Sharon White, May 2021: Cross Country!

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.

Is this my new favorite photo? Yes.

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.

I am so graceful and beautiful

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.

We luv ditches

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.

It started so well…

HAHAHAHAHA Archie said YALL CAN FUCK OFF NOW.

HI HO SILVER BITCHES

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.

I SAID I DONT WANNA

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.

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Sharon White, May 2021: Stadium

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.

Last May with Sharon on Iggs

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.

Also from last year ❤️

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.

Acts like his life is the WORST

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.

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Sharon White Clinic, Day 2: Cross Country Day!

Sunday was everyone’s favorite: cross country day. I just had this feeling Iggs was going to be a blast and I was… not wrong. Holy crap, he’s like riding a little rocket. A rocket with OPINIONS, but definitely feels like you’re on that Space X ship. (Was my horse also designed by Elon Musk? It feels… like a question I don’t want answered…) Yet, there’s something about taking a brand new horse XC for the first time where you have those nerves – what’s he really like out there?

Spoiler alert

I was nervous about the heat from the get go – it was only the second truly hot day we’ve had and our weather had (in classic Indiana style) bounced between 55 and 85 that week. We ended up handling it better than expected which is a good sign since IEA’s HT at the Hoosier Horse Park has been rescheduled to the first week of August. Gulp.

We warmed up over some little starter stuff and right away Iggy had his game. face. on. Those ears were SO FAR FORWARD, he was like “FINALLY THE HUMAN ALLOWS ME TO DO MY THING” after weeks of hacking out in the fields. Two jumps in and I had a smile like a kid at Disney World – like OMG this horse is SO FUN. He did decide the tiny raised log we added in was not worth his time or effort and we nearly fell on our faces when he DIDN’T PICK UP HIS FEET WTF DUDE, but otherwise after those first few I knew it was going to be a good day.

We meandered over to the bank and just like last summer, Sharon had us just easy goes it cruise on up and down it – Iggy was like, “I got this bro” and put on his best western pleasure horse impression, getting a laugh out of everyone. We strung together some little courses with our little group of starter jumps and banks and hung out while everyone went through it. Iggy promptly tried to eat the steeplechase brush and was highly offended to discover it was fake.

From there, we headed to the water. In and out, walk, trot, canter, cool, not a problem. Up the little bank out of the water? Sure thing, mom! Down the tiny bank into the water? “HOLY HELL WHAT IS THAT THING I HAVE NEVER SEEN IT MONSTERS DEFINITELY LIVE THERE”

“Oh god oh god oh god OKAY FINE”

This damn horse convinced Sharon White he’d never gone down a drop into water (he has, in face, done this multiple times, complete with video evidence from his owner). I have 6 minutes of video of convincing this horse the only option was down and forward. I will spare you. It was ridiculous. Opinions, I tell you. So many opinions.

And then of course, we hopped in and it was, “Well if that’s all you wanted you should have said so. GOD, why did you make such a big deal out of this?” SAYS THE CHESTNUT PONY.

Once that was resolved, Sharon had us each pick our own little course so we could do what we felt confident about. I was feeling.. perhaps a little too confident, but set out a fun course – down the bank, through the water, out over a little red coop, right turn back through the water, out over a decent size log, blue table to some steps finishing over barrels heading home.

This should give you an indication of how it started. It was.. dramatic? Like, is this jumping into the head of the lake at Kentucky or a (barely) BN drop, Iggy? I swear this horse embodies #diditforthegram.

Somewhere in the midst of this drama, my figure 8 noseband came completely undone. Sharon saw my hesitation and basically said, “Don’t you dare stop!” so, uh, I rode the entire thing with half a noseband. The photos look like I don’t know how to tack up my damn horse, so that’s fantastic.

Noseband or not, Iggy had the freaking rocket boosters on and off we went. He’s so sensitive sometimes, I forget I’m driving a Ferrari now, not a limousine and my first turn nearly had me on my ass. I got a nice correction for that one, which I fully deserved. Gotta keep those eyes up and not make turns like I’m coming around the track at the Indy 500.

Off that turn though – the best part of my entire weekend. Through the water and out over that log and hot damn if Iggy didn’t blast off. I’m pretty sure I landed off that one laughing and yelling.

