Coming off of IEA, I was relatively down about well, everything. I knew I wasn’t ready to give up on Archie, but I was frustrated and tossing around multiple ideas for what to do next. My barn was hosting a Tim Bourke clinic that weekend, but I hadn’t signed up since we’d been doing things back to back for so many weeks. Come Friday, I’m looking over the schedule to see what I might like to audit and I notice one of the juniors is riding in the Starter group… but only Sunday for XC. Long story short, I end up splitting with her and taking her Saturday SJ spot.
Tim asks about each of our horses and how everyone’s been doing (benefit of a clinician who comes multiple times a year, he knows us and our horses) and I tell him how I’m frustrated and even debated selling Archie. With that, we start jumping around – twice over a little crossrail, onto a small vertical and then he adds in a grid.
It started as a low oxer, two strides to bounce ground poles, three strides to a vertical out and built from there, eventually becoming a big (to me!) oxer to bounce crossrails and three to a vertical. He added a course as well, full of twists and turns that plenty of people had issues with, both in our group and in others.
And Archie? I’ll be damned if he didn’t step up and jump around every single fence like an absolute pro. Of course it wasn’t perfect, hello amateur rider on sassy pony, but there wasn’t a single moment of nappy pony attitude. In fact, at the end of the lesson, Tim looks at us (and everyone standing there) and goes, “And you want to sell this horse WHY?”
We all laughed, that knowing, ‘oh you haven’t seen it yet’ laugh. Which somehow turned into, “find her a spot to ride XC tomorrow.” Say what? I was absolutely thrilled with Archie (and myself for RIDING DAMNIT), but knew XC would be the real test.
Turns out, the only spot for me Sunday was in a Novice group, but the nice thing about XC is being able to do similar exercises, changing the fences to appropriate heights. We started with the same exercise, swapping a Starter rolltop for their Novice one, but otherwise everything else the same, including a solid N bank and handful of BN stuff. Wouldn’t you know it, Archie said, “GAME ON” and didn’t put a foot wrong. We ended up jumping nearly all BN that day and he made absolute easy work of it.
Even when we moved out to the bigger field, he tackled a BN half-coffin without a second thought, jumped a BN rolltop into and out of the water and just generally did everything he was asked – happily.
I’m not afraid or ashamed to give myself some credit here: I sat up and rode the damn horse. I took no excuses and told him he was going OR ELSE. But you know what? He never even needed the threat.
I left Sunday with Tim telling me I’d be stupid to sell this horse, that he has great potential and we’re going to be just fine. And even if he hadn’t said that? I felt it. It felt like, well damn, maybe this work is finally paying off. Nothing out there felt big or hard and best of all, it was fun for both of us.
Behind again, so let’s knock out IEA HT XC (aka the last day of the longest horse show ever). I was something like the seventh to last ride of the weekend. If you ever needed motivation to get your shit together and move up to BN, going XC at 4pm on Sunday will do it.
Despite having LITERALLY ALL DAY to get ready, I somehow ended up running short on time. Luckily there were still a few of the juniors around who were done and they helped get me put together to head on over to warm up. I was feeling super ready after the day before and honestly in hindsight, a little cocky. With the number of eliminations in stadium the day before, I was already thinking about ribbons and BN move ups and just being generally a mental asshole.
On my way I had no fewer than three people stop and tell me things like, “OMG everyone is falling off at 5!” or “Sooo many eliminations already! 5 is super spooky!” which honestly was… not helpful. I know everyone was trying to be helpful, but all it did was make me question my plan and my ride.
We got over to warm up, I’ve got 20+ minutes until my ride time, I pick up a trot and not three strides later, they’re yelling asking if I’m ready to go. Uh, NO?! I try to mentally put myself back, but now I’m questioning AND a little frazzled. Trainer tells me to snap out of it and go jump around. Archie proceeds to warm up quite lovely. He’s a little sticky/behind my leg to the BN rolltop the first time, but jumps it lovely the second (this should have been a warning flag, but instead I was like, “Oh he was perfect the second time!”) During this time, start has asked me twice more if I’m ready to go (keep in mind: still 5-10 minutes out from my time). Finally, I answer that yes, I’m ready to go.
