At least his back is up, but this is a pretty stodgy trot

I’m taking Derby out to a schooling show next weekend.  We’re not ready for much and are just going to do walk-trot tests.  Why am I bothering? I’d like to take him out and about, and it will be fun to ride in a full size arena.  On the up side, the new saddle is working well for him – he’s not sore and is working comfortably. But we have just two weeks of introductory work, and are just working up to 40 minute rides.   Gait quality is an issue, my riding is still rusty and we both have a long way to go in terms of fitness.

Ugh, we are so not ready.

We’re focusing on getting Derby in front of my leg, gait quality and transitions in my lessons.  The pressure of a show – even a schooling show – is undeniable because I’m a bit of a perfectionist and Type-A sort of critter.  In actuality, this may work out well, because these three things – getting the horse forward and generating quality, correct gaits and riding lots of transitions are exactly what I need to get down to build Derby’s condition and move forward in our training.

But dang, I have a long road ahead of me.

The trot is getting a bit better

For the last couple nights, Christy has had me focus on riding from my core, while also asking for forward, keeping my hands quiet and bending the horse into the outside rein.  This is all basic stuff, and ten months ago, these movements were instinctive.  Presently, that’s not the case.  I feel like I’m multi-tasking and it’s tough.

Christy has been drilling me and man, I am feeling it.  My abs are sore and my legs hurt too. I spent extra time giving Derby a little massage tonight and hand grazing, because I bet he’s feeling it too.

The instructions come rapid fire from the middle of the ring.  Hold my reins.  Steady my hands.  Close my fingers.  Leg on.  Ask for more.  Make it happen. NOW!  Bend him.  Inside leg.  Come on, bend!  There! Leg on!

Rinse, repeat.

A respectable trot, though I need to sit up straighter, engage my core, and round the horse.

I’m not expecting killer scores.  I’ve decided that I will be happy if my test comments do not include the words “lacks energy.”

Importantly, the urgency of the looming outing is really helping me focus on forward, gait quality and transitions.  Who knows when we will make our recognized debut – that is months and months away – but I promise you, we will be fit, forward and correct when that happens!

Now, off for a warm shower and some advil.  Dang trainers.



Me & my buddy Frank

We had another up and down week, Derby and me,  as his back got sore again after my ride on Sunday. I *did* try another shim in my Mattes pad, which could have caused the soreness. Or, maybe after his winter off,  we’re asking too much too soon with multiple trot sets and stretching.  Who knows.

So he had a few days off,  just longing, and after discussing it with Christy, I decided that I’m going back to square one in terms of building fitness.  Hour long rides at a walk for a week.  Then introducing a couple short trot segments of no more than five minutes each, and then gradually increasing the trot, and adding short canters in about a month. And – hand to God – I swear on a stack of Bibles that I won’t mess with the shims and padding.

So on Wednesday we walked,  in hand, in the outdoor arena.  Walked and walked, in the deeper footing, over poles.  Derby signaled his boredom with sighs but plodded along next to me.  Because we weren’t mounted, and because I also needed to get a workout in, we also jogged a bit – the two of us, me in my big Wellies – around the outdoor.  As I was putting Derby away, Kim arrived, running late, and asked me of I could ride Frank, as she needed to get on Prior but both needed some work.  I was more than happy to hop on my old pal, and spent the ride doing penance for Derby, trotting around in two-point, and posting from a half-seat, keeping my butt out of the saddle as much as I could.  Gaahh.  I need to do more of that kind of work.  It kills.

On Thursday,  I tacked up Derby for one of our walking rides.  I had asked Christy if we could hack out off the property a short way, just so I could see how Derby would be.  He’s done lots of trails and schooled XC – and as expected, he was fine.  I was a little trepidatious – I generally am with most “first time” moments – but he was a good boy – even when we had to weave through pine trees and wade through belly-high grass.  We got out a little way – having tackled the parts of the trail I don’t love (pine trees, a drainage ditch, the tall grass) and Derby started acting a bit nervous.  Not bad, at all – just a leeetle looky and snorty.  Because a good experience was important to me – I am putting my own confidence back together and am frankly managing my experiences by setting myself up for success –  I asked Christy to turn around.  She was surprised but I wanted to get back before I had any issues.  A successful maiden voyage was the desired outcome.