The rest of the course was a total blast too, but I’m not sure I’m going to forget the feeling of that air. I asked Sharon when we were cooling down if she thought I should drop to Starter for my first HT in a few weeks and her response made me squeal: that horse loves the bigger jumps (can you call BN bigger? Asking for a friend…), take him BN. You’re ready.

This is my new all time favorite gif

When I watched the video later, one of the other ladies from my barn looks over and goes, “She’s kind of an adrenaline junkie, isn’t she?”

WHOOPS. They found my secret. Glad I’ve got a rocket partner in crime.

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Sharon White Clinic, Day 1

Originally we were scheduled to ride in a Sharon White clinic at our barn around the end of March – needless to say, that didn’t happen and it ended up being rescheduled to last weekend. I didn’t have nearly as many rides leading up to it as I would’ve preferred, but work got crazy and… alas, it is what it is.

We had a good dressage ride Thursday and went for a fun road hack on Friday, before our Saturday morning SJ lesson. The morning started with two ground poles, set at a longish 5 strides and just going over them. First at a trot, then cantering. First time, in 5, next time trying to get as few strides as possible, then as many, alternating which direction you were turning at the end and adding a circle if you needed to (ahem, spoiler alert: we always needed to). Sharon’s big on having intention – so have your intention be, “Go for it, get up there, stretch it out,” or “Come back to me, sit, shorten up your step,” and really maintaining it in your head the whole way. It sounds a little like a hippie yoga class, but it works. We managed to do 4 (hey, 4 in a long 5 is pretty good when you’re 14.1) and all the way up to 7 before she turned them into a crossrail and an oxer.

This look was referred to as “Preppy Bank Robber” as I watched earlier groups

Once we started jumping it was trotting in, canter out, just keeping it nice and straight and even and getting the 5. Not because the “number” was important, she explained, but because it was just something to focus on – that pendulum in the middle. The idea being you have a pendulum of energy and it may swing too far one way and it’s too much, then it comes back and it’s too little, and then the next time it’s still too much, but it’s less than it was the time before – and soon, with repetition, it’s in the middle.

THIS HORSE THO (insert all the heart eye emojis)

I have a bad habit of coming in weak to my first line and this Called. Me. Out. Trotting in and cantering out over a BN oxer is not a big deal, my horse is honest, I’m solid in the tack, but for whatever reason coming into that first crossrail, I have this moment of mental panic which physically results in taking my leg off and throwing my horse and hands at the line and saying, “Jesus take the wheel!”

Which is not really, like, helpful.

I didn’t fix my issue by the end, but it was better – all about having that intention from the beginning and maintaining it. It also helped when I remembered something Trainer C used to tell me – “soften your eye’s focus.” Not, look down or away, but I tend to get laser eyes where I’m staring at my point in front and burning holes into it (like, you can literally see my eyes narrow in videos). Just letting everything soften and my peripheral vision open up helps me to just relax and everything just gets… quieter? I have no idea how it works if I’m being honest, but I’m glad I remembered it today because it was great tool to have in my pocket.

Don’t worry, my release is a work in progress

We ended doing a course where we essentially added circles into the end of every line. We actually did a nearly identical exercise with her two years ago at Event Camp and I remember the course we had after without any circles was the most flowy, huntery course I’d ever had on Doc. We definitely needed our circles today.

Head flipping seen here

Essentially we come off a line, I ask for a simple/skip change and Iggy goes, “FALSE LADY WHO U I ONLY LISTEN TO IGGY.” Fantastic. (Told you there was ponytude involved) When I insist and force the issue, I get all the head flings because OPINIONS. As Sharon put it – “it’s you, but it’s him, but it’s you” which is hilariously true. He chooses to blow through my quieter aids, so I go to my hand, which he protests loudly by flinging his head around. Needless to say, we have a lot of circles and downward transitions in our future… (He also doesn’t do this flatting – only when he’s excited because WE ARE JOMPING PEOPLE WE GO ZOOMIES)

That moment you realize you have no idea where the f you’re going

The course was fairly lovely, minus the place he needed an extra circle and I got so focused that when I looked up, I… had no idea where I was going next. Fabulous. Got that fixed and off we went.

