Pushing On

Sometimes I walk into the cool aisle-way and have no desire to get on a horse. The cool breezes slip around me carried by the valley, and the serenity of grazing horses makes me want to just stop and savor. I’ll take a moment to ground myself in the moment before trudging to whatever far corner Packy is grazing in before tacking up on the empty, almost skeletal barn to ride. 
Often the only interaction I’ll have at the barn is with the horses and barn cats, that’s what happens when a lesson program stops but the barn still keeps going. Where young girls once filled the barn with laughter, chatter and energy is now quiet solace of the five remaining horses. Sometimes I think about the hustle and bustle that used to explode out of the small red and weathered cedar barn and miss it sharply, but most days the drive to improve and the lure of the all seductive “good ride” keep me moving as I brush the dirt off of Packy and tack up for whatever task is on my self imposed whiteboard for the day.

All in the chase of what? A three dollar ribbon that might someday lead to more. Sure, keep tacking up when you could be at the beach. Keep braiding when you could be out having fun with friends. Keep pushing to fit in that last gallop when it means dinner will be waiting in the oven with everyone else in bed. Write another show check that’ll mean waiting another month to buy those jeans because yours have holes. Just keep pushing.

It’s more than that. The push, the drive, the ever intoxicating pull of those fleeting moments of true joy found on horseback call out like a siren. It makes me hungry for more.

I’m a twenty four year old amateur, riding a 13.2 pony mare that makes faces that defines the very term “mare glare”. Riding alone, getting lessons when I can afford them and always praying the dressage gods will be on my side. In that barn with red painted Dutch windows, a breeze slipping through, with weathered cedar siding I’ll be there perfecting my french braided mane, crisp, smooth polo wraps and occasionally a quarter mark. Pushing through the loneliness to better myself for the sport I love and the certain gelding and sassy little mare I couldn’t live without. Thinking to myself that someday I’ll be at that barn with the trainer and all of the time for lessons and money for horses. Someday I’ll pull into the show and have younger girls whisper my name. Someday I won’t feel like giving up because I haven’t had a good ride in weeks and the show is coming up. Someday it’ll all be easier, but if it isn’t? I’ll still be there pushing.

-k

No, Not That Finger & Catch Ups


The week before last was both low key and a lead up to a show. After Packy and I rocked around the Eric Smiley Clinic the following Monday was a good let down for her and myself. Granted I still got to muck the trailer and haul all of my stuff out of it to then clean and regroup for the week and the schooling trials on Saturday. 

Elvis made some “modifications” from when he went out


On Tuesday we puttered around on the flat and didn’t do all of that much. It sort of became the theme of the week as we spent it slowly puttering around and hacking around. 

When Wednesday rolled around we managed to sneak in a little gallop after the fields had dried out enough.

Goodbye yucky metal, hello cedar and vinyl


Thursday and Friday ended up being prep days so Packy ran amok happily with the boys in the high field. Our indoor was also having the vinyl put up on the last side so it felt like we were dodging construction as they worked to put up the vinyl. 

Saturday morning Packy, Ruby and I loaded up and headed up to Hitching Post Farm for what would hopefully be my last run at Introductory. I’ve found that Ruby is effective at curbing my nerves so having her along is very helpful. She was just excited to be invited along. We rolled in and after I made sure Packy was settled Ruby and I went to collect my packet and walk my course. When I walk my course alone I start wishing I have a trainer or at least another person walking with me, but I didn’t, so Ruby was my stand in. It’s hard to get nervous when Ruby is happily trotting over the jumps. 

After we got back I looked at my phone and realized that I was late tacking Packy up. One speed dressing and tacking later we hit the dressage warm up with eight minutes until our time. Luckily everything was running a bit behind so I had enough time to at least feign a warm up. Packy wasn’t impressed though. She felt stuck, behind my leg and wasn’t impressed with some of the juniors that had their trainers in the middle of the warm up practically teaching a lesson. After trying a couple of things to get her to go forward I finally lightened my seat and told her to just go. Usually Packy will then happily go into a nice extended canter, but I still ended up with a slightly soggy canter that transitioned into an okay canter. During that I couldn’t get my thighs to relax and just lay like they were supposed to. We then went down to the dressage ring to watch the end of the test before mine. Stephanie was there to watch and she came to the rescue by quickly working some massage magic on my thighs. I’m not sure what she did but I went from feeling like my thighs were tight blocks to actually feeling like muscles that could relax or tightened as needed. Packy was tense and hollow for most of our test which hurt our score, but I was able to focus on actually riding which meant our shapes were fairly accurate and our transitions were correct, although a few were “prompt”. We ended up tied for fifth with a 43.2, but true to form I had no idea because I refuse to check my scores until I’m completely done so I can’t wig myself out. 

hanging out after dressage


I was able to watch some friends go and then I went to tack up for XC with help from my friends because yet again I was running late (do you see a theme here?). Luckily Packy is easy to warm up for jumping. It’s sort of magical how she changes from a very relaxed mare into a spicy fiery tamale ready to go and jump all of the jumps at the fastest speed I’ll allow. I did have a sacrifice fence in the warm up where a certain mare decided to ignore my half halt. That quickly got her listening and we went over to the box to start the course. As we cantered out of the box and towards the first jump I felt good. Packy started to suck back a little bit from the first jump, a pole with tires, and when I went to tap her with my crop I realized that I’d left it hanging in my trailer. Luckily with a little leg and a good kiss squeak Packy locked on and over we went. I was then able to put her in cruise and we easily hopped the “small log” and carried on down to the “brown log” after that we had to make a weird right hand turn to go over the mound.

small log to the brown log


 Packy landed on the left lead so we popped down into a trot until the mound where we picked the the canter again and easily went up and over the mound and then up to the “large log”. 

mound to the big log


At that point we looped back to go through the water. Our schooling with Ava paid off as Packy easily cantered through the water and then I put on a little speed to carry us to the “brown coop”.

the water


 With a good half half Packy easily powered over the cool and then we blasted away from the coop, up the hill and over the final “small log”.

brown coop to small log and finish

It was easy, and took us all of ninety seconds to do. Show jumping was similar. The course flowed and we easily puttered along it, keeping our regularity, going double clear. It was satisfying at how focused I was on the riding and that I was able to keep my nerves at bay. It was also rewarding that our double clear round moved us up to fourth after some people placed ahead of me had rails, were eliminated, or as I was told: had issues with the water.

not half bad


This gave Packy a well deserved Sunday off while I puttered around the barn after I cleaned all of my tack at home the night before. 

As Monday rolled around I knew I needed to get a good dressage lesson in before GMHA. Sue Berrill had been the judge for dressage and I had previously chatted with her about getting some lessons, so a quick exchange of messages later Sue was going to let me know if she had time to fit me in before she left to teach a camp. In the mean time the trails had dried up so Packy and I just hacked, and hacked.

doing our favorite “butt blaster” loop

 No motivation to ride? Go for a hack. On Wednesday we got a short gallop breeze in on a trail loop that we’d been riding. The hacking and little breezes are perfect for getting Packy fit with a low impact on her and she relaxes while we hack so it helps to build the correct muscles we struggle to build in the ring. 

all done!