We headed back, and Derby felt tense and was a little spooky.  This was all manageable – on the spookiness Richter scale, where 1 is a look and 10 is eating dirt while your horse flees into the next county, this was a 1.5.  No biggie.  And that was the point.   Getting out and back successfully and quietly is the first step I needed.  And it worked – I’m eager to take Derby back out, and am certain that he’ll be fantastic on the trails.  And we learned later that three was another rider in amongst the pine trees, and she had flushed a deer, so Derby’s avid interest in what was going on elsewhere was legit.

We ended the ride schooling bend in the outdoor.  I need to work on establishing a more forward, marching walk with Derby, who tends to get slow.  Anyway, it was a good night.  However,  I still find myself riding defensively.  I have to get it through my head – and into my instinctive reflexes – that this horse isn’t Maddie.  I can trust this boy. I *need* to trust this boy.

Joy, Pain & the Outside Rein

Today was truly a day with ups and downs, starting right off the bat with a text from the barn – Derby had been kicked.  It wasn’t an emergency, but he did have some scrapes and the location – the lower part of his chest – isn’t ideal.  The barn owner and her daughter (an ER nurse, and a nurse-to-be) did some triage and cleaned things up.  He’s tender but sound.  Happily, Derby and the other low man in the group who also gets picked on a lot are being moved tomorrow.  This is a relief to me – clearly Derby (and Remy) weren’t in a compatible group – and horses can be tough on each other.

I did an easy ride on Derby tonight, wanting to be sure he was okay after his ordeal this morning, and he was.  We rode outside and he was moving well and willingly.    It sure felt better than yesterday – I had a hideous ride, due (I’m sure) to the lingering effects of the weekend.   My riding muscles were screaming, it was hot, and I think we lasted about 20 minutes.

Today was decidedly better, but I still wasn’t terribly happy with myself.  I could feel myself tipping forward, and letting my leg curl back, so I did some laps in two-point and also did a good exercise Christy taught me – standing two beats and then posting two beats, over and over.  It helps build balance and steady the lower leg.  We did these exercises with loop in the rein – I wanted to be sure that I didn’t accidentally pop him in the mouth if I bobbled.

After we had been moving around for a while, I worked on Derby’s responsiveness to my leg.  I’m still wearing tiny spurs (until my legs are stronger and steadier) but a larger pair have been purchased.   For now, I have to turn my toes all the way out and poke very deliberately if I want to put some spur on.  Which I did, when Derby declined to heed my request (delivered via the inside leg) to step his fine self over, and fill up my outside rein.  He bent outward, effectively counterbending a bit.  I turned my heel in and *poked*.  A ha!  He stepped over!

I’m being very, very careful not to nag with my aids.  My legs are either on or off at the moment – I’m trying to avoid grey areas.  And after a few pokes with the spur, Derby stepped nicelyunderneath himself, and somewhat  into my outside rein when I asked with just some calf pressure.  I say “somewhat” because Derby resists contact a bit, but I’m pretty sure it’s partially a  training issue but primarily a rider issue – he’s better when he’s 1) warmed up and 2) I really ride.

I finished the ride practicing working from my seat – steering Derby with my leg and seat aids, and halting from my seat.  It’s all a work in progress but this sweet boy is a quick study.

After I put Derby away, it was time for my lesson.   Cathy is away this week, and has handed me Atlanta’s reins.  After a rough patch this spring with sore hocks and some farrier issues, Cathy has gotten to the bottom of Atlanta’s issues, and the mare is going magnificently.  I had such fun riding her, and can’t wait to get back on tomorrow and do more.