And SPACE BOOTS

The day was a total blast and was the perfect lesson I needed going into XC the next day. He’s such a game little guy and definitely a different ride than Doc, but so much fun.

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Best for last: Event Camp Day 3

Day three was supposed to be a cross country lesson with Sharon White in the morning and a dressage lesson in the afternoon, but as it turns out, cross country would be our last lesson of the week. That said, as much as the next few days gave me anxiety, knowing it all worked out in the end, this was about as perfect of a cross country lesson to end on!

Sharon is so amazing to ride with – she understands how horse’s think so well, but also gets teaching and explaining things (that first vs second toolkit thing Jen talks about). We did some more practice over the same things we’d done with Courtney the day before – ditches and water – before moving over to the other XC field which is where the fun really began.

I’d mentioned I wanted to work on riding over terrain – get me going downhill and suddenly any nerve I have vanishes into thin air. This would be fine if I planned to only ever event in like… South Dakota. Alas, hills exist.

I honestly can’t remember how we even built up to the entire thing because the last line we rode is probably my favorite thing I’ve ever done and the most badass I’ve ever felt on a horse.

We rode this picture frame to a log on a downhill landing, in and out of the sunken road and a few strides to a blue house of barrels. None of the jumps were huge (BN/N) but it was easily the most technical line we’ve ever ridden.

That afternoon Doc came up sore on a hind leg so that was the end of camp for us (he’s jussttt fine, don’t worry), but what a way to go out.

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Directions are hard: Event Camp Day 2

How far behind at life am I? Well, this post is a month late. Yeah, we went to event camp a month ago and I’m just now getting around to part two. Which means… details are fuzzier. So you might be just getting bullet points (be happy you’re not getting an Excel spreadsheet, since that’s where my brain lives 99.8% of the time).

Days two and three were all about the jompies. We started out with a XC lesson with Courtney Cooper on Tuesday morning, who was great to ride with and I definitely would again. We worked over the trifecta (ditches, banks, water) where she really emphasized you can’t overdo teaching the footwork – walking in/out, up/down, over – or as she put it “dribbling” through them. I’ve totally taken it to heart and we’ve continued to use that in practicing over the last month. She talked us through riding a ditchy horse (lolz, mine is not), a water-averse horse (lolz, mine thinks he’s at the waterpark), and the unsure-about-banks-one (loz, mine thinks they are a playground). Great lessons, albeit ones I’ll be saving for future horses because mine is a real life unicorn. It’s cool. She also gave me my favorite takeaway from camp: she never counts 1-2 to a jump because you’ll literally change your rhythm to leave on 2. Instead, she counts 1-2-3-4 and I don’t know why it works but IT DOES. MAGIC. (Simple magic, but magic)

We moved on to jumping some combos including a half coffin, some stuff in and out of the water, the rolltop in the water (our first time!), and a handful of fun technical questions. Including where I nearly fell off, twice, cause that’s how I do it.

Was my horse misbehaving? Nope. Take a bad spot? Not really. Did I completely abandon steering, leaving my horse to jump over the side of a novice table? YUP. Yeah, I probably deserved to fall off, but once again, Doc the Saint saved my amateur ass and waited for me to put myself back into the saddle before continuing on.

Let’s focus on the fun part of that paragraph though: Novice. Table.

YUP. We jumped all kinds of novice questions at camp, including the (giant to me) blue box out of the water, the half coffin, the hogsback and the picture frame. And all of it was So Much Fun.

(After I got over wanting to pee my pants, but turns out peer pressure in a group is a solid motivator)

The rest of my takeaways I’m putting into a list so I will publish this for once and for all:

  • Keep a record of lessons/shows – we don’t recall a good % of things, but if you write them down, your memory increases substantially. Even if it’s just highlights from how things went, what went well and what didn’t, etc.
  • Count to 4 on approach vs 1-2
  • Keep your upper body back HOLLY
  • Can’t overdo the footwork on XC
  • Ditchy horse – hands wide and low, stay in the backseat, tap behind leg
  • Banks – let them come up and it’s ok if they need a second to think