Into the startbox and out to the first fence we go. Pick up a canter and feel like I’m riding forward, but in hindsight, he was sticky leaving his new BFFs in warm up and needed a healthy tap or two. Instead, I ride up like I’m out for a Sunday hack and surprise, surprise, Archie stops. Deep breath. Regroup. Reapproach, tap him, up and over we go. “Alright,” I think, “we’ve got that out of the way. Now we’re away from everyone and going.”
Well, we make it another 100 meters where there’s a super gentle slope and some sand on the ground. Archie says, “NOPE. Not doing that. I’m done. This is STUPID, you are STUPID, I am GOING HOME.”
We proceed to have a fight ON THE FLAT about trotting forward. Now I’m just annoyed. Fence two comes up and it’s the world’s tiniest log. Archie skids to a sort-of halt at it, I say, “THE FUCK YOU ARE,” smack him and he pops over it. Jumping from a standstill/sortof walk: not recommended, but this thing was like 20″ tall so I DON’T EVEN CARE. Forget annoyed, now I’m pissed.
Around the corner to three. We knew he’d probably try to run out left here (there’s a BN jump to our right) so I’ve got my stick in my left hand and… he runs out right. Basically INTO the BN fence. I turn him, give him approximately two stride lengths and tell him to get his ass over it, to which he willingly pops over. From there, we go through a fairly narrow path in a grove of trees to a hanging log at the edge. He finally feels like maybe he’s understanding this game and it jumps without a problem. Five was the Fence Everyone Was Talking About. It was set with the water to your left and warm up to your right and was naturally a slightly spookier looking fence.
I ride like hell to it until like.. two strides out and I don’t know if it’s nerves, mental state, exhaustion, frustration… I just turn into a puddle and stop riding. Surprise, surprise, Archie stops and ta-da, my weekend is over. In hindsight, if I’d just ridden to that fence, he would have jumped it.
I was definitely disappointed leaving the course, but more in myself for letting my emotional brain take over my logistical/rational side. By the time I got back to the barns, a friend handed me a drink (God bless eventers), I untacked, cooled off (literally cooled off, it was so hot) and started trying to get packed up. My very sweet barnmate had waited for us to haul us home so I’m hustling trying to get everything together.
Archie then decides that, nahhh, he doesn’t load anymore.
I strongly consider leaving him at the Horse Park at this point. “Free to any marginally acceptable home.” Maybe just set him free.
A local trainer works some magic with the tiny terrorist and gets him on the godforsaken trailer and we’re finally, FINALLY headed home.
It takes me two days to even go to the barn again. I’m frustrated, ready to sell the stupid horse, wondering why I do this sport. Luckily, time is a good filter and within a few days, I can tell that’s not the answer. The answer is the horse is still green XC, he went to a huge offsite show, it was day 4, and his rider mentally checked out. My trainer reassures me if I’d just ridden to 5, he was starting to get the hang of it and probably would have at least jumped around a few more and that we’ve made considerable progress over the last few months.
And that’s the wrap up of IEA weekend. It didn’t end how I would have liked it to, but when I look back, I’m still thrilled with Saturday, had a great time and learned a lot. Archie held himself together at his first HT for the most part, he was never bothered by the 10 billion cicadas and I didn’t fall off a single time. We made it around a hard stadium course and looking back, the XC course was kind of a mess for all the Starter divisions. In the end, of those of us who made it to the startbox, there were 5 rider falls, 10 eliminations and 3 retirements.
The last 10 months with Archie have been the biggest challenge I’ve ever faced with a horse, but I’m not ready to give up on him yet. That XC course exposed he’s still green and needs miles – particularly miles off the property. We’ve formulated a plan for the next few months and since then, I’ve buckled down to get it done. It’s already paying off (more on that soon!) and I’m happy to say, I have not left him on the side of any roads or set him free.
