Road Trip!!

Last weekend my extremely diverse friend group packed up a few cars and headed up to Columbus, OH for Equine Affaire. We rented a super little house on AirBnB that comfortably slept all seven of us and worked out great for making breakfasts and staying up late around the kitchen table chatting and drinking wine.

 

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Not sure what…but it’s here.

 

This was the first real trip we’ve taken as a group and it was a total success! We all acknowledge that we are… a lot… especially together, and I think that helps all of us cope individually when there are disagreements. In a group this diverse, there are bound to be disagreements: our ages range from 29 to 69; mothers, divorcees, happily married, singles; apartment dwellers to farm owners; control freaks and Type Bs; driven, competitive riders to non-riders; and multiple-horse owners to horse appreciators. It is a magical thing and a privilege to co-exist in the midst of these wonderful women and I am proud of us for all working hard to make sure everyone had a good weekend as we shared our greatest mutual passion- the thing that brought us all together in the first place- horses!

 

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Fun, kitchy AirBnb

 

We all decided to drive up sometime on Friday morning so we missed Thursday and some of Friday but we were able to catch a ton of the demos and seminars and get in plenty of shopping over the weekend. I had never even heard of Equine Affaire before moving to Indiana, but my michigander friend assures me that it was always THE midwestern horse event when she was growing up and that it would be amazing. I didn’t quite know what to compare it to. I have attended the Minnesota Horse Expo a bunch of times; I went to Rolex couple of years ago; I’m no stranger to the Kentucky Horse Park;  I’ve been to various horse theater/circus type performances; and I volunteered at the World Equestrian Games in 2010 so I was trying to imagine what Equine Affaire would be like. It’s kind of a combination of a few of those things- smaller in some regards and bigger in others. It’s not a show, though there are a few shows in the program. The seminars and demos were great- this is obviously this event’s bread and butter (and the shopping, of course).

 

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Stacy Westfall

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Massage guy…doing the five seconds of actual massage in his demo

 

There were clinicians from several disciplines that offered both demos and presentations on various topics. My friends and I did some “divide and conquer” but also ending up in several of the same talks/demos throughout the day. I attended many demos/talks with Jan Ebeling who was the main dressage clinician for the event. I found him to be a really great instructor but our group was a little less enthused about his actual riding. We all enjoyed his pronunciation of volte with his German accent. The woman rider he taught was a very competent, fair rider on several dreamboat warmbloods throughout the weekend. Jan helped her improve in every short lesson and even got her to attempt a line of two-tempis that she had never ridden previously on one of the horses. She nailed them. The audience lapped it up.

 

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Jan instructing a dressage demo

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Jan riding during another of his dressage demos

 

I watched some of the western/natural horsemanship guys- really enjoyed James Cooler. I watched Hunter/Jumper Jeff Cook lead a group lesson and loved his style and his feedback to the riders. I listened to talks from a couple DVMs and biomechanics buffs.

 

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Jeff teaching some jumpers

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James talking about soft feel

 

We also got tickets to attend the Fantasia show on Saturday night. I loved the dressage freestyle, the garrocha, the drill teams, and the Percherons and Minis. There was an Icelandic horse part of the show that was mostly just confusing and focused too heavily on malfunctioning sparklers and unfortunately the vaulting/circus crew missed several of their tricks. I get it, that stuff is freaking hard and this was their 3rd night performing it.

 

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omgggggggggg SO cute

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squeeeeeee!

One of the things that impressed me so much about nearly all of the riding seminars and performances was how professional and chill the majority of the horses were. Horses of nearly every breed just casually strutted their stuff amid train noise, sliding doors, people walking everywhere, scary arena ventilation fans, cheering crowds, inclement weather, blowing plastic bags…. I mean the whole thing was like de-spooking clinic and none of these horses batted an eye! Meanwhile, I sat in the dressage demos getting nervous over every noise, moving thing, or gust of wind that would have sent Harley bolting into the next county and me promptly into the dirt. Mad props to all the consummate professional horses out there wearing their big boy and big girl pants for their riders and/or props to these riders for making it seem like their horses are all bombproof.

There were only a couple picky criticisms of the event- there wasn’t enough event staff especially to deal with the parking lot traffic and I attended one demo that didn’t thrill me- it was about massage for the sport horse and the guy was just very repetitive. It was supposed to be a demo showing massage tips you could use on your own horses, but he more or less spent the whole time emphasizing icing and did a kinesio taping demo. I was hoping for some hands-on examples of massage techniques. But, hey, if only one demo ended up being so-so, that’s pretty good! Overall, it was a great weekend, a really nice experience, and a blast with my friends!

 

swl

 

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Holiday Hoopla

We had a tiny little ice storm today where I live but apparently I missed the memo that it was “coming in to the office is optional” day. I’m a little bitter… so I am blogging! I realize it’s already a couple weeks into January but I have a few more holiday antics to catalog on here for posterity before I jump into 2018.