Thursday rolled around and it seemed I’d caught a cold from work. I made it through the farrier in the morning, but after lunch I just needed to sleep and try to fight whatever cold I had. So home I went and on Friday I slept for most of the day. I managed to drag myself to pay my entry for GMHA and by the time PM turn in rolled around I was feeling quite a bit better. 

Ruby “helping” with chores


In the mean time Sue had gotten back to me and we planned on meeting at GMHA the next day for a lesson. When I went to hitch up I was greeted with a slightly frightening sight of the trailer jack precariously gripping into the block I use to prop the jack. Apparently with some of the torrential rain we’d had in the previous week the trailer shifted forward. Luckily the chocks caught it, so combined with the large block I was able to carefully hitch up with Emily’s help without having to detour to get the tractor. 

yikes!

Packy easily loaded up on the trailer and we hit the road to GMHA. Normally it takes me 30-45 minutes to get to GMHA, with traffic in Woodstock it took me over an hour. Sue met us there and we popped over to the dressage rings to work on our dressage. Sue instantly began working on my position. She took the point of having a flat pelvic floor and expanded the concept to having three points of contact to focus on, the pelvic bone, and both seat bones. She then encouraged my knee to drop and relax away from the thigh block while my heel went towards Packy’s stifle. That shifted me forward and better into balance. In the mean time, Sue asked me to open and drop my shoulders while keeping good contact. I can find it challenging to open my shoulder some days with the mystery that’s brewing in my left shoulder, when it’s flared and has created a mass that physically keeps my left shoulder from opening my sternum and rib cage. So I kept trying to open my shoulders and keep them opened. It then became a game of me trying to keep the corrections with my body that Sue had made while maintaining a good tempo of pace with Packy. Sue was able by correcting my body to get Packy moving through her body and connecting to my hand via the bit. Packy still wasn’t “on the bit” but the change was definite in how she was moving. There was a half second of extra lift as Packy lifted under and loaded more weight behind lightening her front. It wasn’t a drastic difference, but it was there.  Throughout the lesson Sue would ask me different questions to help keep me aware, how was my tempo, was she straight enough, what were my hands doing. All of these little things that needed to constantly happen. It was slightly overwhelming at first, but it felt right once I’d been doing it for a little while. Sue also got after my poor habit of letting my fingers loosen and just use my pointer fingers to really hold and use the reins. She informed me that the pointer finger connects to the pecs which creates a closed and tight contact, while the ring finger connects to the traps and back to the scapula  and back to create an open and strong contact based more in the properly opened shoulders and sternum. So basically you can use the wrong finger. As the lesson progressed Sue asked me to move Packy along with my outside leg. She’d mentioned it before and it made no sense as to why I’d use my outside leg to get Packy moving and turning. So I asked why. The answer made total sense. Sue explained that the outside leg needed to more larger in order to keep pace with the inside leg as it turns to keep balanced. Sue explained it like manual wheel chair turning which made sense. Sue elaborated that the hind legs are interdependent in each other for moving and creating a powering force to load and engage. She also reminded me to gently cue with my leg and “don’t squash her”. The whole lesson was so dynamic and full of good information. The best part was that Sue gave me homework and an overarching idea of how to continue the work we did in the lesson on my own. After we finished Kate and Emily had brought Mic and Kissa over so I cooled Packy out by walking them over to the first cross country field. I then used the brook that runs through the campus to my advantage by doing some cold therapy in a deeper part of the water. 

waiting for the rest of the herd to come in for dinner after our lesson


When Sunday rolled around I went over in the evening when everything had cooled off and took Packy for a good canter and light gallop set. It was wonderful to let her stretch her legs and work on maintaining a set pace, not that I have any clue as to the speed we were going, Packy wasn’t happy that she couldn’t just gallop but she came back easily so after a couple of back and forths and I asked her to go on our last length. Packy responded almost joyfully by blasting into a strong gallop. The experience of just letting her go and flatten out and she speeds across the field is one of my favorites and helps to cement why I love eventing. Going fast is fun. Now to prep for the starter trials at GMHA, and my first beginner novice.

Cheers,

-k

A Weekend with Eric Smiley: Part 2

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Waking up and getting ready to go hitch up and load up for day two of Eric Smiley made me painfully aware of how little time I spend in my light and half seat. I was sore, and determined to slip more light and half seat into my daily riding work to avoid feeling that way again, but I still had day two to conquer with Packy. I also knew from the previous night that Eric was going to make me face my nerves of going down hill at speed. Pulling in a bit before lunch time I felt lucky finding a good shady spot because it was hot, like drippy icky, just don’t want to do unless you’re in a river hot. I was glad that I was sans Ruby and quickly set to work getting Packy situated on the trailer with water and free reign to get to her haynet on top of her already full manger.

This gave me time to find my other group members and chat a bit before pulling Packy off of the trailer to tack up and get ready to go. Eric met us under some shade and had us recap back to him some of the concepts from the day before to make sure we were all on the same page for communication. He then proceeded to tell us that his goal for the day included teaching us, but ultimately it was that he got us back safely and hopefully had some enjoyment in the lesson. So off we went and following Eric he brought us down to the path from the dressage warm up to the actual dressage rings that are almost in a pit at Hitching Post. From there Eric had us walk up and down the angled path at the walk in light seat, talking about balance and support being similar for both up and down. Then he told us to trot. It went well at first but then Packy, my ever intelligent girl, figured out we were just going up and down and wanted to expedite the process by cantering up; because “Why do it slow like Eric said when you can do it fast?” Packy clearly thought.

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up and down, our theme for the day

Eric then brought us back into the shade of the path and started to chat with us about our stirrup length and that or stirrups were too long. This sent alarm bells off, because during the winter Mary Brust had already cranked my stirrups up several holes this past winter at Jumper Sundays, and while I knew I’d put them up more for Eric, I really didn’t want to. So as he went around fixing lengths he finally got to me and said that I just needed to work more on balancing out of my seat, and keeping a more backed up position that allowed my leg to do more work with the holding and bracing for the light seat. Eric then made the ever reoccurring comment for us that Packy’s neck was short and if I didn’t brace back properly I’d go right over- story of my life.

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getting ready to canter

After that Eric had us leave the nicely shaded path and started us trotting on a hill doing serpentines to work on our light seat positions while doing more than just a straight line. It became easier to hold and brace myself properly going downhill, but I still had to do more posting going up because my muscles just aren’t strong enough (yet) to hold a light or half seat up a hill. I was feeling comfortable doing that when Eric then told us it was time to canter, first just up hill, but then also downhill. At this point I got a little nervous but took a leap of faith. I knew Packy wasn’t going to get us into any bad spots, and Eric knew what he was doing. So I gathered my reins and said go.

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go

And it wasn’t bad, in fact it was actually kind of fun to keep our steam rolling as we went up and downhill. Packy knew just how to balance back to keep us going and not feeling like we were going to flip over (Eric might sort of famously talk about horses having the ability to run up and downhill because the wolf won’t stop if its coming for them). Then Eric pointed at a log and told us to do everything the same as yesterday and throw our hearts over it and up the hill afterwards. So we did.

