Clinics and Professional Training

When we last left our heroes… I had just returned from a long work trip to find that my trainer had absconded with my noble steed.

She rode him in a clinic at our barn for her trainer’s trainer who visits from his home base in Florida a few times a year to offer these clinics. You pretty much have to be a student of my trainer’s trainer to even get the opportunity to ride for him so this is probably as close as I’ll ever get to that.

 

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It was amazing. Harley was a perfect gentleman and impressed everyone, including the clinician, with his athleticism, temperament, work ethic, and good looks. I preened at their gushing like a fucking peacock and I’m not even remotely sorry about it.

 

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My trainer didn’t feel like she rode very well during the clinic but I sure thought they looked great. She admitted later that she should have used my normal half pad/ shim configuration because she felt out of balance using hers. I nodded, I really don’t know jack about this *but* I have spent a year and a half now getting the saddle set-up so that I finally feel balanced on him. I had him in a french link baucher because I felt like it gave me improved steering on the big guy but my trainer thought he felt heavy in it and the clinician didn’t like it for him either so we swapped to an eggbutt french link snaffle for the second day. Slight equipment woes aside, she said he felt great and went great.

 

 

 

The clinician proclaimed him to have probably been quite the horse in his younger days considering his confirmation and movement. He noted him to be a slightly older style body type but likely one of the prototypes of new Belgian warmbloods. To which I nodded, swirled my wine, adjusted my ascot, and casually murmured, “indubitably.”

 

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Post-clinic my trainer admitted that she is completely in love with Harley and that he is one of the coolest horses she has ever ridden. So we are currently in a kind of casual barter relationship whereby I don’t ever have to pay for trainer rides because she loves it so much. It’s perfect. If it needs to be renegotiated for any reason, we’ll do that. But for now, it is a nice perk for me to ride and take lessons on a talented horse that is being actively trained as well.

Long-time readers will remember my first fall off of HarleyΒ which was actually a pretty traumatic fall and though there were thankfully no head injuries or broken bones, I had a pretty major soft tissue injury to my right calf and a giant bruise on my hip/thigh. Needless to say, we haven’t had very many positive experiences in the outdoor arena. It shares fence lines with two pastures, is surrounded by horse-eating trees and bushes, and seems to always be super windy. I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I haven’t ridden Harley down there since that fall. I have taken him down there, lunged him down there, and we do ride elsewhere on the property outside, but he just always seemed way too amped every time we set foot in that arena.

 

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Last Sunday was a beautiful day in Southern Indiana, despite the terrifying mini-apocalypse seemingly occurring everywhere else, and I swear every single boarder came out to ride. Our barn isn’t huge, but it has grown recently, and I think especially some of the newer boarders tend to ride their horses a lot. When I pulled in there were several cars parked up by the barn so I hoped that by the time I got Harley ready that group would be done riding. Unfortunately, the cars just kept streaming in. I walked Harley up to the indoor and there were three riders going and another in the aisle tacking up his horse. I gulped, and decided to trek down to the outdoor arena where there were also two riders currently riding.

 

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I mustered as much courage as I could and decided that we would leave if we started acting nutty and being disruptive. I walked Harley around the rail so he could gawk at all the turned out horses he sees literally all the time that he’s never seen before in his entire life. He was excited, but reasonable, so I threw a leg over and gave him a necco wafer for standing at the mounting block nicely. He ripped a low-hanging branch off of a tree while I adjusted my stirrup and I hoped that if he was relaxed enough to think about dressage snacks, we might just be okay. He was a champ! Only did his “omg, run away?!” ears two times but snapped out of it easily with a circle or a lateral request to focus on. It was a really pleasant ride and he was light and forward but not bargy and super adjustable. We did a little bit of everything and then called it a very successful day! I am looking forward to trying a few more late summer rides out there before it starts to get cool.

 

 

 

 

 

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When Your Trainer Steals Your Horse

I just recently returned from a two-week long work trip to Brazil where I toured three hospitals (for work), visited four different cities, presented for the owner of my company’s Brazilian distributor and got bronchitis or some kind of legionnaires disease from a particularly shady Brazilian motel I accidentally ended up staying at for two nights. I’m still recovering.

I knew I was going to be gone for about 16 days so I asked my local dressage trainer if she could put a few training rides on Harley while I was gone. I figured between her rides and my friend riding him a couple times, he’d be set for training and have a couple sets of eyes looking out for him while I was away.

