Friday, February 14, 2020

Nine is Fine

Birthday boy, waiting for his treats
Happy birthday Cupid!!  It doesn't feel that long that I brought a sweet, tiny, green three year old home!  At the time I had no idea what laid ahead, and though we may not have had all the show ring success I may have hoped for, I couldn't be happier with the bond we have forged.  I'm also proud of the progress we made, slow as it may be, and happy and optimistic about the future. 
June 2014, our first ride together
I wish I was more eloquent so I could put into words what Cupid means to me.  How I can forget everything that's been stressing me when I'm with him, how he motivates me to keep trying and be better.  To whatever extent horses feel love, I hope he knows how much I love him. 

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Feels like Spring

The past week or so has been steady and unremarkable.  I've continued doing no-stirrup work, even volunteering it in our last lesson.  It has really helped me better feel what is happening under me and also if I'm leaning.  Some things are easier, others a bit more challenging like not letting my hands fly up during our trot to canter transitions. 
Enjoying sunshine and grass
Since the weather has been nice, our outdoor arena is open again after about 2 months of non-use.  Our first ride in it was good, but the second time we went in there Cupid was very spooky and distracted.  We've ridden in it once more since, and he was still a bit spooky but not quite as bad.  Since this morning I didn't have much time to ride, I just did a bit of groundwork with him out there, hopefully that will help him be more relaxed next time.

Cupid and I also enjoyed a little jumping session while the jumps were set low.  We tested out the new filler and a little 2 stride combination.
New filler

2 stride combo
Last weekend we went on a trail ride, with our usual companions as well as 2 pairs from our barn.  Cupid was a little anxious at first because the 2 new horses were walking faster then him, and instead of walking faster himself he just wanted to jig.  So we stayed behind my friend I usually ride with until he settled back down, and ended up having a very lovely ride enjoying our unseasonably nice weather.

Unfortunately Cupid got what I think was a kick in the chest, but luckily it was not serious.  We took it easy just walking a few days in case he was sore, but it is healing up nicely.

Monday, February 3, 2020


One thing that really stood out to me in the video from the show was my floppy feet.  My trainer had been telling me that our past few lessons, but I didn't realize how bad it was until I saw the video!  And then Emma's comment got my thinking about the root cause, which I think is that I brace against the stirrups.

To back it up, I am somewhat a self-taught rider.  I started out taking lessons, once a week at a H/J lesson barn with my sister, but after not quite a year my parents decided it would cheaper to just buy us a horse.  So we ended up with a very green 3 year old!  After about 2 months we convinced them to lease a second horse so we can ride together, so that's how I ended up with my eventual first horse, a ranch-broke quarter horse that was pretty amenable to whatever style riding I felt like doing on any given day.  I think I only rode her bareback for several months because I didn't have a saddle!  Eventually after a few years I was starting to earn some money and decided to do a few lessons, and I remember back then the trainer telling me that I was bracing in the stirrup, but I don't think I rode with her long enough to really fix anything.  So I've had that habit for over 20 years and it is not easy to change!

But I decided I can't brace against the stirrups if I don't have stirrups.  I've never really ridden Cupid without stirrups, except at a walk while we're warming up.  I've been putting it off because I'm not convinced I won't totally bounce off his back!  We started on a 20 meter circle, trotting about a full circle before transitioning down to a walk for a few steps, then back up to the trot, a few minutes each direction.  Keep it short so I can hopefully do it correctly!  I have to be careful not to round my shoulders, or "clench." 
The next ride we did it longer, making each trot set a little longer and also cantered!  And it went better than I expected.  It was mainly just the transitions into and out of canter that I was worried about, but I had already been working on doing it from my seat.  Of course once you're in the canter itself it's a bit easier than trotting!  But without stirrups I can really feel when Cupid gets rounder since it makes sitting easier, and we definitely had a few moments of this.

Before all this, I had promised Cupid that if he was good at the show that we would jump in our next lesson.  He held up his end of the bargain, so I did too and we had our first jump lesson since maybe last spring (aside from the Nick K clinic.)  We build up to a little course of 5 jumps, 2'3"-2'6" and Cupid was super!  Since Cupid was relaxed I was able to focus on smoothing things out - straight approach and departure, maintaining the canter I want, and trying to land on the appropriate lead - instead of just being totally preoccupied with the jump itself!  It was a lot of fun. 