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zoom zoom

Eric then had us move up to the top of the hill where he had us weave between the jumps. As soon as I directed Packy to go between the jumps and keep turning to we’ve she went straight into physio poles mode. She flicked her ear back at one point as if to ask when it was going to get hard (thank you Liz for challenging us every time at physio poles). We even wove between two fences that another woman said were too close together, Packy and I knew otherwise after some of the crazy things we’d done as patterns this past winter.

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Eric then called us back in and chatted about the fence we were about to jump. He emphasized that it was the same exact size as the stuff we’d jumped yesterday. He then went on to expand that as we’d gone weaving around none of our horses had spooked so they had no excuses about stops or runouts. So Packy and I then popped over the small ladybug jump and it was easy.

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easy peasy

Eric then turned us to the coop on the top of the hill while repeating his ever encompassing phrase of “change nothing”. Looking at the coop I reminded myself that Packy could do it and Eric wouldn’t send any of us over anything he didn’t think we could safely jump. I was third in line and each time the two women and their geldings refused. So as Packy and I approached I made sure my leg was and and she was going. I shouldn’t have worried though, because Packy locked on and easily hopped right over it like it was no big deal.

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Packy to the rescue

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and two more for good measure 

Eric called us back in and then asked us the odd question of when the last time we’d ridden a rollercoaster, it made sense quickly as Eric began to explain that jumping and then running up and down hill was like riding a rollercoaster, you go and down but the forces equal out in the end. As per usual Eric made it sound easy, combined with the success Packy and I were having I was feeling confident and excited to “ride the roller coaster”. Eric told us to go, so we did.

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riding the rollercoaster

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the pony rollercoaster runs both ways

Eric gathered us back up and then told us it was time to go over to the other side and do some other jumps. At this point Eric showed no signs of slowing down, the rest of us were pretty hot and the horses happily took the chance to rest a minute and catch their breath. At this point though my mom who was kindly photographing and videoing had to stop and take care of some things which meant she missed a chunk of the jumping.

So Eric brought us to the main jump field and marched us down to the ditches in the lower section of field. He had us follow in line behind him over the smallest of ditches. Packy, true to her nature, boredly followed over leading the line. Eric then had us  trot over the ditch. Every other horse jumped the ditch and Packy didn’t even bother and just trotted over the small ditch. Eric then had us canter over the medium ditch which Packy humored me with a small jump effort. Eric then had us jump a small log down there and then over the ditch. After everyone had done that he asked if there was anything else we wanted to jump. I asked about the small feeder and he said sure. Over the ditch Packy and I went and up to the feeder we cantered. At that point I realized the feeder was larger than I thought, but I kept my leg on and Packy got us over with ease.

Eric then brought us back up to the main jump field and told myself and another girl to go jump the smaller cottage that was in the clearing right above the lower part where the ditches are. So over we went and then we jumped back over to go back to the group. Eric then sent us up a hill and to some logs jumps at the top. Eric explained that when you’re going over terrain its useful to use the natural lay of the land to help us as we move between questions on a course. Eric’s little lecture then transitioned into us using the land to help guide us around to different fences as we began to string fences together. Everything was going well and Packy even put in a brilliant jump over a larger hanging log fine until another woman was flipped over her horse and landed on her head on the same jump after she got ahead of her horse that had been putting in some stops. She seemed to be okay other than being upset and Eric carefully guided the woman and her horse over some smaller exercises to help get a successful experience before we moved onto the last exercise.

The last exercise was creating a more economic line. A rider going slower could potentially have a better course time than a faster rider simply by taking better lines around any course. Eric had us jump three fences and then he had us try to better the time we had by using our lines better. It became an extension o jumping off of a circle from the previous day in that we only needed to be straight one stride out from any of the fences we were jumping. It was an obvious exercise but key. I hadn’t even realized I had taken such wide turns until Eric asked me to shave five seconds off. Truly approaching each fence and in turn every space between fences to be considerate and competitive for the entire course.

Finally we ended by jumping one last log jump where Eric asked us to get closest other largest part, Cantering up to it I felt fine, until I got close and then I questioned jumping it as I put more leg on and pushed Packy over it. After as we all stood under the shade f a tree and debriefed I was left with the feeling of being ready to move up. Everything, minus the very last log, felt appropriate and very doable. We’d spent the last ninety minutes in the heat jumping and not only had Packy kept up with the larger horses, she was frequently more forward and moved through the exercises with more pep. Even at the end she still had go left in her and strode back to the trailer after we’d finished with Eric. By the time I pulled out after watching Kate and Kissa’s stadium lesson I still felt good. I felt prepared and confident for the upcoming weekend in the jumping phases and ready to move up to BN if the upcoming weekend went well. Riding with Eric had been worth every penny.

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Packy after a long and very educational weekend

Cheers,

-k

 

A Weekend with Eric Smiley: Part 1


Last year I audited the bi-annual Eric Smiley clinic. How cow, he made so much sense. The way Eric talked not only made sense, but explained several concepts I’d been struggling with while riding Pi. I had breakthroughs by just auditing, but I wanted to actually ride with him. Fast forward to the fall clinic and it was during the week so I couldn’t go to ride, let alone audit. So I bided my time. Fast forward yet again to this spring and as it turned out Kate was going to organize it. Best of all? It was Saturday through Monday- I could do it. So I signed Packy and I up for show jumping and cross country. There was a dressage option, but I felt that I could find time with Heidi who already knew how to help us so effectively for dressage instead, so jumping it was.

Who is Eric Smiley:

Eric is an Irish rider who evented at the olympic level, A BHS fellow, FEI international judge (part of that means he’s frequently a ground jury member), director of the International Eventing Forum, breeds sport horses and teaches an incredible amount of clinics.

The Friday before Packy had the day off other than getting a bath (going to a clinic reeking of skunk doesn’t fly). I planned my schedule of when to hitch up and leave while I cleaned my tack before packing everything obsessively. I have anxiety and for me when I get nervous about a horse adventure I work it out by being overly prepared. It’s just how I roll and it seems to work. Every time I get less anxious (I’ll probably regress when I move up to BN) about the process.

Saturday morning rolled around hot with a promise of just heating up. Ruby helped me pack the truck up with the rest of my stuff and I was ready to go. I thought I’d left Ruby behind, but I was halfway to Route 5 when I saw a white and brown flash in my side mirror. It turns out Ruby had decided to invite herself along on the horse adventure. I didn’t have time to bring her back home so along she went with me.

I got to the clinic early enough to watch the majority of one of the sessions before mine, Ruby made friends and decided clinics are kind of boring because it’s a lot of waiting. I had quickly hung a bucket of water and gave Packy her head in the trailer with all of the windows and upper doors open so she could relax before I pulled her off the trailer to get ready.

Ruby watching dressage

In the dressage Eric talked a lot about the accuracy of the line you ride and using the shoulders to direct that line to make symmetry in the shapes you ride. It sounds so simple when Eric explains it, and he’s brilliant at quickly scaffolding from a beginning exercise or correction to the larger overall picture or the perceived problem you’ve brought to him.