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I left on Friday, August 4th to spend the weekend with my aunt and uncle in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I was going to be back in town for about a day before leaving for Brazil. My trainer texted me on Saturday saying she thought I had already left and so she rode Harley and he was awesome. She also asked if she could ride him for her trainer (the local big name) while I was gone. Of course I agreed! Well, that was pretty much all she wrote….my trainer has fallen head over heels for my horse. The timing was oddly serendipitous because she ended up having to put her old school master down right before I left town and her other ridable horse has been off for several weeks now. So it kinda ended up that Harley, in addition to already being one of her favorite horses in the barn, was now pretty much hers for two whole weeks. She took full advantage. I had agreed to pay her for 3-4 training rides over the time I was gone. I think she rode him almost every day- I’m not even mad!!!

My friend who was supposed to ride him while I was gone gave me updates and sent pictures but told me that trainer had made it clear she would NOT be sharing Harley with my friend because he was just too much fun. (My friend has her own pony and has a great relationship with our trainer so it was all in good fun)

I got these photos from my friend:

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And then this text from the Trainer:

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I found this whole thing rather hilarious and super awesome. Her main riding horse is still off so she just asked me today if she could ride Harley for her trainer again tomorrow and in a clinic this weekend at our barn- UM YES. I am almost as excited to watch my trainer ride him as I would be if I were riding!

Only question is… how am I going to get my horse back???

 

 

Shark Saddling

Harley has been a rockstar lately. I told my trainer that while it did take me a solid year to figure him out- we have really been clicking lately and I feel like our rides have actually started to be productive instead of slightly out of control and mostly mediocre.

I think a few equipment changes have made a big difference lately. I bought a used MW Albion SLK High Head dressage saddle when I first started leasing Harley. I never blogged about it here because my mother reads my blog and already thinks that maybe shoveling my money, by the pile, into a fire might actually be a cheaper hobby than riding horses…

I bought it used on eBay so it was a huge and pricey gamble. The model is the same saddle my trainer owns and tends to fit a variety of horses. I had ridden Harley in her saddle before I started leasing him and we decided it should work. The high head model can be somewhat more difficult to find used, especially in the states. I was also in a time crunch since I really wanted to wait until I had Harley before I bought one so I could try it on him, but obviously didn’t want to be stuck for long without a saddle at all.

I think I made out fairly well on the deal. The price was good and upon arrival the saddle was in good shape. The flocking appeared to be in good condition and it looked exactly like the photos. The one thing that wasn’t explained in the ad was that this saddle had, at some point, been at least partially remade. It’s clear that the repairs were well-done, by a reputable place, but I would have maybe liked to have known that before I bought it. Still, it is a very nice saddle. At the time, I had two choices: this one at a very reasonable price; or a new demo model for a great price that was still about a $1000 more than the used saddle. This being a lease horse, I opted to take the gamble and save a grand up front. I don’t regret it. I think it fits Harley about as well as it could without investing some serious coin into fitting this nearly 20 year old orca for his retirement gig!

 

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TWINSIES!!!

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All jokes aside, go look at that Harley photo again and tell me how in the world you’d go about saddling that horse!!

 

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I did the best I could and hoped I could half-pad the rest. Here is how the saddle fits with just a simple saddle pad:

 

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I like the steep rise of the pommel to fit those massive withers but look at where the balance of this saddle is even with sizable rear gussets- it’s too far back for me. He’s so uphill I would end up in a chair seat leaning forward to try and keep up with him. So I needed a rear riser pad. I have a shimmable ThinLine Trifecta half pad that I like very much except that you really aren’t able to fit very many shims in the pad- at least not enough for me to comfortably sit on Harley. I have been riding with this half-pad on Louie for every lesson and I love it on him. For Harley, I recently bought an ECP shimmable half padΒ and chuckled as I ripped out and threw away the laughable, completely useless foam shims that it comes with and stuffed in several ThinLine rear shims. This thing is a god-send and is working so well for us. Would I love him to have a completely custom saddle that fits without the use of these pads- sure- but he hasn’t been back sore since I’ve had him and he is moving so well with this configuration.

 

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Here you can see the saddle balance already much improved. I added a TSF girth and Harley is moving the best he has since I’ve leased him. With me in a better spot mechanically as well, I have been much more comfortable and it has even reduced some of the strain on my knees while I ride him. Clearly I still have some latent muscle memory of riding in the “backseat” for so long- either that, or I am part bridge troll…but once I start to realize I don’t have to lean so much, this will be a much nicer picture!!

 

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Physical Limits vs Mental Limits

Monday I wrote about ways that I am pushing some physical limits in my life and today I want to talk about some mental limits that I’m struggling with lately in my riding.

A few weeks ago, I had an amazing lesson on Louie where my trainer even video taped part of my ride to show me how much my seat has improved and what a positive influence it was having on the way Louie was moving.

