I’ve been thinking for a while about the blog’s name: the only mare left in my life is Lucy, who is retired and lives 1500 miles from me. The name gave no indication of what was happening around here. But I didn’t have a better idea so it stayed.
Then I got into Archie’s Instagram account. And his reputation as the partypony became known (I’d say far and wide, but that’s mostly because Emily lives in California and that’s far away so). And I realized – duh. The name was right in front of me. We’re Party Pony Eventing. It represents more than just Archie himself though.
The party isn’t I’m some wild, ‘up until wee hours’ kinda person. It’s the sitting around with your barn mates watching lessons after yours. Having drinks after a trail ride. Sitting around at a show in the evening, catching up with friends you haven’t seen in months and laughing about the day’s events. The party is the celebration when you cross the finish flags – or maybe when you successfully jump that damn slatted table that’s been haunting your dreams for months. Sometimes the party is just celebrating the joy of having a horse and marveling at how lucky you are or spending a few extra moments to get the really itchy spot.
We may not always (ever?) win, but we’re not going to lose the party – because as long as we’re having fun, we’re winners. So cheers to good friends, good horses and good drinks.
(Please update your RSS feeds if needed, I unfortunately don’t know how to redirect those!)
It’s taken me a few days to finish writing about day two of the clinic: cross country day. Between exhaustion (post clinic hangover is a thing), lessons and regular rides, work and trying to put the words together, it ended up being longer than expected. (Not to mention trying to figure out the stupid WordPress/RSS photo issue)
Archie is naturally less experienced on XC and I get more nervous when the jumps get solid – not always the ideal combination. We’ve taken it really slowly though and after schooling at the HHP and our great stadium lesson, I came out feeling ready to rock. I just wanted to jump some starter stuff, nice and easy to get ready for IEA. HAHA.
We started by warming up over a log we’ve jumped quite a bit – but that’s also usually more of a mid-lesson ride vs our warmup fence. Archie was like, “yeah, and?” and popped over like nothing though. We circled over it, turning both ways and it got better and better just with the repetition. Added in some other small Starter stuff we’ve done recently and I was like, alright, okay! I’ve got this!
Annnd then Sharon added in the Grey whiskey barrels (we call it the distillery) – which is a solid BN fence. One I’ve jumped on Doc and Iggy. But definitely have not jumped on Archie. I came down to it the first time and Archie said, “Uh, she doesn’t want to jump it so I’m not going to…” We regrouped and… ran out again. At this point Sharon pointed out it was more of a ‘wanna go to the barn’ thing. The barn was over to our left and the horse kept running out… left. Duh. She had me reevaluate my line so I was jumping it straighter away vs angled towards the barn (essentially if you jumped it perfectly perpendicular, you were heading angled at the barn, but if you changed the angle slightly, they were jumping straight forward out into the field). Voila! A very anti-climatic first BN XC fence! (JK, we got claps and cheers because we have the best barn family ever) Archie is funny; he’ll stop if you aren’t riding confidently and forward, but he’s not afraid. He never really overjumps things huge or even peeks down at them, which is a relief for my out of shape ammie ass.
We went on and Archie schooled all the banks with a yawn – even the bigger N/T one (this will become important later). We practice our bank complex at least once, if not multiple times a week, just walking off and on while hacking out or after lessons. It’s really paid off because the footwork makes sense to him and banks are NBD.
A small course followed – our first log, back around to a BN log pile, the grey whiskey barrels to another set of brown barrels (also a very solid BN fence), a black BN rolltop, the bigger ditch, a small Starter rolltop, the novice bank up, a few strides, down and back over the grey barrels the other direction.
The brown barrels posed a little trouble, mainly because my eyes bugged out, but after some coaching, we jumped them without a problem and he was fantastic for the rest of the course. This horse thinks ditches are the BEST – all the fun of jompies with none of the work. Weirdo, but I’ll take it.
Off to the water we went. I knew Archie had been a pain at the water two weekends ago, so I was prepared for some antics, but he just… strolled in. Pleasantly surprised, Sharon had us walk up the itty bitty bank out of the water (it’s maybe 12″… MAYBE), no problem. Now turn around and just walk right off of it.