The afternoon on Tuesday was a stadium lesson with Leslie. My notes conveniently disappeared into the disaster that is my tack trunk, but the theme of this lesson was “wtf is wrong with your leg Holly?” which is a million dollar question. We started off warming up where he wanted us doing a transition every 6-10 seconds – which is hard! But damn, once I had him off my leg and tuned in like that, the adjustability came so much easier. We did a lot of work on adjusting the stride down a line – doing it in 5, 6, 7 and the line on the other side – doing it in 7, 8, 9, practicing feeling what our horses did if we just naturally let them find the distance themselves versus collecting up or pushing for the fewer strides. It was really about getting the rhythm and then sitting still – not continually messing with your horse all the way to the base (cough, I don’t know anyone who does THAT).

Later, we worked on coming off an oxer coming across the middle and making turns either direction – without throwing our body around. Weird, what a concept. This turned into a semi-figure 8 exercise where, as it turns out, you can just use your eyes and a slightly open rein and magically your horse knows where you’re going!! CRAZY. Eventually it turned into a short course that included a fun bending line each direction that I only managed to get lost in the middle of uh, twice?

Because if you don’t leave a lesson with Leslie Law telling your group of amateurs that you’re why he doesn’t get paid enough and that your homework is to learn your left from right, well… did you even go to event camp?

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Event Camp 2018: Day Four

And we’ve made it to the final day of event camp, excuse me while I go cry for a minute over here and miss it.

On our last day, we were allowed to choose what kind of lesson we wanted. For me, this was a no brainer – we wanted to go XC again. Stephen left after day two, so our final lesson ended up with Leslie Law. Bookend lessons with him, how perfect for the week.

We were back on our 8am ride time, which I was perfectly fine with considering we had to pack up and be done that afternoon and it was going to be the hottest day of the week so far. My group this day was one of the girls and horses I’d ridden with all week, plus two juniors who I hadn’t (and damn, those girls were brave!)

Log to start

Leslie’s big on doing jumps strung together versus schooling anything individually on XC because that’s how we ride it. We warmed up initially over a log and then proceeded to immediately go jump log to blue rolltop. Where Doc decided that left drift we love so much was back and strong. So that’s how today was going to go.

From there we moved to the water, stringing together water, blue rolltop, baby log into the water, red coop, baby drop into the water. And per usual, if I saw a bad distance, I took it. Particularly  coming into the water.

And for whatever reason, I decided that the appropriate way to enter the water was to ride like a monkey, lean forward, drop all contact and do nothing. Thank God my horse is a saint and was like, um, okay mom, I don’t know why you’re so dumb, but I can do this in my sleep.

What even is this riding

But wait I can do it TWICE

Off we went to the other field, my poor saintly horse and his monkey rider.

Where we successfully jumped through the entire sunken road! Which I have no photos or video of so just use your imagination!

Coming off the sunken road, we came down and then back up a hill to a small grey house and then around to a rolltop. Well, down the hill Doc’s (as Leslie phrased it) brain left for another planet. He decided I was no longer necessary, he was a fast Saddlebred, he was galloping and he did not need a Captain.

This earned him about fifteen canter-halt-canter-halt transitions up and down this hill until Leslie was satisfied we had brakes once again. And from there, we were great – over the house to the rolltop which had a slight drop on landing.

At this point we had some discussion – Leslie gave us each some galloping tips (which I will be working on for sure) and position tips (I bring my heel up to use it and I pinch with my knee).

Some of our group hadn’t jumped the half coffin at all, so he had us back over there and over it. After two successful trips over each way, our group was calling it a day, but I had one more request. As the truest testament to my bravery this week – I said the rest of my group got to jump the full coffin on Tuesday, but I had chickened out. Well, I wanted to end my week doing it.

So we did it.

And I haven’t stopped smiling since.

Seriously, the best week ever.

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Event Camp 2018: Day Three

Day three meant I had a late start time (9:30!) so I finally didn’t have to be up at the crack of dawn which was amazing. Our lesson was a jumping lesson with Tim and when I went to pull Doc out of his stall to get ready, I’m not kidding, I got a look of, “You? Again?”

Apparently someone thinks two lessons/day is hell and I am the Devil.