Saturday we finally showed – at almost 4pm. I spent the morning helping in the dressage rings (there were three running simultaneously which was… chaotic) before heading back to the barn to start getting ready. Much of my barn had already ridden dressage and a fair number had already show jumped or were getting ready for it. Fun stuff being the solo Starter pair in the group. It was hot and I didn’t want to take too much out of already-inclined-to-be-lazy Archie (especially knowing we had to SJ after), but I also needed to remind him (as I do daily) that he is not made up of 2x4s and is, in fact, capable of bending. Of course I rode dressage at nearly the exact time we had three BN riders show jumping so I was flying solo here. We’d known this was more than likely to happen and had talked through my warm up game plan already, so it wasn’t particularly panic-inducing.
In fact, warming up Archie felt fantastic. I had enough horse, he was mostly bending and his canter felt great. Years and years ago showing breed show stuff my trainer was all about “Don’t try to fix or change anything in the warm up. You’ve done the work at home, you can’t change it now,” which I think is still great advice and one I take to heart. It pains me a little to see people trying to get the work done in the warm up – that’s not the place.
As we headed to our ring (ring 2 aka the ring in the middle of two others), I couldn’t wipe the stupid smile off my face. After five recognized scratches, three horses and five years of work, I was finally, FINALLY riding down centerline. On my very own horse.
Our test was… our test? I don’t know what all to say about it honestly. We did the right things in the right places at more or less the right speed with some type of connection more or less, which was all I could ask for. I’m not Michael Jung, my horse isn’t Valegro and it’s BN A which is an extremely boring test. Not saying I’m great at it, but I can suck and still objectively say it’s boring.
We had two or three moments that stand out, mainly one in our free walk where we were coming across the diagonal and a horse happened to be warming up right outside our ring (there was a very small amount of space between rings). Archie, who had been stretching nicely, went HELLO WHO ARE YOU WHY ARE YOU IN MY SPACE GTFO. Lovely. The other moment was pure rider error. With three rings going, rings 1 and 3 had bells and I had a whistle. In the middle of my test, I hear a bell. And proceed to completely fucking panic for about 3 seconds trying to figure out what I’d done wrong until my sane brain kicked in and remembered that wasn’t my ring. Needless to say, Archie felt me go WTFWTFWTFWTF OMG OMG WTF up there and lost his own focus and connection. Sorry dude.
In the end, we finished with a 37.5. Not great, but for my admittedly non-dressaging halter bred QH at his very first HT in the middle of an absolutely chaotic space? It might as well have been a 27.
I went back to the barn to chill and take my time to change tack and headed to stadium warmup. This time (thank God), my trainer was around. About six horses out, we jumped a little and feeling great, went on in.
Plenty of people were having issues with this course (I’d later find out 30% of my division was eliminated in stadium…), but Archie’s strongest phase right now is stadium so I was determined to have a good ride. The first fence was straight across the short side of the ring and enough people had stops at it I rode the hell out of it which was probably slightly ridiculous looking at 2’3″ish. Two rode well and was a bending line to three, set right on the rail where everyone was sitting/standing. A combination of not having Archie’s shoulders straight (hi rider error) and him not seeing everyone until the last stride or two and going WHO DOSE PEOPLE meant we had a runout right.
I circled around, swapped my crop to the right (you know… where it should have been the whole time) and rode him growling, “JUMP THE FUCKING JUMP OR DIE.” And pretty much the rest of the course like that too.
We finished the rest clear and I was so proud of this little horse. It was not an easy course for starter and it was late enough in the day that there were plenty of people watching and horses hand grazing.
That was a wrap for the night, showing wise. I was absolutely beaming. Party pony had handled day 1 like a champ and now it was party-Holly time. By which I mean, stuff my face with all the food at our DIY competitor’s party, drink a single drink, laugh until way too late and pass the f out until 6am. That’s a good day to me.