HAHAHAHAHA Archie said YALL CAN FUCK OFF NOW.
Commence tantrum of the year. Do I own a horse or a petulant toddler? Don’t answer that. After 20 minutes of progressively worse behavior, Sharon asked if I was okay having one of the juniors get on him. She’s an amazing rider (the one who took him over his first ditch last month), rides Prelim and brings up all kinds of sassy ponies. Um, YES PLEASE. I hate to admit it, but I was more than happy to throw my dumbass horse’s reins at her. (Note: usually I follow the ‘don’t call your horse an asshole, words matter’ perspective, but this? This was my horse being an epic asshole.) He had made up his mind he was NOT GOING DOWN THAT BANK NO MA’AM.
Junior (I’ll call her A, if you’re an Area VIII person, I’m sure you’ll recognize her) worked and worked him. We put every other horse in that field in the water (…again). And finally. Archie said, “I JUST WANTED A POOL PARTY!” and hopped down like he did this every single day. No leap, no Superman antics, nothing. Just meandered right off.
I told you. Asshole.
She finished out the rest of the ride on my (now soaking wet) horse – jumping him around a bunch more BN stuff, including the bank out three stride pheasant feeder combination. He finished looking like he’d just run around Kentucky – SOAKING wet, lathered in sweat. Dude. You did this to yourself…
We’ve spent everyday since lunging in and out of the water on both banks in the water. He now does both our itty bitty one and the larger one on the other side in hand. We’ll find out this weekend if it translated under saddle. It seems once he ‘gets’ something and realizes he has to do it, it seems to click and not be an issue, but oh my god, the drama involved was Oscar worthy.
I can laugh about it now and I’m still super happy with the day and the weekend. I never mind having A school Archie: there’s a lot of value in those confident miles and I’m actually really happy we got to work through this entire issue and tantrum with someone like Sharon. I already can’t wait to see her again at camp in July.
We’ve definitely had a busy few weekends, which is honestly how I like it. I spend all winter hibernating; once it’s warm outside I want to be out and doing something all the time. The schooling trial two weeks ago, XC schooling last weekend and then most recently, the Sharon White clinic this past weekend.
This is the sixth? seventh? time I’ve ridden with Sharon and I just adore her. She’s incredibly positive, but she’ll definitely still push you and with her encouragement, you feel like you can do just about anything. Not to mention, she’s an incredible rider, but more importantly – she gets horses unlike anyone I’ve ever known.
She met Archie this winter at the December clinic and liked him, but we were still learning each other, jumping baby stuff and gaining confidence. This time, Archie and I were really clicking, it feels like we’re having breakthroughs practically weekly and we had that fantastic liverpool lesson just days before on Tuesday night.
Saturday was stadium day. (No photos or video from Saturday, so you get Sunday XC photos) I hate going first in lessons/clinics/whatever. In part from nerves and in part because I get lost like, every single day. Yet Saturday, I was like, YUP we’ll go and just went for it. We warmed up over a vertical on a fairly tight circle and Arch was like, “Hi, I’m Archie, I’m Fancy and everyone should look at me.” My regular trainer has been working on my position – I stand up a little more than let my hips push backwards over fences. Not a big deal at 2’3″ or even really 2’6″, but it’s not a great habit to carry forward. Wouldn’t you know, warming up over those fences, it just.. clicked. Boom. Got it. It felt fantastic.
We moved to coursework which was full of rollbacks and turns. It was only 5 fences, but it was tight (there were seven other jumps in the ring I didn’t put on here too). The first vertical kept going up and up too – I have no idea how big it actually ended up being but my eyes definitely bugged out a little cantering down to it the last time.
Vertical, rollback left to another vertical, bending six to a wide oxer, super tight rollback/u-turn back to another vertical, up through a tiny gap around the end to rollback to an oxer and then we had to turn right at the end. Arch thought this course was great fun.