I am also the devil when I insist you have a bath

Sure enough, when we got out to the arena, I had a horse who was pretty sure he had never ever heard of the idea of being in front of my leg. Drag along the ground like you were on your way to the guillotine? Far more accurate. Our warmup left… a lot to be desired.

Tim’s jumping lesson was totally different from Sharon’s in a great way – he sent us over one jump to warm up, told us our course and had us go ride, just like we would show. Of course, my first ‘warm up’ jump was a hot mess where I came in entirely underpowered, stared at the ground, my horse chipped in and I basically said JESUS TAKE THE WHEEL. Needless to say… we got a correction and sent through it again.

Left drift still not fixed but they’re humans not Harry Potter okay. And this is the most midwestern jump of all time.

 

Our correction, which I’m writing down here so I have it for myself (probably need to tape this to Doc’s ears honestly), was simple, but powerful. You add power before and through the turn, really go get it! – and then a few strides out, you sit up, keep your leg on and stop micromanaging. You let him carry you to the jump. You also have to look up, that helps.

Once we had Tim convinced we wouldn’t, you know, die, that day, he sent us out over the course. Oxer to oxer bending line, rollback to a vertical plank five (I think?) to a vertical, around to the outside line in six, through the one stride, rollback to an oxer three strides to a vertical. Our first time through left some to be desired, but we got better. Which is, you know, what matters. As Tim said – the first half of my course was like, lalala, just going to sit here and let my horse jump and then I came through my first rollback, woke up and went wait, I’m going to ride today.

This would be the phrase my trainer growing up used to refer to as “Holly gets mad.” It’s not anger per say – certainly not at my horse. It’s more of this mental feeling where I grit my teeth and go, oh HELL no. It happens when I ride (see: Day 2 “Captain”), it happens in my regular life (Fastest way to get me to work my ass off and get something done? Tell me I can’t). I can tell you the literal expression my face takes on when it happens – I set my jaw, narrow my eyes a little bit, and it’s like my body kicks into overdrive.

Once that clicked on? Well, we got this ride.

Our lesson ended on that happy note and we toodled back to the barn to hang out. Wednesday afternoon we we able to do a mock stadium round or a dressage test, but we’d signed up on Tuesday. Well, Tuesday I was thinking I could use all the time over fences I could get, but Wednesday afternoon when I realized I’d be jumping the same course as that morning I wasn’t so sure. Too late to do anything about it, so stadium it was.

First, we split a bag of Goldfish at the barn.

And then off to warmup we went.

Tim was acting as our mock trainer in warm-up and I happened to get there as the Novice riders were finishing up… so he sent me over all of their warm up jumps. Nothing to get things feeling good like that. Three jumps and he sent us into the ring. Where I noticed the jumps suddenly looked so… small. Yeah, the course that I thought looked normal and totally do-able moments before? That was the full height Novice course.

Uh, guess we’re ready to jump full size BN!

And damn if we didn’t put down the best round of our freaking lives to date. Tim told me all morning how I needed to be my horse’s cheerleader – not because he was nervous, but he needs all the energy I can give him. Well, between this and my little Captain moments, apparently this means I now keep a running commentary going.

After this round? I’m not changing a freaking thing. Horse can have all the Goldfish he wants and I’m going to be out there chatting away like a 14 year old on the phone (wait, do teenagers talk on the phone anymore, I guess they just text so idk, chatting like my grandma or something).

Except… I think the jumps can get bigger.

(Who am I?!)

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Event Camp 2018: Day Two

Some people are really good about writing recaps of things while they are happening. I am not one of them. Each night after camp, I came home, made an effort to play with the dog, showered, scavenged for food and fell into a coma. Repeat. So, you get day two’s recap four days later.

We had a bright and early ride time of 8am on Tuesday morning, which I did not love when my alarm went off at 5:45, but did love when it wasn’t 90324 bazillion degrees outside. My group went XC with Stephen Bradley this morning, something I was nervously excited for. The extent of my XC schooling on Doc to this point has been the logs in one of our back fields, where he decided to become a cutting horse around a tree and I yelled a lot of four letter words. After our gridwork lesson the day before though, I was feeling comfortable with some height.