Christy had seen my ride yesterday which I know wasn’t pretty, and asked me what we were working on tonight.  I told her that I suspected it would be more of the seat and balance issues, but once we got going  … well, things went pretty well.  It was great to ride a big, proper trot again, and while Christy agreed that my stamina has waned, she told me that my form was looking pretty good.  Hooray!  I don’t suck after all!  After hearing that, as I cruised around on Atlanta, I felt nothing but joy.

So the focus turned away from my postion, and instead to the outside rein, and moving the mare around with my seat.  We did an exercise I remember doing with Maddie, when Christy needed to get.me.off.the.inside.rein already.  She had me bend the mare to and fro, from just my seat, keeping my hands still.  Then – and tonight with Atlanta – the effect was immediate – the mares both softened and stretched into the contact, backs up and engaged.

We also did some transition work, because I forgot entirely how to ride a graceful downward transition.  By half-halting the mare as I posted, and gradually slowing Atlanta, I was able to produce a nice, smooth, relatively engaged transition. This will be a particularly good exercise to work with Derby on as he gets stronger – half halts are an area of communication we need to improve.

Speaking of Maddie ….

We got some exciting news this weekend about my former mount, Maddie.   She and Heather (her new owner) competed in their first HT this weekend – a rated show up at Silverwood.   They went out at BN (Maddie is just learning to jump) and … they won!  Heather is clearly the perfect person for Mads, who looked enthusiastic and happy in the videos I got to see.  It was thrilling watching my old girl out on XC and in the stadium.  I’m so proud of her!  Congrats to Heather on a job very well done, indeed.  🙂

Destination: Atlanta

Atlanta and me, after my first lesson on her.

My friend Cathy just got a high powered job, and found herself insanely busy at about the same time I found myself horseless, and she offered me some saddle time on her fancy mare, Atlanta. I was thrilled and readily accepted.  Atlanta has more training than any horse I’ve ridden.  She’s a beautiful Hanoverian, and I’ve spent the last year admiring her from afar.

Cathy and Atlanta at their first dressage show last summer.

I’ve not been in the saddle much lately, between my travel schedule for work, and getting sick.  Between my fast-deteriorating riding muscles, and Cathy’s leather saddle (I’m used to my grippy suede Isabell) I had my work cut out for me.   We walked and I worked on getting Atlanta to stretch into contact.

Starting to figure things out

After we warmed up, we started to trot.  Christy warned me ahead of time that Atlanta’s gaits are different than the Thoroughbreds I’m used to riding.  She has more suspension and is a bigger mover.   The difference was immediately evident, even though I wasn’t asking her to really move.  I had to post much bigger to stay with her, and her motion pitched me forward.

I felt totally discombobulated trotting. I have a lot of work to do.

I hopped up into a two point to try to get my legs under me, and work on stretching down into my stirrups. It didn’t feel great, but Atlanta motored on.  She’s a forgiving girl.

Working on our connection

We didn’t do much – I’m still getting over a sinus infection am not 100% – but it was a good ride, and a fun one.  Two of my last three rides have been pretty high drama (a spill, and a bolt) so it was really nice to get on a horse I feel safe on.  I’m taking another lesson on Atlanta this weekend and hope to have something more interesting to report.  In the meantime, thanks again, Cathy, for letting me ride your wonderful mare!

A small hurdle, hurdled.

Tonight I flat out felt like hell in the saddle.  I’ve been working out, trying to un-do the fitness collapse my two weeks off and a bout of the flu brought.  Today, despite the fact I had a lesson, I did an awful cardio-step workout that kills my legs. Tonight was no exception.  My muscles were tired and sore.

I mounted up and we got to work – but immediately, Christy spotted something weird.  I was curling my leg back, towards Maddie’s flank, as we trotted around in two point, warming up.  She alerted me to the problem, and I tried to fix it, but it wasn’t happening.  I started to post, and that didn’t help either.