For the past several years, I have annoyed delighted my dressage trainers by dressing up like a fool for my last lesson before Christmas. I always do something a little different and since it all started with wearing a goofy hat over my riding helmet- I have continued that tradition with a new hat every year. I used to only dress myself up for lessons because I was never riding my own horse. Harley and I have been together for almost two years now so he also participates and last year we started assembling recruits to join in the fun as well!

 

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Harley says you can always make your own Santa beard!

 

I knew I was going to have the big holiday ride the night before I left to go home to the Northland for Christmas, but to keep up the tradition, I also had a holiday themed dressage lesson. My barn does a voluntary Secret Santa which is a lot of fun and a couple of my barn mates had been pulling some lighthearted holiday pranks “jingle jokes” along with leaving their gifts. My friend sneakily filled our trainer’s treat pouch with jingle bells instead of sugar cubes! She only found out when she started trotting and jingling during her lesson with her trainer!!! Priceless.

Trainer thought she was being so clever when she took those jingle bells and zip-tied them to MY saddle but I just rolled with it and we jingled festively through our whole lesson.

 

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Sorry Trainer, jingle joke’s still on you!

 

This year for the main holiday ride, I made my own hat and Harley got to be a little more involved in dressing up as well. We ended up with a pretty good-sized group with riders aged 12-45 and horses aged 3-20. I went with a frosty the snowman theme and got to wear a tutu and there was plenty of leftover decor for the rest of the crew to borrow!

 

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Harley had some feelings about his antlers but his plaid polos are perfection.

 

I texted my old trainer so she wouldn’t be sad about missing out on the fun this year.

 

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The whole festive crew!

 

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That extra special between the ears

 

We all had a great ride and decided that tutus should be a riding staple. The ponies were all very good sports, got lots of candy cane rewards, and solidified their precarious spots on Santa’s nice list. 😉

Bright and early the next morning I headed home for the holidays and enjoyed a lovely break with family, friends, and furrbabies.

 

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Christmas cat can’t hang

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This is obviously MY puzzle, and you people clearly needed help holding the pieces down.

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Considers himself a gift to humanity

 

I spent New Years Eve back here in Indiana with my friends and we celebrated in style despite the frigid weather. I went out on New Years Day to visit my main man and we shared some frozen selfies.

 

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That face you make when your pasture buddy tries to steal your cookies

 

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Chillin in my warm new blanket because I destroyed my old blanket last year

 

We have had a few great rides to kick off the new year and let me tell you, after a few months of weekly trainer rides this guy is fancy AF. I can’t believe he’ll be 20 in March and in April we will celebrate two years together!

Thanks for tolerating my sh*t, Harley, and for always letting me kiss your mustache.

 

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2017 Equestrian Blogger Gift Exchange

I was running around a little stressed out the other day as I was trying to close things out for the year at my office as well as packing to head north for Christmas. I arrived home to find a package outside my door. It was in an Amazon box so naturally I was like…dangit self! What ELSE did you buy this week?!?!?! But, upon closer inspection, there was a handwritten address label- awww yusssssss!! My Secret Santa gift!

 

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I could not possibly be more thankful for Allison and Juice over at Pony Reboot for the perfect gifts this year! My old thinsulate lined SSG gloves finally gave up the ghost and I have had nothing to wear in the cold especially before and after rides and for auditing clinics. I asked for a pair of gloves, but I know Allison went a bit beyond the budget to get me such a nice pair and even included some treats for me and Harley, too! You guys rock and I am excited to have found a new-to-me blog to follow!

 

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Wearing these bad boys tonight for my annual Christmas ride!!! Thank you, Allison!

 

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The Great Escape

Whoops! Sorry I kinda ghosted you guys in November. It’s been busy! I have been doing a lot of traveling and, of course, plenty of riding too.

My trainer continues to ride and take lessons on Harley which is still nice. She doesn’t go out of her way to offer to give ME lessons on him (I haven’t taken a formal lesson this month) but at least she is more forthcoming with feedback from her rides on him that I use to decide what I will work on when I ride him. Changing trainers is tough…but we are doing pretty well, all things considered.

 

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I extended Harley’s clip a little bit, with much less success than my previous attempt. Must have been some beginner’s luck in my favor on that round.

In late October, Harley and his buddies went on a fast-paced tour of the farm and surrounding neighborhood thanks to the antics of one naughty pony barreling nearly over his owner and throwing open the pasture gate. This all occurred during a dressage clinic at my barn which I was auditing at the time. The area’s main trainer was aboard her horse schooling canter pirouettes and before we all knew what was happening she yelled “loose horses!” and we all clambered up from our chairs to close the arena doors in time to block the incoming stampede. My eyes bugged out of my head as I realized that it was MY horse and, since his pasture is quite far from the arena, something very bad must have happened. I swore and fast walked out of the arena through the barn hoping to head them off at the gate and hopefully keep them in an area that could be enclosed. Other barn members had heard the commotion and had already closed the gate. Harley and his herd mates continued to run around like idiots for a few more minutes refusing to be caught until finally Harley let himself be caught by my trainer while I managed to corral his stall buddy and the herd mare. Everyone grabbed a horse and we all walked them back to their pasture to turn them back out where they returned to eating grass and looking at us all doubled over in the driveway like “What?! We didn’t do anything.” It was intense. Thankfully, no people or horses were harmed in the great escape despite the whole herd crossing a fairly busy country road to frolic around the neighbor’s house.