Stephen immediately shortened my stirrups another two holes (um, ouch) and sent us out to go warm up around the field. To which Doc said, “yeah, nahhhh” and stood there not moving. Have I mentioned this is our latest trick? Not moving no matter what I do, including kicking, clucking, tapping with crop, tapping harder with crop, pulling head around, backing up, setting off dynamite, doing gymnastics, blasting an airhorn… Super awesome. Stephen had me pull his head around while tapping his hind end to get his feet moving in the tiniest circle of all time, gradually adding to it and changing directions constantly. While minorly mortifiying, I was actually really happy this happened so I could get some input on it.

(Yes, we have had vet check, bodywork, saddle fitted, Holly checked, etc etc etc. It is 100% attitude.)

Doc finally seemed to realize we were doing XC and oh, he loves the jumpies and oh, okay he could go now and off we went. We started out over a small Starter/Intro level set of steps, around to a small rolltop, back over a set of BN steps.

BN Steps

Immediately, it was a confidence builder. It all just clicked – my horse knows his job, he’s going to take care of me, I can do this, we got it. It helped Stephen was so so encouraging. The entire lesson, he wasn’t afraid to help correct things, but was quick to praise a good ride and when things went well.

Eventually, we cruised around jumping all kinds of things – essentially the entire BN course (out of order) at this farm.

Jumped these

We went splashing through the water, where Doc decided it was his own personal waterpark.

omg stop splashing and GO

Tiniest little jump but omg my horse is so cute ok

Eventually we headed to the second field to school the ditch back there. Doc, per schoolmaster status, was basically like, yeah, k, ditch cool. I had slightly more issues getting my shit together. But we did. This ditch is actually set up as part of a full coffin, but we started out schooling it by itself. Then we added in the rails on one end, back and forth.

As we started to head down to it, Doc finally woke up, realized where he was and decided he wanted to go Mach 10 for this half-coffin. Um, no.

In my previous riding life, this would have had me off my horse. Walking back the barn. Opting out of jumping. In this life? I laughed at him, growled and told him (what I thought was quietly), “DAMNIT I AM THE CAPTAIN NOW.”

And then you know what we did? I sat up, put my leg on and rode the shit out of that thing. And I was damn proud of myself for it.

As seen here

Little did I know, what I thought was my quiet rev-up was not-so-quiet and had been heard by a number of observers. Which is how, on day 2 of event camp, I became known as Captain.

And yeah, I’m 120% having a XC bonnet made with that.

Tuesday afternoon brought a stadium lesson with Sharon White (seriously even writing this all out is like pinch me, did that really happen?!). All the other trainers made fun of her/us because she warms you up on the flat for what feels like 2823 years. But damn if it wasn’t worth it – every horse in our group was sharp off our aids after that. So many transitions. Short, mini ones – three steps of walk, back to trot. Three steps of trot, back to canter. I can sum up my entire flatwork lesson as, “Open your hip flexors, relax your elbows.” We got lots of good first toolkit stuff. From there, we moved to two ground poles. Her entirely philosophy – jumping is just ground poles with height. If you can do it there, you can do it over height. Guess what? It works.

We did those two, eventually adding in a single vertical and then an outside line. Circle at the end, back down the line, over the poles, circle. Added it into a full course (we’ll see if I can remember it) – outside line, vertical to vertical bending line, oxer across the middle, vertical to oxer bending line. The trick was we added a circle after every line. The idea being the circle gave us the time to get reorganized, breathe, get the canter we wanted, and rebalance. Eventually we took out the circles and actually added in a second oxer off the middle oxer on another bending line (originally we had circled around it). It was amazing the feeling we had – it was actually easier to make the bending line than it had been to circle. The feeling of using the circles in between stayed and being able to take our time and get the canter we wanted.

I walked out of that lesson about ready to keel over and die (she will work you!) but also feeling like a million bucks. Had I just rode my horse around an entire 2’9″-2’11” course without feeling a hint of nerves? Hell yeah I had. Suddenly courses didn’t just go by in a blur of cantercantercanter jump don’t die cantercanter turn jump and instead I had the time to think and proactively make decisions and ask for what I wanted.

And I can’t state it enough but Sharon is freaking amazing and positive and encouraging and hard as hell on you in the absolute best way and I can’t wait to ride with her again.