The turn from 3 to 4 was by far the hardest and despite nailing it twice, our third time through, I saw the deep one at 3, Achie saw the flyer, we landed a little disorganized, and he gave me the middle finger. Sharon, never one to blame the horse, actually called Archie on this one – he’s an amateur horse, the fences are 2’6″, I’m allowed to miss here and there and he’s not allowed to hold it against me the rest of the ride. Sure, the fix is ‘never miss’ but let’s be real. I’m going to miss. He can’t get so offended that he decides he’s not jumping.
Arch and I had a quick life chat and it finished out great. Even with the small issue, I was so happy with the day. We had one rail the entire day (my fault), my position felt strong and I was reminded how much I love jumping this horse. He makes jumping so easy. I knew Sunday was going to take some work on my part, but it was the perfect precursor to XC.
Full recap of our weekend with Sharon White to come (once I shake off the clinic hangover, omg I am exhausted), but I’ve walked away from the last two weekends with so much information. Namely, much of Archie and my challenges come from a place of fear. In stadium, he knows the drill so even when I get a little bug eyed at a fence, he’s not concerned. But take us out onto the XC course and he feels that hesitation or fear and he thinks, “Well shit, if she’s hesitating, I shouldn’t jump that.” Except, it escalates when he stops: I get more nervous, he starts throwing himself around (after all, why is his crazy owner trying to make him jump something she’s nervous about?), which feeds right back into the cycle. Now some of this is Archie taking advantage and being a dick. Lots of this is my own riding. It’s the combination that puts us into an unfortunate place. Once I get confident, he’s fine – I’ve seen this as I’ve gotten comfortable with the smaller XC fences.
It boils down to two things: physical and mental strength.
The physical is straightforward: when I’m stronger, I’m less nervous. I don’t worry that every big jump or minor disobedience will land me on my ass. I’m more confident to try new things. I also die a little less in my lessons which is always a positive. This is the easy one to solve. I’m back on my spin bike, back into yoga, adding pilates and some weights. I don’t love working out, but if I remember I’m doing it for riding (literally my Peloton name is @thepartypony) it makes it easier to do. And spin is fun at least.
Mental on the other hand… that’s the harder one. Repetition helps. The more I jump something, the easier it gets. But that’s not always possible, particularly when it comes to showing. And it’s totally lizard brain taking over, because if I think through it logically, I’m fine. BN black rolltop at home: I’ve jumped it 100 times between Doc and Iggy. Never had a problem with it. It always jumps well. We were jumping it coming towards home, which is always easier. What was I afraid of? That he’d jump it giant and unseat me? He’s never done that before. That he’d take off? Never done that. Worrying about a stop? Well, if I worry about the stop and think he’s going to stop, the horse is going to stop! No kidding. A quick tap on the shouder or behind the leg to remind him I mean business is usually all it takes. But that tap? Takes the mental willpower of an elephant. Despite that my horse has never lost it over a quick tap.
I struggled for years with fear after my riding accident. Like, went from a happy hunter kiddo to being afraid to have a lunge line lesson. Then afraid to canter. Afraid to ride outside an arena. It’s hard to accurately represent the terror I had as a kid. I distinctly remember sitting on my trainer’s older than dirt gelding for an entire “lesson” – and when he shifted his weight to cock a back foot, being in sobbing tears of fear. The fact that I ride, much less event, twenty years later is remarkable. The fact that I’m able to work through my fear 99% of the time is amazing and a testament to a lot of hard mental work as a kid. This fear is not that fear. That fear was paralyzing. This is just self-doubt.
So, I’ve bought the books. Signed up for the classes. Brought it up to work on in therapy.
I’m not afraid to do the work. I’m afraid of what will happen if I don’t do the work.
My standing Tuesday evening lesson started mid-winter when I was frustrated and hitting a brick wall. It started as just groundwork, evolved into flatwork and has settled in as my dressage lesson. I give huge credit to having that dedicated time to the improvement Archie and I have seen as a team and the fact that of my three event horses, he’s the one I can consistently keep the connection with the best. This week a friend asked if she could crash and another boarder has been dropping into it when she can, so it became a 6:15pm jump lesson which I was perfectly okay with in preparation for this weekend’s Sharon White clinic.
