your post!"

I'll just say.... easier said than done lol. And this is why I need the lessons, to just have that repeated again and again. That, and all the other little reminders haha. 

obvi bc the two ponies are doing so well, something had to go wrong. sweet OG drew the short straw this time, apparently.... poor guy. he'll be fine too, just a week or two of cone indignity!
Bc maybe that's my favorite thing about lessons -- it takes some of the pressure off me, ya know? Like, I don't have to remember every single little thing. Don't need to be thinking about all aspects of my position while also trying to think up and execute helpful exercises and figures etc, all at the same time. It's nice to just outsource some of that work sometimes LOL. 

And again, really can't say this enough --- Doozy was so so so good for this lesson. We were alone in the indoor, tho a pony at one point came in then immediately left again (we welcomed them to stay but they had planned to set up some jumps so they relocated). And Doozy was fine. 

I think she felt reassured by having MP in the center of the ring, coaching us through the ride in a steady and resolute voice. Plus ya know, I think the mare just 'gets it' now. Maybe it would have been a different sort of lesson 2 or 3 weeks ago. But on this day, it felt like the mare really showed up and was totally on board with the agenda. 

It's a good feeling! Esp bc our next lesson is already scheduled -- yesss!

Friday, November 17, 2023

friday fotos: who's afraid of the dark?

Not naming any names here, but somebody survived an ENTIRE RIDE** with zero issues in the dark outdoor dressage court!!!!!

(**Walkies only, and never straying far from our friend, OBVI)

"actually i am a little afraid tho, ngl" --- doozy, probably
It's not a button I plan to push every day, or even often at this point.... But I'm proud of the little lady for keeping her wits about her!

"oooh but stuff!" - also doozy
Inch pebbles, y'all. It's a mantra!


Tuesday, November 14, 2023

the 'boring' stuff

Obviously having a great clinic ride with Doozy was the blockbuster news from this past weekend. But as promised -- there was a fair amount of nitty gritty 'boring' preparation that went into helping Doozy be prepared and successful for Sunday's lesson.

cold wet horses on a cold wet day -- see dooz hiding behind stella?
And obviously the urge to document is pretty strong around these parts (lol), so here's a rundown of what Doozy did on Friday and Saturday. 

Bc basically... I was honestly really really not confident that we'd be able to do the clinic. Like, it felt like a crapshoot right up to the moment we were literally at the gates waiting to go in. 

pretty excited to learn how to keep developing this fancy prance!
Doozy had three days off from Tuesday to Thursday bc I had to travel for work, and then was feeling a little cold + wet on Friday -- when the weather ended up being a bit more miserable than predicted and all the poor ponies were nekid in the nastiness :(

in the meantime, i like letting ground poles do the work for me!
At least this meant she was pretty willing to leave her pasture and come in to the warm dry barn! Which, I'm happy to say, is a skill she's normalizing even if it's still a work in progress. 

wheeeee canter poles!!
We were able to ride up to the indoor as a nice group of three horses, all of whom were happy to just do low key rides and be nice company for Doozy. Tho, the ride got off to kinda a bad start when for some reason all the horses spooked at a barrel jump set up by the door. 

and the other lead too!!
I don't know exactly what the issue was, but the light was kinda weird (overcast and rainy outside, with one LED light like directly over the barrels illuminating them strangely) and Doozy definitely felt a certain sort of way about it. I finally opted to just hop off and move them, at which point Doozy just like... realized they were just the same barrels as always, and ceased to care. 

operation 'traffic skool' = mission accomplished
And from there, the ride just went back to being the same exact type of ride we've been having: really pleasant trotting of figures and ground poles, including a new pattern of proper trot poles that Doozy figured out easily. We also cantered around a bit, including some nice efforts off both leads over single ground poles. 

Also notable: Doozy was able to cope with trotting among multiple trotting horses, experienced having a 4th horse join us while we were mid-ride, and existed in the center of the ring while two horses cantered around her. 

learning to appreciate the pets <3
It's possible that I overthink the details (as was gently suggested by one of the juniors in our group haha), and it's possible that Doozy would have been just as successful in the lesson even if I were less intentional... But, eh, to me - the absence of any big issue is validation enough.

lol hard to tell but we're hand walking in the jump ring!! 
Anyway, being the overthinker that I am, I kinda tortured myself about taking advantage of our 3 quiet baby-sitters to get out to the jump ring. On one hand, it felt like a crucial step if we had any chance of doing the clinic... But otoh, Doozy's uncharacteristic spook at the barrels, plus the cold+wet+fussy+hadn't-been-ridden-in-3-days bit put me off slightly.