Anyone who read my last post and thought I was being a stick in the mud about the pony tearing down the decorations while taking photos should keep this in mind… manners matter. This was the same pony.

Anyhoo…our barn has recently become a gated-entry facility! We’re so fancy.

 

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I have been continuing to use my theraband off and on while riding. I think it’s a good tool but I don’t want to become reliant on it either.

 

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Sorry all you get are the crummiest screen grabs from low light iPhone videos.

 

I am making a conscious effort while riding to be more aware of my body. Harley and I have fallen into a much more comfortable groove where I don’t have to be so constantly vigilant about external stimuli. He still spooks all the time at the dumbest stuff but I know his triggers and can read and feel his tension better now. I have noticed most recently that he rarely lets my right hip lead. There is plenty of chicken and egg argument going on here because my right hip doesn’t actually ever WANT to lead. Due to all of my knee problems being on the right, I am very weak on that side, too. I have to make a conscious effort to lead with my right hip when I walk so it just makes sense that I am not helping Harley’s left side weakness. This is what I now focus on during most of my rides.

The two very simple exercises that seem to be the most clear in helping me focus on this are: pushing my right hip to lead on a 20m circle to the right while focusing on keeping my weight balanced. The other exercise is leg yielding to the left. It’s important to focus on working the stiff side in both directions and it is so painfully obvious how much attention is required because when I come around the turn on the short side tracking left, I really have to actually think counter bend coming out of that turn or he will throw his shoulder towards the wall the second I ask for a leg yield. Both of these exercise provide some really good, and immediate, physical feedback so I know (even without a trainer) if I am doing it correctly or not.

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I went home to the northland for Thanksgiving and lavished attention upon the two most spoiled creatures in the universe.

 

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And on Thanksgiving Day in the middle of my third cocktail, I received this photo from my trainer.

 

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The cutest.

 

I hope you all had a really nice holiday and got to spend quality time with family, friends, and beloved four-leggers.

swl

 

 

Wish Granted

Last weekend seemed to be the last breath of summer in this area so I didn’t need anymore of an excuse to leave work a little early on Friday and head out to the barn. Harley has been growing a pretty woolly coat the past month and he’s often already sweaty before I ride. So, I made a plan, and Friday was the day! I gave him a bath which he didn’t really appreciate and then I took him out to graze in the sun which he liked much better.

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After he dried my trainer insisted on taking photos of how clean he was for five seconds.

 

 

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We also tried to take cute photos with the barn’s fall decorations but my friend lets her pony do whatever he wants and thinks it’s cute and makes no effort to stop him so after he rolled the large pumpkin into the parking lot with his nose, ate the straw, and yanked down the corn stalk, I was pretty much in favor of being done with that activity.

I hope you got a good look at that chestnut chest hair above because promptly after those photos were taken, I tried my hand at clipping a horse for the first time ever!

Harley was awesome and didn’t even bat an eye at the clippers. He stood completely still and was a total dude about the whole process. I thought it wise, for my first time ever holding a clippers, to stick to something simple so I planned a tidy bib clip to start out with and later I could extend it if need be. I think I did a pretty decent job for my first time! But, I have no idea how you guys do things like make shapes/designs or straight lines for that matter…

 

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Saturday early afternoon I came back out to the barn for a ride and the barn was eerily empty for such a beautiful day. Sometimes Harley gets more concerned when he’s all alone in the arena but on Saturday he was a perfect angel and did not put a foot wrong. We had the BEST ride we’ve had in months. It was wonderful. He was relaxed but forward and even when I spanked him with my whip once a little harder than I planned, he let it go and didn’t get tense. I did not wear the theraband around my back but spent the whole ride focusing on getting that same feeling like I was wearing it and sitting up and back and relaxing my shoulders. He was much more accepting of my contact and I remembered to half halt firmly but release quickly and to keep doing that throughout the ride especially when we started to get disconnected. I find I’m often so concerned about the tension in our rides that I let us both get away with not having that conversation in the contact. I really enjoyed such a quiet, productive ride where I had the chance to feel through the connection when his focus was on me and when it wasn’t.

Sometimes this really nuanced message gets lost in the hustle of trying to “do things”. I have been frustrated lately in my lessons because they seem so focused on completing a pattern or getting a shoulder-in. That’s okay for some rides, but I often feel like I’m skipping over fundamentals to do it. I’m struggling to merge the two functions. And wondering, is it better to slog around doing imperfect “patterns” until they finally click? Is repetition the key? Or, is that connection the key to the whole thing and the minute you lose the connection you should stop trying to complete the pattern until you’ve recovered the connection? A little of both, probably, but I just don’t enjoy that feeling of running around like a chicken with my head cut off in the hopes that eventually one of those aimless circles will be a perfect 20m with correct bend.

Oh, dressage…you’re such a perpetual, addicting, mind screw.

 

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