We warmed up over a small vertical, focusing on keeping the ride quiet and consistent, and from the first steps I could tell Archie came to play today. We had one weird moment where he suddenly stopped being able to function at all, but I pulled him up to see what was happening and realized somehow he’d managed to get a giant chunk of grass… in his eye? I literally do not know how. Issue resolved, we continued on, switched directions and got to work.
Sometime in the last week, they drug the liverpool out under one of the fences. I was 99.8% positive Archie had never seen one before (nor had the other two) so we spent some time just trotting over it by itself. He got ever so slightly looky to it the first time, realized it was boring and proceeded to hop over like nbd each time after. It got set to a starter-ish size vertical and we practiced coming down the line – liverpool to oxer, left handed rollback to a vertical, bending back to the liverpool, left turn back to a vertical, bending back to the oxer – kind of a figure 8 type pattern. From there, around to the two (aka an Archie three) stride, tight rollback to an oxer, bending to a vertical.
I realized this weekend a lot of my nerves come from worrying I can’t ride something. Perfect example: Archie was being an ass on Saturday and needed a reminder that adult, sane horses do not act that way. But my brain was going, as soon as I do that, he’s gonna lay me on my ass. The solution is (obviously) not to let him do whatever the hell he wants – the solution is I have to get stronger to ride the horse.
Archie genuinely loves stadium – the twisty, turny courses suit him so well and keeps his brain moving enough to quiet all the little voices. He was so good that when my trainer asked after our first course how I thought it was, I said I’d dropped my eye in one of my bending lines which dropped the back rail of the oxer, but was otherwise happy and she (not one to hand out compliments) said nevermind that (I wasn’t wrong hah), that she thought it had been great. That he’d been great and I’d come out and rode the horse with direction and instruction from the first stride. I just about fell over. I knew it’d felt good, but great?! I ended up riding the wonky line once more and the course once more in entirety and that was it – the entire lesson. It felt so good to come out and be able to lay down a course like that (might I add a harder course than one would normally find at starter) right off the bat. I just have to come out with my brain ready to say, “let’s go Arch,” and mean it. Weird the way that works, huh?
Which is how I’ve found myself knee-deep in spin and pilates again. Spin is so nice, because with the addition of my bike, I can take a 20 or 30 minute class during lunchtime without the logistical nightmares. Pilates is down the street and hard as fuck, but worth it (please tell this to 16 year old Holly who took pilates as a ‘fun, relaxing easy class’ WTF) for the core strength.
Progress takes time, but I’m excited – twice weekly lessons, the upcoming clinic with Sharon (including XC on Sunday pleasepleaseplease don’t rain please), plus cross training – I feel really good about finally accomplishing my goal to run at IEA in a month (3.5 weeks actually but who’s counting idk). Now to just deal with the smalllllll detail called ‘I forgot to get a hotel room and now they’re all sold out hahahahahaha maybe I can sleep in Archie’s stall with him’. Minor detail, right?
The Hoosier Horse Park, our local show/XC venue (also host to the 1987 Pan Am Games, fun fact) offered open XC schooling this weekend and we took advantage to prepare for IEA Horse Trials at the beginning of next month. They didn’t put a lot of jumps out, but there was water and honestly, plenty of fences for my level (aka THE SMALL SHIT).
We needed to be down there by 8am which meant a 5am alarm clock and being on the road by 6:30am – ouch. Loading was an adventure itself (tl;dr Archie had never been in a straight load, he was awful for 30 minutes and then the mom with us took him, patted his neck and walked him right on at which point he looked at us and went, “What’s the big deal guys?” HORSES.) but soon enough we were on the road, everyone unloaded easily and we got tacked up. Our lesson wasn’t due to start until 9:30 so we decided we’d just go hack around. Archie wasn’t so sure what this giant open field was all about, but after kaleidoscoping his head around, he settled right in and was happy to go hack around.