and then a nice little walk down the back paths to get home again
But luckily my friends won out, again telling me to maybe "under think" it, and so I dismounted and walked out with the group. There was a lesson underway with 5 or 6 horses who were trotting and cantering while we wandered around (with Doozy's nose firmly behind our pal Rosette's tail haha). And it was a bit much, but Doozy kept it together shockingly well.

the baby-sitters club <3
She had one little moment when we were heading in the direction of the gate where she wanted to jump around and flag her tail... But then was quickly redirected to sniffing through jump cups and poles and standards. She definitely seems to be a horse that appreciates physical landmarks vs vast openness! 

So I took it as a good sign that she could disengage from her gate feelings and interact with her surroundings. We left the ring quietly after about two laps (one in each direction), and made it home without incident. Yay!

don't worry, charlie got attention too!!!
The next day, Saturday, was super simple. My parents visited, and while Charlie came down to see them in the barn, we left Doozy out to visit on her turf. Walked out to the field to snuggle and stuff her with muffins, then left her there. She's never been hard to catch (actually usually walks up to me), but I still saw this as a nice little 'coin in the piggy bank' moment. 

he's obsessed with my mother
After my parents left, I went and grabbed Doozy for real. She came in decently well, but now with fewer leaves on the trees we can still hear Stella's hollering all the way up in the barn. So she was a bit agitated on the cross ties. But I just took my time anyway. Figuring, "this is kinda the test," ya know? Like, come in, be not-super-happy about it. But #cope.

doozy got hand delivered muffins and snuggles too!!
Then for the ride itself, we went out on our first solo adventure in a while. Just a tiny little loop around the farm -- mimicking what we'd done the day before. Up the driveway (where we encountered 3-4 lesson horses being led past us down another lane - something that, again, Doozy didn't love, but #coped anyway), toward the indoor, but then past it, down the lane toward the jump ring, but then turned left toward home instead of right toward the ring. 

pink star = Doozy's pasture; blue star = the barn; heart = indoor ring; yellow star = jump ring
orange lines = our little circuit, ridden counter clockwise
I admit to kinda wimping out on riding up to the jump ring. Mostly bc... I figured if we had a bolting episode, it'd just make it harder for us the next day in the clinic. It was enough that she'd seen the ring in hand on Friday, and then was able to ride (alone!) around the same paths to the ring on Saturday. I figured we'd be fine for Sunday, when we wouldn't be alone. And we were!

my sweet ponies <3
So ya know. Maybe it sounds boring to just do like an 8min circuit around the farm lanes and paths. But, eh, it was nice to do something sorta easy after the challenge of leaving her possessive pasture mates, and then be able to return her fairly promptly back to them feeling like she maybe accomplished something in the meantime. 

Or maybe I'm overthinking it LOL! So far, so good tho haha. 

Monday, November 13, 2023

Doozy's First Jomp Lesson!!

Happy Monday, y'all!! I'm going to, uh, skip a couple steps in reviewing recent activities. Mostly because, ya know... We went through a lot of careful, intentional, boring practice the last few days --- with the specific and explicit aim of being ready for Doozy's first JOMP CLINIC OMG!

pictured: my post-ride mare, looking quite pleased with herself
As as much as I know some of y'all appreciate seeing all the nitty gritty details in putting the pieces together... I also feel like we all deserve a bit more excitement around these parts than just, "survived while two horses cantered!" Lol...

And so, without further ado, allow me to press ahead with a few new big firsts in the Land of Dooz: 
  1. First ever ride in the jump ring
  2. First clinic
  3. Jompies!! And gymnastics!!

welcome to casual levitation with Mondeuse
My farm kinda randomly hosted a pop up clinic with Hadden Frost, second generation (at least) English steeplechase jockey who has more recently turned his attention to show jumping, basing in Florida with his wife (who is also a jockey). And obvi that sort of resume looked attractive to me, so we signed up.

Again, a LOT of planning went into preparing for this ride, up to and including asking another barn mate to audit from horseback so her mare could be Doozy's emotional support friend. Which proved absolutely perfect when the two of us were off exploring the farther corners of this new outdoor ring while the lesson before us exited --- meaning Doozy completely missed seeing all those horses leave. 