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Event Camp 2018: Day One

Well we are halfway through the week at Event Camp and I’m obsessed and don’t ever want it to end. We started Monday morning with a semi-private dressage lesson with Leslie Law. We did a ton of work at the trot – really focusing on transitions within the gait with circles tossed in every so often. Since Doc loves to just hang out behind my leg and not go anywhere (seriously, sometimes it’s like riding a county fair pony whose quarter ran out), it was really, really good for getting him tuned into my aids and in front of my leg. On our circles we really worked on getting him to stretch down through his neck more. While he may have never been trained as a ‘Saddlebred’ per say, we still have genetics to overcome and any stretching we can get him to do only helps to get his back lifted and rounder.

Leslie gave a fantastic example about building up energy like we were doing at the trot too – he said you have to think about being in a car and turning the AC on. If you do that, but open all the windows, all the cold air just immediately goes right out (not keeping that energy between hand and leg). But if we close the windows and cycle it through the car, we can keep it going. Eventually if we need to warm up, in a car we’d have two options: turn down the AC or crack a window. He said on most horses (definitely on Doc) we don’t ever want to turn down the AC (energy), just crack a window and let it out a little bit until we have him where we want. I’m probably not describing it very well, but it made a ton of sense to me in terms of getting the energy I need and then keeping it and using it for good vs evil.

We did a small amount of canter work, mostly working on again, getting him to really stretch down through his neck, but I’d say 90% of our lesson was at the trot.

Later in the afternoon, we rode grids with Tim Bourke. I seriously don’t think I have a bad thing to say about any of my rides/lessons/trainers, so excuse my gushing over the top here. We started small – just a ground pole to a crossrail to a ground pole – and then gradually built from there (gee Holly, no kidding, it was a grid, imagine that).

Blurry video screenshots are all I have of Day 1

When we added the second crossrail, those became a bounce, so we had to make sure we had enough trot coming in to let them actually bounce it vs add a stride in between. From there, we added one stride to a vertical, and then one stride to an oxer. Doc was awesome through the grid and when I let him figure things out and don’t pull to the base micromanage, he makes it so easy for both of us.

If I have one theme for the week so far, it’s circles. Coming off the grid, Tim had us make a big circle (I got scolded once for not using my arena to it’s full advantage and then am happy to say, never made that mistake again!) and then continue down either the outside line to the left or outside line to the right, depending on which time through. The left was an oxer to a vertical set in 5; the right was a vertical to an oxer set in 6. We did the add stride on both sides and rode them both on the correct striding as well. Super useful to work on getting the right canter in and being able to adjust within the line as needed. We may not be the best at leaving one out, but we can get the add stride done.

The left drift is still going strong and that won’t be a one week fix, but it’s getting better. Minus the one time we came like half an inch from taking out a standard, but um, it’s fine. We didn’t so that’s a win?

We finished that lesson up going up the grid, circle, down the outside line, circle, up the grid a second time, circle and down the outside line again, in the regular strides. It felt so great to get it done and was a perfect confidence booster going into Day 2.

Trainer C got to watch the end of our second lesson and got to hear Tim call Doc “a really genuine horse and a schoolmaster” and I think both of our hearts just completely swelled with pride. He’s just the best guy and takes such amazing care of me. I started out the lesson a little nervous, having only jumped once since my fall (oops) and by the end, I think Tim could have pointed us to any jump in the arena and I would have said, “Sure!”

It’s been a blast to just hang around the farm, watch other lessons, and be able to talk PONIES 24/7 with people who are equally enthusiastic. Everyone is insanely nice and there’s not an attitude present – it’s constantly “Have a good ride!” and “You looked awesome!” and “What a cool horse!” and “Do you want me to ___?” It’s forgetting something and people immediately are hopping up like, here borrow this, here follow me, here drink this. Horse people may get a bad rap, but I’ve seen nothing but helpful, supportive new friends this week. My group of 4 who ‘travels’ to lessons together (minus our dressage we jump together all week) is awesome – they’re all on harder horses to ride and make them look amazing. They all give me the bravery to go jump this and try that and we cheer for each other and celebrate our wins.

I don’t want the week to end.

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