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waiting in the shade

It got the point where I had to leave to tack up so we left the dressage session that was happening and I popped Packy off of the trailer. She’s a pro at traveling and all things off farm related so she stood happily munching on her haynet while I got her ready to go. I was ready early enough to get on and watch the last bit of the session going on so we stood in the shade watching as Eric schooled a Thoroughbred gelding that wasn’t keen to listen to leg. Eric sat stirrupless on the ornery gelding and asked him to move off of the leg at the trot. Every time the gelding didn’t respond Eric gave him a quick swat with the crop which resulted in a buck from the gelding not wanting to be corrected. After about five minutes the gelding realized it was easier to simply listen and accept the leg aid when Eric gave it. It was so simple in the execution but watching you could clearly see that Eric’s riding skill backed up what he was teaching. While he finished up with the group Packy and I wandered down to the stadium course to do our typical walk meandering before starting our warm up.

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Eric meeting Packy

Eric came down and we started with his typical “tell me a story”. Eric asks for you to not tell him the horse’s name, he calls all of them Blossom, then two things you like about the horse and one thing you’d like to change or work on. I was with two other women who ride together at their home barn in Connecticut. For them it was more of working on confidence and getting going with their horses. For Packy my ongoing goal is always a better acceptance of the rein aids so she’ll actually stretch down into the contact. Eric listened to us, and then asked us several questions like: what is partnership?. He had specific responses in mind that he had us figure out as we gave responses. For partnership it was a little different than what we think of, but totally brilliant. Partnership: two individuals, who understand their roles, working together for a common goal.

“From the legs, to the hindquarter, to the back, to the shoulder, to the neck, to the poll, to the jaw, to the bit, to the rein, to the hand. That’s how you ride a horse”

-Eric Smiley

Eric’s emphasis on this was that we had to define what we expected the horse to do, whether it be jump something, or do any other number of things. He then went on to have us define and explain several other key things like impulsion, connection, symmetry, and regularity- not rhythm. After that he had us get going and moving at the trot both ways. He had us create a forward trot that the horse was maintaining. He then started to ask us about how we use aids to define a line and how we were supposed to ride the horse. Eric explained that you have to ride back to front and then he listed the components of where we needed start with the energy in order to create a good way of going. To my surprise he then pointed out different things we needed to change to help our horses, Eric then surprised me by saying that I was worrying too much about bend and as a result I was over bending Packy.

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quick feedback

He gave us quick feedback on how to help remedy these things (ride straighter). Eric then asked us to canter and then put us up into our light seats. I feel like I should also mention that the temp was in the high eighties and the humidity was nearly fifty percent. Eric wasn’t afraid to push us though and despite being in his seventies didn’t slow down an inch. So as we cantered he tweaked different things on our position and on how the horses were going. Then he put down two poles to guide us on our line to make it more accurate. Packy saw them and went game on. After our winter of physio poles going in-between two poles was easier and when Eric added a pole at the end like a T Packy calmly cantered over it lifting and loading onto her haunches to collect better into the canter.

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easy peasy

The pole then became a small vertical that he guided us over telling us to “change nothing, just keep the pace the same”

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keeping our regularity

Eric then started us over a small cross rail on a circle, essentially creating the same thing we’d just done but without the guiding poles. He emphasized to keep our bend until about one stride out.

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Packy was game for the exercise and we easily made it happen. Packy quickly began to change her stride to meet the jump smoothly while keeping the pace and line I set, and it was really cool how effortless it became. We switched directions and things got harder. For some unknown reason I can struggle with making left handed turns. I made an almost corner shape (Eric would like every person that rides with him to know that corner is a dirty word). With a quick correction Packy and I were back to making smooth turns with no corners in sight. After another quick theory session on extending the idea of regularity between jumps and not worrying about striding, or seeing a stride, we began stringing jumps together.

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After we strung together the jumps like a small course Eric called us in after jumping it a few times to wrap up our session. Even though what we worked on seemed so simple Eric had quickly used the simplicity of the exercises to vastly improve how we were riding and as a result how our horses were moving and jumping. Riding with Eric you can’t help but feel able to do anything well with your horse and he does it in a way that sort of sneaks up on you.

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Ruby thought hanging out at the trailer was kind of really boring and she should be jumping with us

I walked pack out with the other two women from my group and chatted with them before untacking and hosing packs off before she went back on the trailer so I could watch some of the other jumping groups. watching the other groups where they were a Novice group for one and a group of green horses for another showed just how systematic Eric is in his teaching. for the Novice show jumping group he did the exact same exercises and simply ended up with higher fences and more of them put together. Eric said the same things and taught in the same exact way. His consistency also carried over to the green horse XC group. He taught with consistency and the same effectiveness. He did end up challenging the green horses and within the ninety minutes scaffolded them from struggling over a small log to jumping a Training level question of ditch to bench. It was fantastic to see and let everything he’d told us in our group sink in better.

Later that night Eric came over Strafford Saddlery to chat and spend some non riding time with everyone. Annie has known him for years so its become a tradition for our area to have Strafford sponsor the clinics with Eric in the spring/summer and fall. It was enlightening to hear Eric talk about different parts of tack, riding and how he approaches working with riders that have issues (like a certain person who felt nervous going downhill…). He also spoke some about breeding and some of the stallions that he likes to use. In Europe there are so many more stallions available with the stud system and having quality foals is easily achieved when you’re bringing a nice mare to breed. He also talked about his homebred On The Brash who went double clear at Bramham International Horse Trials in the CIC3* division.

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Caroline Powell with On The Brash. photo by Peter Carr

It made for a great evening and made me excited for the following day where he’d be teaching us on the cross country course and I would finally have to address my nervousness of riding and jumping downhill.

Cheers,

-k

Myler Bits & Ponies That Just Don’t Quit


It was a very full week for Packy and I. With so much going on we still managed to fit in several adventures and rides. 

On Monday we took advantage of GMHA’s June Horse Trials to use a members day for XC schooling. Ava Wedhe met us there with her Preliminary mare Leonie to teach us while she schooled some as well. It was Packy’s first ride back from her abscess, so when I went to catch her in the field after work I was actually relieved that Packy gave me the run around so I could see she was completely sound. The ground was a bit slick at GMHA, but Packy’s bare feet dug in nicely so we kept our footing the whole time. Packy was nicely forward around the grounds and gleefully took me to all of the jumps. She won’t do it for me, a.k.a. monkey on the back has to actually sit up and ride, but Packy is now carrying me to the jumps and requiring me to keep her speed from accelerating as opposed to nagging to keep speed up. It was great to have her so forward and game, although that meant she attempted to gallop off the novice bank. For the most part we schooled all of the BN fences and the craziest thing was that they felt appropriate. Where the intro fences were technically jumps it wasn’t a challenge anymore. The BN fences felt like an appropriate challenge in that they required me to ride to them, I did have to steady myself and believe in “pony power”, but once we schooled something I wasn’t freaked out by it. Ava has been, and continues to be a great source of education. She’s young, but effective in helping us work through things. Ava also has a good sense of when I get nervous, how to coach me through and when to take a step back. I left GMHA feeling so ready for the weekend with Eric Smiley and ready for the upcoming schooling trials.

such a queenly gaze directed in the direction of the jumps we’d just conquered


On Tuesday I had the chance to attending a Myler bit talk at Strafford. Apparently the tack shop has this crazy concept where they enjoy creating educated consumers (I sincerely hope you read that last sentence with sarcasm dropping off of it). So after some back and forth I hitched up and brought Packy over to be a demo horse. It turned out it was a sans horse thing, but Packy was happy to hang out on the trailer with a ton of hay and a bucket of water while Dale Myler talked about the process of how and why they created their bits. Dale talked a lot about anatomy, and he cited medical professionals, but I wasn’t quite sold on it. I was intrigued, a lot of it made sense, but there were flaws in what he presented. I was still interested enough to take a USEF dressage legal bit home to try with Packy. Sadly the Stübben golden wings snaffle is illegal because you could potentially stick something in the small pocket where the wing conceals the corner of the mouth. Or at least that’s the answer I got from emailing the USEA to clarify. Frankly, I feel that you’d have to be trying really hard to do that, are a big cheater if you do that (this is when I know I’ve spent a lot of time with kids because the “cheater cheater, pumpkin eater” runs through my head), and why does it matter if you’re supposed to be subject to the possibility of a bit check at recognized horse trials? Either way it means that I need to work on finding a new dressage bit for Packy. 