 

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Alas, what goes up, must come down. Tuesday’s lesson was a total bust and I’m still trying to process what was going on. I think I may have been in my own head too much- trying to reproduce something I came across in a very exploratory frame of mind by instead forcing it or rushing it. Louie was being a little lazy and when I couldn’t get him to feel how he felt last ride, I kind of crumbled. When Louie started phoning it in, the wheels came off and we were a mess out there. She asked me to do some canter transitions to balance him in the trot and he was. not. there. He was super dull and giving the bare minimum amount of effort and I was suddenly completely at a loss for what to do. I could feel it- or rather the absence of it- and I just kept trying to force it. I was able to finish with some decent canter work only after a heart to heart….er…whip to rump discussion with Louie and my trainer explaining to me that I wasn’t even asking him to keep it together- I was just giving away all of the impulsion out the front. Weak sauce.

After the lesson she told me something I already knew, but after that performance, probably needed to be told again. She said something to the effect of, “you are not a beginner anymore, when people start lessons they look to their instructor to guide everything they do. When more advanced riders take a lesson, they come in and ride and I help when they need it but they do what they need to do for their horse before I say a word. You have more than enough tools in your toolbox to get him where he needs to be without me- you have to ride him like he’s your horse. If I ask you to do some exercise but you can feel he isn’t balanced enough to do it, get him there- do something else you know will help him.” She’s right, of course.

So, what happens when the EquiNovice isn’t exactly a novice anymore? I’ll tell you what happens- responsibility!!!! UGH, what a drag! As long as you are new you feel like you can make mistakes, second guess yourself, be hesitant, and it’s all acceptable because, well, it is- you’re new. Coming to grips with not being new is a bigger mental hurdle than I thought it would be. I need to level up my mental fortitude to match my skill or it’s going to be darn near impossible to continue to advance.

I don’t imagine this was a particularly enjoyable lesson for my trainer to teach and it is in stark contrast to my last lesson which I think she probably did enjoy. But it means a lot to me that she continues to push me to be better. Yes, I pay her for every lesson, but she could just as easily feed me empty compliments and let me putz around on good natured Louie every week. I’m never going to show him; never going to be reflected publicly as her student; and may not even get to take lessons from her for very much longer. But she still cares about my development as a rider enough to tactfully have an uncomfortable conversation with me and push me to be better. That’s a quality instructor.

 

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Mental limits: must push for more progress! Onward and upward and don’t let a few bad rides get you down.

 

 

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Pushing for More

Finding a balance is tough- in life, in injury recovery, in riding. You can only really know your true limits by testing them because so many “limits” are self-imposed or temporary. These faux limits are negotiable and often worth testing!

 

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Much handsome.

Harley and I are testing our physical limits lately and while in some cases we’re looking for the limit to check if it can be extended, in other cases finding the limit will let us know a comfortable state in which we can chill and know things will be okay, at least until some other variable changes.

I am playing with how many times per week and how many times in a row I can ride before my knee bothers me to the point of having to take multiple days off to recover. Obviously this is completely unscientific because every ride is a little different but in general it seems like I can ride three days in a row, MAX. This is frustrating because it’s not a muscular thing, not a case of being out of shape (though, yes, of course I am), this is osteoarthritis and it’s annoying AF. What I’m working on now is trying to see if riding every other day means I am able to get more rides in per week or is there just a critical limit.

 

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Full derp.

With Harley I have been asking for more lately, and he is delivering in ways I didn’t even think he could. Yes, some of the improvement can be attributed to me simply riding more often. He is getting more fit and most importantly staying sound. He takes a bad step or two nearly every ride so I know his hocks are still causing issues but tomorrow he is getting injections and I’m excited to see what we will be able to accomplish when he is back to work afterwards.

 

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I know the saddle is a bit too far forward in this photo- the offset girth I use now helps a bit- but man, he is hard to fit! 

I have had a lot of success asking for adjustability within the gaits and specifically in the trot, he gets into a zone that’s rhythmic and very adjustable. I’m not sure I’ve ever felt anything like it before. He’s so athletic and has such a good work ethic but it took me a long time to understand the core strength required to focus that intensity. He is also a pretty big mover so sitting his trot is damn near impossible for me unless he is in that zone. Now I push the limits of how long he can correctly work in that zone before we fall apart. Most recently, I have been adding some transitions asking him to canter out of and transition back into that trot resulting in a much higher quality canter than I usually get from him. It should be noted that we are going about this relatively blind and mostly by feel- I don’t really know if he looks great and I’m sure I am making mistakes but we have moments where it feels great and I’m trusting myself that that sensation is the right path.

 

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I don’t want to call it something it isn’t. Is this a collected trot by definition? Unsure. The sensation is a bundled energy that does not feel explosive in any way. It is slow but distinctly two-beat; it’s comfortable to sit- feeling very up and down; it’s light in the hand and most enjoyably, requires hardly any leg at all and is adjustable in my core. The real question I have is: can this same sensation be produced through incorrect work? Can something that feels this good, be bad?

 

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