Not gonna lie, that was the moment I expected to be most difficult in the whole lesson, so when it went off without a hitch, I got a really good feeling!

this is her concentration face
And guys --- Doozy was READY for this lesson! Like, sometimes I feel like I'm going too slow with her or whatever, not asking enough... But, eh, nobody will care more than I do. And I care about feeling safe and secure and ready. 

It felt incredibly reaffirming that almost every exercise we worked on this lesson seemed familiar and known to Doozy. Up to and including passing between random riser blocks (something we did earlier in the week).

i'm trying so hard to support while staying out of the way
The whole lesson was basically ground poles and cross rails built progressively into easy gymnastic exercises. One main exercise (above) was a cross rail with poles close in on takeoff and landing (again, built progressively, one element at a time). And the other eventually built into a one-stride line.

was an ace at the landing poles!
I was obviously very honest with the clinician. Well. Mostly, lol. I told him the mare was about two months under saddle post-track, instead of three. Which, eh, feels about accurate considering the cellulitis / abscess history. 

But was basically like, "We've never been in this ring before, we have an emotional support barbie dream horse, we have not really jumped before.... We're all yours!"

we built up to this gymnastic progressively -- it's all in the video
Obvi I internet-stalked Frost in advance (as one does), and learned that he particularly enjoys working with young horses. So I was hopeful he'd set us on a good course. And he did! 

Really, you should watch the video to hear his commentary, bc it was definitely very much in alignment with my philosophy. His whole thing was to ensure Doozy has time NOW to fully think through each and every step she's taking, to read and evaluate the exercise independently, and learn to think with her own feet. 
figuring it out, piece by piece
For example, he wanted me to be really sensitive to letting Doozy process through the steps especially after little mistakes. Like when we kinda splatted through the A element of the gymnastic --- when we came around the next time he was particularly focused on supporting her even as we let her react to going back in after a mistake. 

In the video, you can hear him saying, 'Take your time, she's gonna have to process that right now! You're gonna find out if you have a champion!'

we both made mistakes
Tho, simultaneously, he also reminded me to be confident for her. Which reminded me to keep talking more to her --- something I do constantly when we're alone, but then sometimes when I'm concentrating so hard in a lesson I forget to keep talking to the horse, ya know? 

And I could really tell the difference. This might sound silly or stupid or whatever, but it really is starting to feel like Doozy realizes I'm her person now. That I'm in her corner, on her team, there for her, whatever you wanna say. And that this horse, now, is very different from the horse I couldn't hand walk around the dressage court a few weeks ago. 

but we did it, squee!!!! <3 <3 <3
Tho let's be real, it also felt like Doozy legit quite liked this whole game LOL!! The gymnastics were for sure the easiest part of the lesson haha, the part she seemed to understand and like the best. Which, obvi gets me all sorts of excited haha!

Especially compared to the group of playful boys who are turned out in the field surrounding the jump ring, who kept doing weird and annoying gelding things like breezing past the ring, or gathering right exactly at the spot in the fence line we'd be aimed at following the gymnastic. 

She found the external stimulus a bit harder than the gymnastic exercises themselves, but still never failed to focus when I'd gather her up. 

so much pride, and more than a little bit of hope, for this sweet red mare!
Some key takeaways from Hadden: 
  • Keep working on adding more leg, particularly inside leg to keep pushing her out
  • Utilize bends and turns to keep the horse soft and listening during a warm up, don't just circle large endlessly
  • Be more straight, always and forever, but also particularly on the backside
  • Continue trotting the jumps for now, she needs to learn to keep thinking and NOT resort to rushing
  • Be more accountable for riding the horse from my core (with leg on tho!)

link to full video - imho this one is worth watching

My own additional takeaways include being absolutely thrilled with how well Doozy handled the jump ring. Like, yea, it was hard for her at first and then a little at the end too, plus a lot of distracting stimulus throughout. But also just generally felt like a positive place for her. 

Which is SUPER exciting, bc that just gives us so many more opportunities for exposure. I'm also really pleased considering our focus on 'traffic school' the last few weeks. Basically, it felt like we'd done our homework and Doozy was as prepared as she ever would be for this type of lesson.

d'aww doozy wanted to wait for her Emotional Support Barbie Dream Horse!!
I'm just so pleased with this little red mare, guys! Ain't none of us perfect, including myself and including her too. But I had some pretty specific hopes when I brought her home, and so far she's living up to it! 

Obvi she's a really different type of ride than I'm used to, but I'm committed to learning how to get a good tune out of her :D 

(And stay tuned for more of the 'boring' preparation type stuff to come in future posts lol)