Packy was the happiest with it when the bit was just in her mouth and doing nothing

So on Wednesday it was the perfect day to try out the Myler bit on Packy. What did I get? The ride from hell. Dale had shown us pictures of horses with their mouths gaping open. Packy’s never done that, until the Myler was in her mouth. At one point she just stood there and refused to move. It wasn’t a good day, I was frustrated and Packy was obviously unhappy. I managed to get a good lap and called it quits. So as I went to bring Packy up to hose her off I found a silly thing to do with her. Yup, she’s a smart little cookie. 

“Mom this is proof I don’t hate you, but there better be some cookies after this.”

Packy’s little lip flap is her very distinct way of telling you she thinks a cookie is in order for whatever shenanigan I’ve made her participate in. The fact that she obliged in me even throwing a hose over her neck showed that our relationship and bond have grown. I don’t think she’d let just anyone throw a hose around her neck…

After our less than awe inspiring ride on Wednesday I had some apprehension about jump schooling on Thursday, but yet again Packy proved to me that she’s a rockstar and jumped out of her skin for me and continued her new attitude of bringing me to the jumps and requiring half halts. I was pleased and felt like our ride warranted a day off before a hot weekend of working our butts off for Eric. 

I did end up giving Packy a bath on Friday before I packed because she’d mysteriously gotten skunk on her forelock. The stink isn’t as bad now, but you still get hints of it now and then. It was nice to be able to pack up the afternoon before and be home and done by a reasonable hour. I also reaffirmed that I do in fact know how to get every last inch of space out of my haynet. I stuffed as much as I could so I could use it for the whole weekend.

haynet packing level: expert


Pi watched all of the packing with interest after meeting me at the gate every day this past week. He’s incredibly smart and knows what time I get to the barn to ride or do things so he’s faithfully waiting and hoping he can work. I feel badly that he can’t, but his body had told me he can’t. 

Pi just wants to work


The weekend with Eric was very full so I feel like it warrants a separate write up where I can spend the time to go in depth on the experience and the legend that is Eric Smiley.

Cheers,

-k

Sit & Flock


Packy was still recovering this past week from her abscess. While it had finished doing all of the gross goey stuff, it was still a bit sensitive and that meant I had to wait. Granted life was in full force this week so I was pretty occupied. 

On Thursday night I attended a sneak peak of the official grand opening of Strafford Saddlery. It was incredibly celebratory and captured the excitement of all of the hard work the crew has put in to really get the shop off the ground at the new location. It was also good to spend time talking with acquaintances and friends that I don’t get to see often or normally get five seconds to chat with as we pass at horse shows. It was also nice to chat with some of the brand representatives about the new stuff coming out, although I did get asked a few times if I was the Ariat rep because I happened to be wearing my sun shirt. Whoops! (Ariat if you read this: I would totally be a brand representative just for the sun shirts)


That night I went to the barn briefly and just spent time grooming Packy and Pi. Sometimes I forget just how much I love spending time with them and being in their presence. I have aspirations and sometimes they make me forget that when it all boils down, for me it’s the love of the horse.


Friday was a different sort of day. My great aunt had passed away and my mom and I attended her internment and then stayed and talked with my family from Texas and Georgia. It was nice to spend time with the family that I very rarely see. I met another second cousin whose wife does some mounted work for Mardi Gras. I was fascinated hearing my cousin talk about her training her horse to stand calmly under a helicopter and dealing with the craziness of mounted police horse work. After that I had to bake for the little social the Area 1 Adult Rider Program was having the next day at GMHA. So too many cookies later, I think ten or eleven dozen, I was ready to go. 


Saturday was the first day of the GMHA June USEA Horse Trials. I volunteered to time show jumping for part of the day and it turned out I was timing for the Walker Ring which meant the Preliminary and Training levels would be zooming by me. I had to watch every round and pay attention so I could accurately time. This meant that from 1:30pm to 5:45pm I basically studied show jumping. It was useful and by the end I could sort of tell what was happening with the round, whether a horse took a turn too shallow, how the impulsion effected the power over fences and whether the rate the pair were going at was fast enough to make the time. 


Even just watching the way different horses went was useful to see how their action effected how they jumped and moved. It was however, a very long day. I did get some swag at the social afterwards and the cookies were a hit with the group (since when are my chocolate chip cookie not a hit?).


On Sunday I wanted to watch Kate and Cider go cross country and I managed to convince my mom to go with me before I had to hitch up and bring Packy over. Sadly Cider came up lame so we didn’t get to watch them tackle the new course. I did however get to watch several other people I knew go around.


After that I went in to the barn and hitched up to bring Packy over for a saddle fitting at GMHA. Jaime Kinnear, the Bliss of London representative, was up to compete and do some fittings so it was perfect timing. I had met Jaime at the Area 1 Anuual Meeting and liked that she had been a fitter before she found the Bliss saddles to offer her clients. So while she sells Bliss, she fits other saddles and doesn’t push you to buy a Bliss saddle just because she works for the company. Jaime was happy with my saddle and how well it had held up from the factory flock and filled where a spot had compressed on the left (left hip I’m looking at you), and she feathered the edge of the rear panel to help keep it upswept enough because of Packy’s back being shorter. Packy thought it was just about the best adventure ever because she got to hang out, be told how cute she is, and not do any work. It reaffirmed just how magical of a saddle my Barnsby is considering it was bought to fit Pi and happens to fit Packy beautifully as well. It’s perfect timing as well with our very busy June.

Being able to quickly schedule a saddle fitting, go with my mom to watch cross country and being able to do so much independently reminds me of just how supportive my parents are. They may not be able to support me financially with riding but they do in other ways. Occasionally they’ll pay for a class or two. They bought me my skull cap for a birthday present (something about wanting me to mind my melon), and when they got a new truck they made sure it could safely haul two of Pirate (because he’s huge) and the trailer with room to spare. Watching cross country my mom she asked if I needed to get a new protective vest this year. I replied that I did, slightly surprised that she’d remembered my one off comment. It reminded me that she supports me, even if she’s not quite thrilled about the amount of time I spend at the barn and my pursuit of flying over solid things at speed. I guess when it comes down to it I’m pretty darn lucky. 