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Yarra Yarra, Day 2

My trainer told me something in our last session before the show - that we are now at the point where I need to stop thinking about it as "surviving" the show, and focus on trying to ride our best possible test.  It's a small and silly distinction, but it is accurate.  I did go into a show thinking anything can happen (we can pick up the wrong lead, or start cantering when we're supposed to be trotting, or Cupid gets quick or even crop hops) so I was pretty happy just to get through it.  A test goes by so fast it's pretty much over before I even realize what's happening.  Often times in a show what we produced was maybe 50% as good as how we generally feel in a lesson; at our last show last fall I was pretty happy when it felt at least 75% as good.  But I really wanted to commit to putting in our best test possible, and not just "get through it."

My coach was also showing that day, she was riding not long before me so she was also warming up her own horse but did give me some tips in warm up.  Cupid was a little "up" but listening.  Since Cupid is more reactive at shows I decided to forgo spurs and my whip.  The warm up arena was pretty wet, though it felt okay and Cupid handled it fine but I didn't realize until afterwards just how dirty we had gotten!

We headed to the covered arena for our test, and I tried to remember everything I had been working on: steady contact, legs under me, sitting up, and set the tempo I want through my posting and not let Cupid change it.  And I think I was largely successful!  It is still a little inconsistent at times, but at least now I realize and more importantly can even correct when the reins have gotten a little long, or I'm tipping forward.  We had a few distracted moments when Cupid could hear his buddy whinnying and responded, right around the corner between A and F, but overall it was our best test to date.  It's a bit silly, but I was a bit overwhelmed with emotion after we finished.  You can see me smile as we halt at X, but after I squeaked out a thank you to the judge my eyes were tearing up.  Just really really happy with my horse, and that our hard work is finally feeling like it's paying off. 

Here's the full video:

We had a bit over half an hour until our second test, so I stayed on though we just walked and stood around for a bit.  I didn't feel like we needed to do a whole lot before our second test.  My coach came over with about 15 minutes to go and had us work a little on bending and getting round.

The second test was about the same quality as the first, which is to say I was quite happy.  Still a few things to work on - steadying the contact and fixing my suddenly weirdly floppy ankles/lower legs.  But overall this felt like a huge improvement from our last show last fall, and I think I'm finally starting to look like a dressage rider instead of a hunter rider in a dressage saddle!

Here's the video of our second test:

My tentative plan is to do one more rated show this March at Training, then hopefully try First level at a schooling show in April!

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Yarra Yarra Day 1

Last weekend Cupid and I went to our first show of the year.  We did this show two years ago, and based on that I expected to have an early ride time and decided to take Cupid over on Saturday (about an hour drive) and stable overnight.  But as luck would have it, I was actually the last rider of the day, finishing at 4 (with my first ride at 3:15).  I decided to try the stabling anyways and see what difference that makes.  Plus my friend / barnmate was also going so it would be more fun not having to be there alone. 

So on Saturday afternoon I loaded up the trailer and headed over.  Overnight accommodations were in permanent stalls in a small empty barn.  I think it was a 12x12 stall, with a window he could stick his head out through and a door he could see through and also stick his head out.  The automatic waterers were not on.  I haven't had to hang a bucket for Cupid in a while, and last time I did he kept dumping it.  I was hoping maybe he's grown up a bit since then, but no he still enjoys dumping his bucket! 
Home away from home

I let Cupid settle in his stall for a bit, then tacked up.  The warm up ring was closed, but we could ride in the show arena, which was set in the covered arena.  The judge's table was up as well, so it was nice to let Cupid see everything though he seemed fine with it all.  I was the only one riding.  We walked around and trotted a few laps, then I put Cupid on a circle to get him bending and round.  We went through a few components of each test, then one of the tests entirely.  I was feeling pretty good, and happy we got to test out the arena.  I gave Cupid his dinner and headed home.