Due to scheduling I ended up in a lesson with a junior and another amateur from my barn who are both schooling training level so we spent some time watching the ‘big brave horses jump big things’. It was really, really good for Archie’s brain to just be out and about. We made our way to the water complex – it’s a really nice one down there – big shallow entrance, plus banks of every size in and out. We have a small water at home Archie goes in and out of all the time, plus I make him walk through every puddle in our path. Yet, this water? This water was TERRIFYING. We tried to follow other horses in, we had his friends stand in the water, we tried standing next to the water. Arch was not having it. Finally, I ended up getting off and walking him in a few times and it seemed to click in his brain that this was the same thing as at home. Cue facepalm. After that we went in and out about a hundred times. He still tried to be an ass and insist he was afraid about midway through, but guess what, he’s a terrible liar.
From the water, I found some cute starter fences I said I wanted to jump. A little grey coop and a baby hanging rail – we jumped them both individually and then strung them together. For all of Archie’s insistence he had no idea what he was doing earlier that day, when it came to jumping he went, “Yawn, this?” and loped around all of them. This horse is wildly frustrating sometimes and then 10 minutes later he’ll be perfect. Humbling sport, that’s for sure.
We finished the day with another little coop over on the backside (near the old water, for those familiar) and finally, with another one set two strides off a little hill/path through the woods. We jumped them both ways and this damn horse didn’t put a foot wrong. With that we called it a day – Archie had jumped a grand total of 5 fences, probably about 12 efforts and was soaked like he’d just run prelim, but that’s what happens when you a) insist on being a drama llama and b) are a little… rotund at the moment.
I came off course having gone through a rollercoaster of emotions – everything from ‘f this, I should sell him’ to ‘wow, he’s going to be so fun next month!’ but two days later I can say we’re going to be just fine. It’s hard to go from a horse like Iggy, who had totally been there-done that, gone Training, etc. to Arch, who I still have to remember had never been offsite XC schooling before Saturday and has XC schooled maybe seven? eight? times total. We’re going to IEA next month with zero pressure. If we get down there and can do a dressage test? Awesome. If we feel good enough to jump stadium? Super. If we can hold our brain together in XC warmup? Great! If we jump one XC fence? That’s an accomplishment. We’re going for the experience, not the show record or ribbons. The more experiences and repetition we get, the better we’ll be. Once upon a time, Doc and Iggy and every other horse I’ve ridden was green on XC too. The only way it gets better is practice. Summer of XC schooling it is.
I have to confess to an obsession: I stalk the FEI Eventing ponies in Europe. I half-blame Amanda for her role modeling in horse stalking (ahem, every Mighty Magic and Tullabeg Fusion baby ever), but I’ll own my pony bias. It started with Iggy the Pocket Rocket and even though Archie is horse/hony sized (15h), I’m now 120% on the eventing pony train. I love a little guy.
I watch the CCIP* and ** events on FEI and stalk results. I follow an embarrassing number of FEI pony riders on Instagram. I google pony names and breeding and photos of them. I creep sales ads.
The truth is I probably wouldn’t be able to ride 80% of them – they’re spicy, sassy little things over there with straight up jet packs attached to their feet. Does it stop me from daydreaming? Absolutely not. The Europeans man, they’re like, “Oh it’s 14h? Of course it can jump 1.1m XC” or “It has questionable brakes? Perfect pony for a 9 yr old.”
Americans are so weird about height – I see so many ads where people won’t look at anything under 16h and I just don’t get it. The day I went from a 16.1h horse to something hony sized, it was like angels sang. I’m short and it’s just harder for me physically to ride something big. I don’t think I’d ever want to jump at the FEI level, pony heights or not (the CCIP* jumps 1.05m which is still bigger than I care to face down on a XC course), but I love that there’s this high level of competition available for them. Did I mention you have to be under 16? Bold kids.
So, I’m exposing myself as the creepy FEI pony stalker. And if you see a fancy eventing pony show up in Indiana… don’t uh, look at me.