Cheers,

-k

Abscess & Assess


Packy is a stubborn thing. It would figure that her body matches the spicy little mare with being stubborn about whatever is going on in her hoof. I was hoping that I would get lucky and it would be an easy soak, overnight poultice and then one easily blown abscess. Nope, not a single thing. Packy has stayed the lame level of lame over the past week and the only thing I’d managed to accrue for my efforts is a trash bin full of vetwrap, I should really buy stock in it, and some heat above her coronary band. I’d never been more anxious to find puss or some sort of abnormal bodily fluid in my life.

soaked, packed, wrapped and booted


In part its because the season is now in full swing. I want to be out competing, doing, riding, just enjoying my horse. Another slightly more anxiety producing reason is that I’ve already paid for my two day slot in the upcoming Eric Smiley clinic at Hitching Post Farm. So I spent the week packing, soaking and hoping I would get something that would result in her abscess blowing.


In the mean time I pulled Pi’s mane. It went well until he lost his marbles and had a freak out on the cross ties. That left a nice little “oops” spot in his mane, but when you’re retired you can have oopses. For some reason late last year Pi all of a sudden started having issues in cross ties. He went from always dozing in them, nonplussed to be left alone while I did things to barely being able to stand in them while supervised and having to go with me everywhere if I had forgotten to grab something. We’d slowly worked back to being able to me being able to grab things. I’m afraid that his meltdown may have set it back though. It’s strange, but Pi is a strange horse and all I can do is try to get him through whatever odd quirk this is.

When I had realized Packy’s abscess might not be resolved in time for Eric Smiley Amanda gamely offered me Poe for the clinic. Poe hasn’t been working much because Amanda is in charge of the facility for High Horses and she has three children. So Poe gets vacations, not that he minds. I was expecting a semi-wild baby like he’d been through the winter with hacking and indoor work, but he surprised me by being a very mellow and tuned in teenager. The mounting block is an ongoing quirk of his. Sometimes he’ll stand like a rock and others he’s ready to get started on the ride without you. This time he wasn’t sure standing still was really worth doing so I kept quietly sending him around the mounting block and waiting until he decided it was too much work to not stand. There are probably faster ways, but this was the way I thought would use Poe’s brain the best. It took about five minutes but he stood for me and didn’t require any sort of a fight. Our ride was good. Poe’s done a lot of growing up this past year and his body has as well. Physically he’s 8/9, but mentally he’s younger. Amanda had gotten him rather untrained, and while he was backed enough to be safe, there was a whole lot of learning that happened. So I was pleased that Poe was able to focus in on me and actually give me some bending and give at the walk and trot. I didn’t do much because he’d had another vacation but I did end up cantering him around once each way. It was a pleasant surprise when he collected himself and went like a rocking horse around the indoor. I have a few distinct memories of cantering Poe that weren’t very fond so this was a nice surprise. To end we popped outside and walked the driveway to give Poe a nice cool down. I’m a big fan of getting out of rings and doing stuff outside of them and I think every horse benefits from it.

back we go!


Luckily when I went to change Packy’s dressing on Sunday I could smell her hoof from a foot away. She’d never become dramatically lame, or stopped moving around normally. She was off, but not like any of the other abscess cases I’d seen. To me it just goes to show how resilient of a horse Packy is and just how tough she is. Now I’m just keeping the site draining and clean while it heals up enough and I’ll be riding her soon enough. Probably a good thing considering Eric Smiley comes to Vermont soon.


Cheers,

-k

Squeaky Clean Leather & Gimpy Little Mares


On Monday I got word from Strafford that Packy’s new Schockemöhle bridle had come in. I happily swung by after work to pick it up in all of its brand new glory. I had planned on doing a light flat and hack with Packy so it worked out perfectly. Packy loosened and stretched into the contact and we worked on smoothly canter transitioning up and then down after a half circle. Packy knowing our current dressage test means I have to be creative with our schooling of it, especially on the canter work. I have to break up the elements of the test and change how they go together to keep her listening instead of anticipating. Being a former school horse means that she anticipates a lap or two of canter each direction after being warmed up in the trot. All of these things mean Packy can get excited and tense up going into the canter so when I school it I have to slip it in in places where she doesn’t expect the ask. Slipping it in on half circles and in spots where cantering doesn’t usually start helps immensely. After we’d had a short school she gave a beautiful up and down transition which to me meant we were done. We headed out to the hay fields where we walked and puttered our way back to the barn.

have to love the side eye


Tuesday was disappointing as she had a slight feeling of being off and wouldn’t flex lame when I tried to pinpoint where she was off. Wednesday was the same with her just barely being off at the trot. I left her in and dragged the rings with Ruby riding shotgun in the gator before I took advantage of Amanda bringing her puppy Knox over for a play date with Ruby to have her feel Packy’s legs. I’m terrible at finding digital pulses and Amanda is stellar at finding them. Her fronts were hard to find, one hind you couldn’t find a digital pulse and then her right hind there was an easily found digital pulse. Her hoof was slightly warm, and with no swelling or heat anywhere in the leg it meant she had either tweaked something higher up on her body or had an abscess brewing.

the happiest farm dog


Friday was farrier day for Packy and she was easily more lame than she had been. While Clayton trimmed her feet we found a spot that looked like the spot where she was getting ready to push something out. That meant a waiting game to see if she’d blow her abscess in time for me to enter Hitching Post Farm’s schooling trial. Clayton also does Paige and it looks like her front foot that’s always bothered her is doing weird things again. We’re fighting to keep her barefoot, but its time to see if a shoe would be better for our beloved hussy. She has quite a bit of ring and side bone which has been making her limp more than her usual slight limp. I managed to sneak in a little walk ride with Pi as well. He loved the ground pole course Kate and Emily had left for us and snuck in a jump over the small flower boxes, because he just loves to jump that much.


That Saturday I went up to Hitching Post Farm to jump judge for cross country. I lucked out with a gorgeous day to jump judge and a good spot to see a bunch of jumps. I also got to watch Lea and Peanut tackling not only their first Training level together but their first recognized training level. I love watching Lea ride and this was no exception seeing them easily fly around the course.

Lea and Peanut making it look easy on XC


Jump judging gave me my horse fix for the weekend while I went to my younger brother’s graduation. It was a lot of sitting and wishing I wasn’t slowly burning in the sun, but nice to watch him reach this milestone. I had planned to soak Packy’s hoof when I got back from the ceremony, but my brother had thought he was more packed than he was so we didn’t leave Burlington until after six o’clock which meant we got back late to Hartland, picked up Ruby from Kate’s and collapsed at home. Now it’s a waiting game for Packy’s abscess to blow and seeing if she’ll do it before the post entry closing date…

Cheers,

-k

Flat & Hack


After the muddiness of Saturday and having not flatted as much the last week I decided to start the week off with some good flat work to help Packy stretch out and supple some more. Before I did that I set jumps for Ava and Leonie so they could get a school in before Grindstone Mountain Farm’s spring sanctioned horse trials. Watching them easily fly over the 3’6″ jumps was cool to watch. After that I tacked up Packy and found her to be tense and tight. I’d planned for an easy flat and I dropped it back a notch to just walking. I kept her moving and changing directions while looping. At the start she wasn’t giving or really swinging through her body, but by the end Packy had loosened up and while reaching under herself was able to easily move away from pressure and bend nicely. It was all of thirty minutes but sometimes I find those short walk rides to be some of the most productive.