Testing out the show arena
Cupid had finished all his hay when I got there the next morning, so I gave him his breakfast and cleaned his stall.  The first few horses were just starting to warm up as I went to take Cupid for a walk.  As we got closer to the warm up arena Cupid got a little prance-y and excited.  I didn't want to get too close to the warm up ring because I didn't want to get anyone else's horse there excited (I wouldn't appreciate that if I was in the warm up!) so we headed the other direction and heard a horse kicking the wall in the ... what is it called like a hot walker thing inside a round pen?  Whatever it's called, that totally set Cupid off - his tail shot straight in the air, he couldn't keep his feet on the ground and he was just snorting and blowing.  I tried to do some in hand exercises to get his attention back, with some success.  Then I saw someone coming out of the round pen, so I went in there and let Cupid go.  And go he did!  Once he finally came back to his senses I did a little more in hand work, which he did without any more excitement so I took him back to his stall and let him relax and eat while I cleaned tack.

I did not know a horse could even bend like that
Since I didn't need to get on until about 2:30 I had time to meet a friend for brunch, before coming back to walk Cupid, braid him, and tack up again.  At this point I wasn't sure if going a day early was going to help or hurt, because he was good when we first got there Saturday afternoon but pretty hyped up Sunday morning...

Thursday, January 9, 2020


Last year I didn't set any goals because I wasn't sure what to expect with the new baby.  I tried to figure out how to be more productive with more limited time.  We did not show or trail ride as much last year,  and stayed at Training level but by the end of the year it felt like things were starting to feel pretty good.  We lost some riding time in the summer when Cupid was sore in his back, and figured out Cupid seems happier with pads on his front feet.  We did not do much jumping, but I was brave enough to do a clinic with Nick Karazissis, and jump around at a local show's warm up day.

My goals for 2020:

-Move up to First Level: It's not so much the test itself (1-1 adds lengthenings in the trot and canter, which is not our forte but will be passable with a bit more work; and smaller circles which we can do) just solidifying our connection and roundness.

- Get a 7 on the rider collective score: This is what my trainer has challenged me with!  So far the best I've done is 6.5.

-Try something new: I was signed up for a cattlework clinic last year but unfortunately it was cancelled.  Hopefully it will be rescheduled for a day that works for us, or we will do some sort of trail trial or obstacle clinic or competition!

-More trail riding: I try to go once or twice a month but it hasn't been happening.  Of course right now it's weather dependent.  I'd also like to go to a new place.  And maybe do more trotting?

-TB show: I haven't figured out what my criteria for success is but we have set a date!

Forged in Fire

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

New Tack: Passier Marcus Ehning II Anatomical Bridle

I couldn't think of anything I really needed to buy on black Friday, but I felt compelled to get something.  Horrible I know!  Even though we didn't really need a new bridle, I have been thinking of trying one of the newer anatomical designs.  Cupid seems fine in his old ones, but he does sometimes stop to rub his face on his leg and usually after a ride he rubs his head on me.  So I wanted to see if we can avoid some of the nerves on his face whether that would make a difference.  Also the ear cutouts in the Bobby's bridle I primarily use aren't quite in the right place for him. 

I don't use a flash on him, so I needed something with no or a removable flash (I don't really care if there is a loop for it.)  I'm also apparently unusual in not really caring for patent leather, bling, or rolled leather so I was having a hard time finding something I liked! 

The Schockemohle Delta was close, but I wasn't sure about the noseband and bit hangers being on the same cheekpiece.  The Kavalkade Ivy fit my criteria, but I wanted to splurge on something a little nicer.  Finally I came across the Passier Marcus Ehning II. 

The size guide seemed to indicate that it runs a little bit, so I ordered the cob size which turns out to fit Cupid quite well.  It is not buttery soft, but true to its German heritage seems to be a good quality leather that will get better with age.   It came with webbed reins.

I wasn't sure about the curved browband, but I figured that would be simple enough to swap out if I don't like it.  But upon seeing it I think I'll keep it as is.  The noseband is thicker then I'd prefer, but it's alright.  It may just be a coincidence but in the first few rides with it Cupid has not rubbed his head on his legs, and after our rides he is still happy to have me rub his face but hasn't been rubbing his head on me.  Overall I am very happy with this purchase!