My barn does nearly monthly schooling shows throughout show season. They’re super useful because my trainer sets legit courses and brings in “R” and “r” judges who also regularly judge at recognized USEA events in our area. Add in they’re at home (no hauling!) and extremely affordable – it’s a great way to get some atmosphere and school before heading to recognized events.
Our second of the season was Saturday, so I signed up to do a Green as Grass (18″/crossrails) round and another at Starter. We’ve consistently been jumping Starter height at home (or even BN!), but I knew with some additional atmosphere, Archie could be a little worked up and figured a quick jaunt around the small stuff would be confidence building for both of us.
We had early ride times and he was definitely a little ‘up’ (…for Archie. Being up means we walked around really fast snorting for like a solid 3 minutes before realizing that was a lot of work) so I tried to give him a nice, relaxed warmup and went for a long walk around the farm away from the busyness as much as possible. By the time we went down centerline, he was about as relaxed as I felt I was going to get him that morning. He held it together for 97% of the test and it was definitely one of the best we’ve had (of a sample size of like 4 but whatever).
He had one sassy moment in our first canter circle where he “bucked” (nobody tell him he can’t actually buck very well), I trotted too soon after the walk work (brain fart) and he got a little antsy in our second trot circle with a few strides where he broke to the canter, but other than those, I was honestly so proud and happy of the little guy. Our trot work was worlds better than the last time we did this test and almost as good as its been in lessons, our canter work was some of the absolute best canter we’ve had and he even *drumroll* had his ears up for most of my test. Showoff wants an audience apparently.
I was absolutely gleeful with a 35 (a 65% for you dressage people). A 35 with two big mistakes that are easy to resolve? I’ll take that all day. Those are easy points to pick back up, plus some smaller ones (ahem, where did that nice square halt disappear to Archie?) and for a horse who has been doing dressage really only since January.
Our stadium rounds were great (minus the moment he decided to jump a crossrail like it was 2’6″… wtf dude and deciding to start our Starter round on the wrong lead despite having auto changes) – double clears and the one at Starter he was absolutely fantastic. Even when I didn’t see a distance and shoved an extra stride in down the outside line, oops. There was a really tight rollback and he said, “game on” and got it done like it was a piece of cake.
We took our nice jaunt around the 18″ division XC fences and he was great, although I expected nothing less seeing as we walk over most of those jumps multiple times a week on hacks. (We ended up 2nd so we did bring home a pretty ribbon) Our Starter round started fine – popped over a little log we schooled a few weeks ago, we were coming to a little slatted table and all of a sudden… the front of my horse disappeared out from under me. Somehow Arch had tripped (?) and he fell hard – my trainer happened to be almost right there jump judging and she said his face was practically on the ground. I slid off right over his head and landed basically sitting down. It was an incredibly slow motion, gentle fall and I landed still holding his reins. Archie stared at me in confusion for a minute, wondering what the hell I was doing down there. I was (and am) completely fine – I’ve fallen harder tripping over stuff on my own feet, but wanted to make sure he was okay. He had grass on his legs, but seemed to be no worse for wear. Honestly nobody knows how he did it – the ground wasn’t slick, he doesn’t wear shoes, nobody could find a hole or anything, so we’ve just chalked it up to a freak ‘forgot I had four legs’ kinda thing. I got back on (schooling shows woohoo) and jumped around a few fences in warmup and then between divisions, popped over a few small XC fences just to end on a positive note.
I went out and checked him yesterday and he’s totally fine, not a bump or bruise, so it doesn’t seem to have done any damage. We went for a nice long walk/trot hack before he got rinsed off and stuffed with more cookies.
It wasn’t the ending I really wanted, but that’s horses and life – and I’m glad it happened at home vs at a bigger (more expensive) venue. This upcoming weekend we’ll head to the Hoosier Horse Park to school XC (and peek in on Jen and Karen showing at the IDS show!), the weekend after Sharon White will be here for a clinic and then a few weeks later, we’re entered to go down to show at IEA Horse Trials! Kicking off a busy summer and I’m excited to see how everything goes with the PartyPony!