Tuesday and Wednesday were just crap days for weather and killed any enthusiasm to ride. I was fully dressed to ride on Wednesday but after my PT and Packy being out grazing I caved and did other barn chores that needed doing.

Elvis needed his head held up while Jim trimmed his feet. Rough life.

Thursday was a bustling day at the farm. Jamie and I went in the morning to meet Jim our farrier to have Pi, Lottie and Elvis’s feet done. On top of that Dr. Pinello was there to float two horses and do some other shots. That meant Elvis was sedated and having his teeth done while Jim redid Lottie’s shoes. He changed her shoes out from a degree shoe to an oval full shoe as he’d worked all winter to naturally create the angle she needed for her navicular. It was a change in shoe shape with some hoping that she’d be able to keep them on with the help of bell boots. Of course I then realized that the only bell boots I had were Pi’s old junker bell boots from turn out. I was able to swing by Strafford and pick up a better pair for her to wear, so much easier with the shop in Quechee, but she’d already managed to pull a shoe. However, Lottie now has a pretty mauve pair of bell boots to rock for turn out.

not quite impressed to join the bell boot club

I ended up getting out of work early so my parents dropped Ruby off and I took her along with Packy and I on a nice long hack. It’s the first time I’ve been able to do the long loop but the trail has finally dried out enough on the second part of the loop for us to get through. Ruby loves hacks just as much as Packy and fully took advantage of the opportunities to get muddy along the way.


The first part of the loop is mostly hill and all walking so it’s a great warm up. The second part is perfect for getting some trotting and cantering in. At the end we connect back to the hayfields I use for galloping and the turf had finally dried enough to get a good blast in on our way back. By the end Packy and Ruby were happily worn out, but not exhausted. Packy was sweaty and with the weather becoming warmer it means I start the process of hosing off after exercise to keep coats from bleaching out.

my happily tired out girls

I’m happy to finally have the trails back so I can start hacking out again. It’s half of what I do with Packy and is my go to for days when I’m uninspired about riding. It’s an easy and effective way to build good solid muscle without stressing the horse.

On Friday I took advantage of the jumps still being up in the ring and popped Packy over a few before we went to the field for a little gallop burst. While I have her muscles building well I realized that I need to build more air, which means more canter and gallop work in the field, she enjoys the fast field work so it won’t be hard to build that up.

On Saturday it was an off day for Packy followed by Sunday being the day I was signed up to volunteer at Grindstone Mountain Farm’s inaugural horse trials. The farm was originally King Oak and after becoming a traditional event for Area 1 the original couple sold. The community got lucky and the new owners committed to continuing horse trials on the property. So I drove down two hours to Massachusetts for cross country jump judging.

Enter a caption

I lucked out on getting a great prelim fence under tree cover so I was able to watch a more tricky question unfold and see Ava and Leonie breeze through it with ease.

Ava and Leonie making the crazy downhill bending line look easy


The 6AB was a log on a bending stride to a down bank on a slope which then required a vending line to the roll top of 7. The riders needed to have enough steam to get over the bank, but then had to control the momentum to make the sharp turn to seven while keeping enough impulsion to get over 7. There were some slightly hairy turns but the course designer had been kind separating the roll top from the 6AB so the riders could make a left hand turn if needed. I’m not even close to this level but it’s always fun to watch and see how the riders handled the questions presented.

My second fence for the day was a nice straight forward Novice fence that fed into the water complex. I didn’t have any drama other than having to pull up a rider that had previously eliminated and had continued before the previous jump judges had been able to tell her she was eliminated. It was rewarding to go and volunteer at the event which reaffirms my love for eventing. For a sport to be as rewarding to both compete and volunteer in says something about the special thing that eventing is. The community is generous and kind, especially in Area 1, and I’m proud to be a part of it.


Cheers,

-k

Birthday Queen & Jumping Bean


On Sunday I’d gone over to Melissa’s farm and helped Kate gather up all of her jumps to bring them over to Seventh Heaven so Kate could use them, and to help create some variety from the stuff we already have. Kate and Emily created a nice course with some good options and used some stuff that I anticipated Packy being unsure of. 

drunk horses amuse me

Monday was vet day for Pi and Packy. They both had floats and shots. The floating meant it was Pi’s annual sheath cleaning day. He’s a private individual and even I’m not allowed to touch his sheath while he’s unsedated without being told by him that he’s going to kick me. Pi ends up drunk as a skunk from his sedation while Packy is cuddly but still gave Dr. Glass a bit of a hard time about being floated on the same dose. Go figure. Mr. Drunk Skunk still attempted to lift his leg to kick me when I started cleaning but decided it was too hard when he needed the cross ties to hold his head up. 

one giant drunk skunk

I did get the job done to Pi’s utter horror and pulled out more smegma and some pretty good sized beans from around his urethra than what I wanted to see. I really think Pi would benefit from a bi-annual schedule but it means sedating him to get the job done and I don’t know how thrilled I would be to pay the vet to sedate him just so I can clean his sheath. In any case it meant that they both had the day off from doing anything but grazing when I was able to let the herd out on the side fields from the weekend having dried out out enough. 

On Tuesday Kate brought the girls over and we went to jump school. Miss Kissa decided she was broken and couldn’t jump so the rest of us puttered and I started puttering over some of the fences with Packy. After they finished puttering I started to string together fences and then aimed at Kate’s skinny gate. Packy was not impressed, attempted to run out and when told by my outside rein that it wasn’t happening proceeded to launch us over the gate in an uncoordinated pile. While it was probably a good laugh to watch I wasn’t exactly thrilled about it and we schooled the gate some more to get it more smoothly. More leg has become a theme for me while jumping Packy. With Pi it was less leg and more control because he always had the impulsion needed, the perks of having a big butt and being 16.3, while Packy will ask me if I really want to go over the jump and I need to respond with an enthusiastic yes using my leg. At Pirouette she was still revved up from cross country so it was easier to have our rythym and power to the jumps. So now as I’ve begun to learn how to bring Packy to the jump I need to work on the regulation of the leg and the pony oomph. Melissa ended up coming over with a cute little mare and schooled over the jumps with us. We ended up having a great jump school and it left me feeling really good about where we are right now in our progress. Then I had to hand graze because we’d had rain the night before and it made the side fields too wet for solo grazing. The XC field survives pretty well with hand grazing so the horses can’t go carvorting at the gallop and rip up the roots of the pastures. 

Ruby was very helpful with hand grazing

I was halfway home when my phone started dinging  so I pulled over to see why it kept dinging as opposed to the singular ding I normally get when a Facebook instant message comes through. It was Melissa telling me she had my cat. Apparently Lulu had climbed into the living quarters/tack room of the trailer and went on an adventure over to Melissa’s mother’s farm. This resulted in several good laughs via the group chat and arranging to meet Melissa in a parking lot to pick the naughty kitty up. So Ruby and I detoured back into town and over to the grocery store parking lot. When Melissa pulled up Lulu, unsurspringly, was having the time of her life half standing on the dash watching where Melissa was driving to. I easily picked her up while laughing and she happily purred away in my arms until she realized Ruby was in the car she was about to go into.. Lulu despises Ruby, and Ruby just wants to play with Lulu. Well, Lulu didn’t get a choice and once she was in the car on my lap and realized that Ruby was going to leave her alone she decided to take in some of the sights on 12A. I dropped her off at the barn and then went home to finally eat dinner.

