Video from Lesson


I apologize for the less than ideal quality, but it serves its purpose! The last exercise was a one stride, xrail to a 3ft vertical through the grid, and then around to a oxer off a diagonal turn. Will was a champ! The grid had 9ft rails placed before and after the X, to encourage him to jump round instead of straight over the  jump. You can really see him using himself through that exercise, his knees are perfect over the jumps!

Time flies when you’re having fun?

Hard to believe I’ve already been home almost 2 months! The past few weeks have been an absolute blur for me, so I apologize for the lack of posting going on. If you have me on facebook you will have some idea of how insane my schedule is getting- if you don’t, I’ll briefly outline it for you.

A day in the life.

6:45am get up, proceed to spend 20-30 min in the shower continuing the waking up process. Make lunch, breakfast, and whatever else- walk to work and work 8am-6pm (or 5 depending on the day). Get home, work with horses (depending on weather, of course), eat somewhere in there, and usually by 7 or 8pm be working out with my fantastic personal trainer until 9 or 10pm. Get back home, find bed, and set alarm for the next day- as I’m working 6 days a week right now. This is a very general schedule- soon, as in next week, we’ll be adding in study time as I start classes on Wednesday. Most of the time, if you asked me what day it is, I would not be able to give a quick answer.

So there you go, that’s where all my time is flying to.

Willard is coming along quite nicely, if I do say so. We’ve gotten over the fear of being in the ring alone and can now work successfully without prancing for the first half hour. The other night we even ventured to the back pasture by ourselves to so some conditioning. I was so proud! As it stands right now, I don’t think the Victoria Day Weekend show will be in our reach- as my work schedule will still be insane and we are nowhere near show ready. I’m hoping to make the Summer Smiles show in mid June, that’s my goal anyway. That gives us a month and a half to get ourselves organized. It still might be a stretch.

We had a lesson today with Charlene, and it went so so good! I’ll post some videos later. His canter has become so adjustable lately, all our flat work is paying off! My eye has also improved 110% since last year. Charlene pointed that out, I can see distances from 4/5 strides out and adjust, if needed, so I get to the jump at a good spot. It all felt so natural today. We didn’t have one bad jump! Even cantering to a single oxer off a diagonal turn, which was our weakness last year. Happy dance!

And yes, I have a personal trainer. Or the equivalent of. It’s been 2 weeks of working out 5 days a week, plus riding- and I have to say, I’m feeling awesome. I feel stronger in the saddle (and more confident as a result), and all those pesky injuries haven’t bothered me much at all since starting this new work out. A lot of what we do is strength stuff, as that is what I need more of. I already have the flexibility of a elite gymnast. The reason I end up with so many out of the blue muscular problems is because of that flexibility, so we’re balancing it out with some strength. I’ve made the decision to commit to improving my fitness and basically rebuild my body- because I’m tired of being frustrated and hurting myself. Although I did do a lot of working out before, I accomplish more when I have someone there to push me and challenge me- at the same time keep me from hurting myself and over doing it. I plan on posting our work out records on here eventually, so anybody who is interested can follow my progress! If this is 2 weeks, I can’t wait for 4 weeks! If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you- right?

As I said earlier, I start classes this week! Monday, Wednesday, Friday 9am-12 I’ll be in the city for Anatomy, and then back in Carman to work until 6. I’m so excited!! Which I know I probably will regret saying later on, when I’m studying all the time. But still, so pumped! To make it all better, my favourite AT is my teacher! Can’t wait!

First lesson, after many learned.

Mom, Willard, Felix, and I made the trek to Mike and Charlene’s this morning so I could have a lesson with Charlene. Felix came along just so he could see what the outside world is like. He was a champ, loaded with absolutely no problem and didn’t even look twice at the new sights once he came off the trailer. Willard had numerous jokes at his expense about his furriness, and roundness- compliments of Mike. All in good fun. Charlene even said after our lesson that he looked better with more weight on, and it’d be awesome if we could keep him a little bulky- with more muscle and conditioning of course. Don’t think he’d make it around a 3ft course at the moment.

As to be expected, Charlene took us right down to the basics. My equitation was picked apart and right away we were on to fixing some habits I’d developed while overseas. I have to say, my equitation has definitely improved over the past 6 months. I’m much more solid in the saddle, and my lower leg doesn’t move much- where as last year I was working hard on fixing that. Something about riding young expensive horses in front of the trainer and owners at a barn across the planet fixed that. Perfection is everything in that situation.  That being said, because I rode so many young horses, I got used to riding with my hands in a wider position- which is a common practice when riding some horses, especially younger inexperienced ones. But on a horse like Will, or one who is farther along in training, you don’t need wide hands. So right away Charlene picked at my hands. Another hand issue I have is I tend to pull too much on the inside rein, and we worked on fixing this by doing large circles with me focusing either on my hands, or the centre. Just so I could get the feel back of riding a trained horse, and not having to correct his every move. Because with him I don’t, anymore, he’s falling back into his old regular self again. Slowly but surely. The first half hour of the morning was spent with me just warming up and getting Will used to that arena again. He knew where he was as soon as we walked in the ring. He’s always loved that ring. Then Charlene spent a bit with me working on the flat, nit picking at my equitation. Another habit we’re working on killing is letting my hips slide to the back of the saddle. A minor problem that many riders have. Charlene always emphasizes the importance of keeping your hips close to the front of the saddle, so your legs remain under you- keeping the angle open. This is one of those habits that it’s hard to tell when you’re doing it, because it is such a minor position change- but a important one. And as Kyle Timm once told me in NZ, “The difference between the great riders and good riders, are the ones who have the ability to fix habits on their own without having a coach tell them every five seconds to fix it”. It’s always up to you to better yourself. A coach is there for guidance and support- but if you’re going to progress it really comes down to how focused you are on your riding. Something that’s stuck with me.