Yesterday evening I realized I’ve done something horsey (and time consuming) every single weekend for going on seven weeks in a row. Oh. No wonder I’m exhausted, my life is in semi-shambles and I’m living out of laundry baskets (clean… I… think?). How do people do this all the time?!
Needless to say, there’s a lot to catch up on here. The highlights are on Instagram, but I love having the longer form posts to look back on, so there may be some retroactive out of date things coming up. Since we left off, I’ve taken some lessons, schooled XC, rode CobJockey’s Connor, acquired a bike (thanks Jen!), went to Archie’s first sanctioned HT and ended up in a last minute Tim Bourke clinic. I… think that’s everything? Honestly, who knows.
Our lessons and schooling leading up to IEA HT were great. Super progress, Archie was basically loping around like, “I got this mom!” I conquered the stupid starter slatted table at home that I’ve had a mental block over for like, 8 months. We dressaged. Off to the Horse Park we went on Thursday morning (in the rain), despite my not showing until late Saturday.
It was so much fun to have so many of the barn there – between all of us, we had something like 17 horses across the regular HT divisions and the Classic 3 Days. Archie got settled, we watched everyone jog for the three day and I went off to Jen’s to spend the night, with a pit stop to ride Connor!
He is so much fun and Jen has done a great job with him. She asked if I wanted to get on and I wasn’t about to turn down a ride. Bareback and new pony makes me sound a lot braver than I am, but the truth is Connor is so well behaved and trained (and the damn Brockamp pad is so comfortable) it wasn’t nerve inducing one bit. I didn’t want to do too much on him, seeing as it was already getting later and I was his third rider of the evening, but once I was told to shorten my reins like 4′ we were off. Some trot, a little canter, played with a tiny bit of his lateral work – man, I felt spoiled riding such a confirmed dressage pony! Also, very jealous when hacking my very not-confirmed pony 24 hours later.
Mexican food and margaritas followed (aka my love language all in one, ponies and mexican food) although we rode bikes to dinner which was slightly questionable at a few moments seeing as I hadn’t been on a bike in… twelve? years. Only ran into one wall though, so there’s a win, and apparently ride/steer better post-margarita, which is an interesting data point to think about for my dressage…
The three of us spent basically the entire evening discussing ponies and tech stuff (so, like, my only two interests in life?) before I finally sent myself to bed knowing I had an early alarm clock. I’m so grateful for their generosity (did I mention they also gave me said bike after I mentioned I’ve been trying to buy one for a year?) and it was basically a perfect way to kick off a horse show weekend.
Since I had the World’s Worst Ride Times (Dressage Saturday at 3:53pm, SJ Saturday at 6:18pm and XC Sunday at 4:10pm…) and a barnmate was the volunteer coordinator, I ended up helping out with Steeplechase practice Friday for the 3 Day competitors. It ran like a mini-clinic with Dorothy Crowell and I learned so much. It was a ton of fun too and I got to hear lots of fun stories from Dorothy and I mean, talk about being starstruck. I finally snuck out around 3pm to go ride my own horse (who at this point was thinking horse trials were GREAT, hang out and eat all day?!)
Archie was a little distracted and slightly up (completely understandable) so we hacked over to the indoor to school and put all our marbles back in. Within just a few minutes, he realized what this game was and was such a grown up I could not have been prouder. I figured we’d go hack for a bit to cool off, semi-forgetting this was Cicada Country. Back on the roads & tracks there were places they were so loud it felt like a jet was overhead. One of the wildest things I’ve ever experienced. By day two, we were used to just throwing them off of us and (mostly) no longer did the cicada dance every time one landed on us. (Fun fact: they make a fun scream when you grab their wings…)
We finished the evening doing some course walks and having dinner with barn mates. We got super lucky and all of our campers/trailers ended up being grouped so we spent a considerable amount of time eating, drinking and generally being merry.
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.