Lulu the hitch hiking barn kitty


On Wednesday it was a birthday palooza. Two good friends and Packy all had their birthday. Packy got most of a bag of carrots and then we did her absolute favorite thing which was a bareback snack hack. We didn’t make it more than fifty feet, but Packy was totally okay with that. Snack hacks and hacks in general rank up pretty highly in Packy’s favorite things to do under saddle. Our trails are still far too muddy to hack out on unless we want to poach them from the rest of the year so we’re sort of stuck waiting until the spring rains let up. 

my singular use for a bitless bridle


Thursday afternoon I gave up riding to get in the studio to do some work on projects thatbe been piling up. I’ve been working on some stuff including a piece with some tricky hair. Normally the hair I use is thicker but this hair I received was incredibly fine for horse hair and as the horse is deceased I can’t exactly ask the person to harvest thicker hair. I went in that evening to hand graze and turn in and that was the extent of my horsiness for the day. 

Friday was the start of Strafford Saddlery’s annual tent sale. It’s typically the biggest blowout of the year and in years past I’ve snagged some stellar deals, like brand new Dalmar XC  boots for $10. Jamie and I headed over and I was a bit disappointed in the tent stuff. There had been a very logical moving sale before the shop moved and I think it sort of diminished the amount of stuff that would’ve otherwise ended up under the tent. I did snag a new pair of boot socks that I’ll probably talk about at some point because it’s a new style to me from Noble Outfitters. I also sat down and ordered Packy a new dressage bridle. I’ve been watching as the crown has slowly been cracking across on her current bridle and I decided to use the store credit I’ve saved up to invest in a nice bridle for her. I had looked around for how much it would cost to replace a crown that would match the bridle, and by the time I would pay for the crown and shipping it was costing more than the bridle was worth. As it is I have to use strategic rubber bands to hold the chin strap in place after it’s buckled because the holder doesn’t work with Packy’s face size and the leather is starting to split in some places. The bridle is very well loved, but it was just time. Annie gave me the Shockemöhle catalog to look through and Jamie helped me to pick out the one I ordered. I guess I have more of a reserved taste when it comes to tack and I prefer a more plain look with maybe a pop of color or bling, but not too much. I ended up with the Paris bridle and I’m excited to have it come in. It has a U browband which should look very feminine on Packy’s head and help to accentuate the shape of her face. The bonus is that the bridle also has stainless steel hardware so all of my hardware still matches. Don’t even ask how I managed to make the happen…

the “Paris” bridle

In looking through the catalog with Annie we noticed that most had crank closures, including the Paris bridle, which lead to me asking about the difference and possible benefits of a crank. Annie was super helpful as usual and explained that when used correctly the crank creates and more even pressure against the lower mandible. Along with that, the movable pad softens what pressure there might be from contact of the crank to help the horse feel more comfortable. She said more sensitive horses might enjoy it more as opposed to a traditional chin strap the buckles from one side and can be inbetween holes for a good two finger fit. I’m hoping Packy will like it, although she hated the CAIR girth I tried on her, as in tried to actually bite me when I put it on and then was cranky the whole ride, and likes her old double elastic neoprene girth. The good news is that if she hates it I can probably return it and try another without the crank or sell it online because cob stuff sells like hot cakes.

My friend Ava came over that night to set jumps for me so I could make sure I was actually comfortable jumping something that was 2’6″. I made a nice little set up that had a few options in the indoor (thank you rain) including the roll tops. Everything other than the roll tops could be jumped both ways so I had a nice little related line, a bending line that depending on the way you went could have two or three jumps in the line and part of the bending line had a diagonal which also made a nice little rollback turn. 

lots of options only using four jumps


Packy was great and it left me feeling ready for the next day if the weather held long enough for the footing to dry out some. I’d already pulled the herd in and had them under coolers while they munched on hay so I organized stuff and out my tack in my car to clean that night while they ate their grain. 

side note: it’s so much easier packing for a jumper show than an event. So much less stuff!

The rain held off through the night and it was intermittently sprinkling in the morning so I threw my show breeches on and packed my tack and wellies in the truck and headed out. Emily had turned out and had very kindly put Packys rainsheet on before she turned her out so Packy took all of five minutes to get ready for the trailer after I’d hitched up and packed my stuff into the dressing room (I do feel spoiled every time I pack the dressing room and not the back seat of the truck). Off we went to GMHA and once we were there I entered and did the new to me, but very common thing of leaving a blank check to fill in once I checked out at the end of the day. I also grabbed a course map while I was in the office so I could put it into the Jump Off Pro app (nothing worse than a wet soggy course map).

the course for the 2’/2’3″ class and the 2’6″ class

Packy was a total pro and hung out eating hay while I got her ready to go. At this point the rain was done and it was incredibly humid so I slowly stripped off layers wishing I’d worn one of my sun stopper tops instead of my polo. I popped on and away we went to warm up. Packy felt ready to go and marched around the slightly sloppy footing of the Dust Bowl like she owned the place. We transitioned into trot and I asked her to start suppling and listening to me and we warmed up by circling, doing shoulder ins and slight leg yields to relax her into my hands. Packy felt great and I asked her to canter and she went a few strides and slowed as if to ask “in this slop?” I told her to keep on and we switched directions and I gave her a walk break while I checked on the order. Of course at this point it started raining and I was flying solo and now wet. So I sucked it up and kept focused on our job which was getting ready to jump all the things. The good part was that it was warm and muggy so I wasn’t cold and wet, just wet. Packy warmed up beautifully over the warm ups and then it was our turn. A quick nod and we went trotting towards the first jump. I planned to mix trot and canter as the footing called for. Packy locked on and asked to canter and I said go and we easily went around the course. We did take the outside turn towards the last fence and as soon as Packy locked onto the fence she took me to it. 

I added on a 2’6″ round and set about waiting. Unfortunately the in gate person hadn’t written my number down for the order of go so I had to wait until later in the class to go. That meant the already sloppy footing was truly slip at that point. I considered scratching but knew Packy would tell me if she didn’t feel confident with the footing. We took a rail on the second jump when Packy avoided a puddle and we lost our impulsion. I put more leg on and we went around the rest of the course nicely including an inside turn to the last jump.  I added a second round and made sure to turn carefully and we got around clean. By the end of it I walked away with a half grey horse. From the footing being so awful Packy was worn out and stood quietly while I got her untacked, cleaned up and all ready to travel with her water bucket and hay bag for the trip back. 

Along the way back we stopped at Strafford Saddlery in Quechee to see if one of the staff could check my flock and fit of my jump saddle while I had Packy with me. As it turns out the saddle fits her spot on and other than wear from my left side being weak the flocking looks good. It looks like I just neeed a small spot flock which is no big deal and an easy fix. We got back and Emily and I busted through the hand grazing and taking care of other things on our respective to do lists. Which meant on Sunday I could stay home and clean the footing off of my tack.


Here’s hoping the rest of the season won’t be so mucky. 

-k