After flatting, we began some jumping work. Pretty low key stuff- seeing as I haven’t jumped anything more than thistles in a pasture for 8 months, and neither has my horse. First up was a cross-rail with a pole placed one stride in front. The first time or so we did this exercise it was pretty.. dodgy. We got over it, but our timing was different. We were both arriving at the jump at different times and expecting different things to happen. But after a couple iffy goes, we synced up our timing and did it quite nicely. I’d forgotten how round Willard jumps- and how much this tends to throw me forward more. Now that I am remembering all this, I can focus again on keeping my shoulders up over  jumps, and not letting myself fall too close into his neck. Especially over baby jumps. After this exercise we moved to a vertical set in the centre of the ring. Trotting over it and stopping. Simple enough. Again though, the timing thing just wasn’t there. I ended up on his neck a couple of times. At least I’m good at catching myself? Haha. So, we went again, this time with me transitioning from posting to sitting trot a few strides before the jump, so I didn’t get caught mid ride when he hesitated. This helped immensely, and built both our confidence in each other. The next step in the exercise was trotting the centre jump, coming back on an angle one way, then the other, and then back through the centre to a halt at the end of the ring. Coming into this lesson I expected him to be quite strong and pully once we started jumping- because he’s always been pretty excitable when it comes to jumping. I think this is what Charlene expected too. But he surprised us both. Cantering away from the jumps he maintained a light, balanced feel and didn’t try and run into any jumps. He was very responsive to my aides pretty much the whole time. A welcome surprise!

The last exercise of the day really proved he remembered was a light, balanced canter was. We trotted into a wall jump on the diagonal off the wall in a corner, with an awkward line away from the jump. I was to keep him balanced around the corner and then transition to a walk after cantering through the awkward corner. He did it perfectly. I hardly had to correct him. That was encouraging. Even though the whole lesson was focused on the basics, and we were only jumping little stuff meant to build our confidence and get us used to each other again- I was so happy that he was listening so well. It means that once we get into more complex work again we won’t have as far to go. I knew that when I stopped training for 8 months I ran the risk of having to start over completely again, so I’m happy that we aren’t getting thrown right back to the start-again. We’re on our way back! Small victories!

So you have a distracted horse.

It’s a challenge we all face (well those of you who ride, anyway). Especially this time of year. Even more so if your horse is coming off 8 months of pasture time. Thankfully this awesome weather is providing lots of opportunities to get out there and re-focus your pony on the most important thing: what you’re telling (asking) them to do.

The past few rides for me have gone along these lines..

1. Pleasant warm up with Mom in the ring playing with Felix.

2. Me being amazed at how well my horse is listening and responding.

3. Feeling like a champ.

4. Other horses leave the ring.

5. Suddenly I become of little importance.

6. Awesome feeling vanishes.

7. The next 45 minutes are spent competing for focus.

This is to be expected. My horse literally hasn’t left the pasture since last August. Who can blame him for being a tad bit herd bound. I’m noticing huge similarities between the horse I bought 5 years ago, the wild eyed 6 yr old who pranced for the first half hour every ride, regardless, and the horse I’ve been working with for the past few weeks. Although, he’s definitely still got some of his discipline. Deep, deep down. It’s very apparent when he’s surrounded by his friends and I’m riding. As soon as you take him out of his comfort zone, though..

Luckily, I’ve learnt how to deal with this. Way back in the day during our trial period with Mr. Willard, I attended a dressage clinic at Pine Ridge. It was a solo lesson, and the Willard I was on was in no way happy about this. I was pretty nervous myself, to be honest. But- what happened over the next hour that day was amazing. By the end of the clinic, he was completely focused on me and not worried about anything else. When we left the ring we had spectators coming up and telling us how amazing the whole process was to watch. I’ll probably never forget that day- as it was the first time we’d seen the potential Will has. What was the magic trick? Constant stimulation. Never letting him take his attention off of me. Even if it meant walking two steps, stopping, walking, stopping, walking, backing up, trotting, stopping, etc. Every time he even thought about taking his focus away, I was responsible for bringing it back. Always questioning him, asking for something. It could be the simplest idea. Like a walk to halt transition. Any kind of transition really. A pivot. A change of direction. Walking in squares, spirals, circles, triangles, you name it. Constant change. A major clue as to where your horse’s focus is? The ears. If they’re pricked forward, he definitely is not concerned about what the small human on his back is doing. Having one ear cocked to the side, or slightly backwards is a positive sign you’re getting somewhere. You can tell a lot from the ears. Another thing I’ve learned over the years working with Will, and similar horses, is that sometimes you just gotta give them a chill out period. After 15 minutes of you constantly picking at them, who can blame them for getting a little annoyed. A few minutes of loose rein time can go a long way, especially with ADHD horses. It also gives you as a rider a chance to relax, too. Because, trust me, rides like this are not always the most fun. It’s also important to know when to push, and when to call it a day. If you’ve won a battle, and your horse is listening to you- doing what you ask, then maybe it’s time to give them a pat and move on. There’s no sense pushing it too far, and opening up a new war that ends up lasting another hour. That’s hard on you and the horse. Be okay with small victories!

Riding isn’t just a physical act; it’s a mind game- 110% of the time. Horses are smart (even though I’ve often found myself muttering the words stupid, ignorant, idiotic when having a frustrating ride), and they can read you like a book.  They will find ways to challenge you and try to take the easy way out, at least some of the time. While every horse is different, they will be stubborn, pushy, full of attitude, and be complete asshats- as much as they will be cute, full of heart, compassion, and talent. As Charlene likes to say, “Horses keep us humble”. They can bring out the best in us, if we have the patience to work for it. Nothing worth having comes easy, right?