We dropped to a walk, and I kicked free of the stirrups and let my legs hang a minute, then started rotating my ankles and stretching.  Ahh.  That felt good.  After a few minutes, I put my feet back in the stirrups, and Christy gave her seal of approval.  Off we went again.

For about 15 seconds.

Clearly, things weren’t working for me tonight.  I started curling my leg again, and things still felt awful.  I dropped the stirrups again.

And then, because one of my resolutions is to just shut up and ride, I said to Christy, “Hey, I want to try something.”  I nudged Mads into a trot.  While I was too busy staying focused on the horse, I think I did hear Christy’s jaw audibly drop and hit the ground.  She’s been trying to get me to drop the stirrups for, oh, months …. maybe even years.  Mads has a trot I can ride without stirrups.   I never contemplated dropping the stirrups on Jag, who had a trot that felt like a pogo stick, it was so bouncy.

Granted, we weren’t doing much of a trot.  But we did four or five little shuffle-y circles around Christy, and called it a night.

I really want to ride more and better without stirrups.  It’s the only way to develop a truly independent seat.   And it’s sound practice and makes one a safer rider.  In particular, I’d like to be able to drop and pick up my stirrups – or adjust them when they slip – with ease.   Tonight was the first step.

So it was kind of a stupid ride tonight, but in the end, I had an important win.

Tomorrow we’ll give another lesson a shot. I’m going to do some yoga and pilates, and gobble a couple Advil before heading to the barn.  Hopefully I’ll put things together tomorrow night!


20 minutes, 30 minutes, 40 minutes …


I finally got back on a horse tonight – after a two week hiatus since our last ride – a good one which spawned the “Balancing Rein” post.  To say I was happy would be really understating things.   Mads felt great, and we got right to work once I had stretched out a bit and reconnected with all the muscles I hadn’t used while grounded.

We had a lesson with Christy,  who threw down the gauntlet by saying “Wouldn’t it be nice if we could pick up where we left off?”  I made non-committal noises.   I usually ride like a sack of freaking potatoes after time away from the barn.   That said, I had taken some measures against complete atrophy while I was away.  When I wasn’t laid up with the flu, I worked out,  and did lots of squats with my toes turned slightly inward, to stretch and strengthen my hip muscles – those same muscles I’ve been working on developing in the saddle to support my new, improved seat.

And it paid off – somewhat.  My legs felt good and looked great, according to Christy.  I wasn’t poking my toes out to the sides — I was keeping my leg softly against the side of the horse.  That was good.   However, after the first set of trot work, I was starting to feel winded.  I stole a glance at the clock!  7:20! I had been riding just 20 minutes!

Oh, Lord. I was going to be a long night. I couldn’t believe it.

But at least we were managing to pick up close to where we left off.  We practiced spiral in and spiral out, working on managing Mads when she leans on one rein.  Christy had me soften the inside rein repeatedly while really holding the outside rein.   We had some nice moments, but this still needs some work.   I need to use my leg more actively to get the mare into the outside rein, and be faster with releasing when she softens on the inside.

Anyway, I kept sneaking glances at the clock.  Christy caught me this time. It was just 7:30, and I could feel my face reddening and my shirt growing more damp under my fleece.

By 7:40, I was done.

I suppose this is good from the standpoint that at least we know I’m really riding, using my whole body, and not merely going along as a passenger. And I now ride like this out of habit.   So that’s cool.

But man, it’s discouraging to be so wiped out after such a short ride.    Onward and upward.  The mare got a few extra alfalfa cubes in her mare mush.  Hope she’s ready to go tomorrow!

My plan for the rest of the week?  Cruise around in two-point and do lots of posting tomorrow night, and really try to get some endurance back.  Subject myself to Christy for lessons on Wednesday and Thursday.


We're both working for this nice trot

Today I’m taking a day off from riding, and I’m glad.   The muscles that I’m retraining in my legs are exhausted.  I felt this yesterday, when Christy and I met for an early afternoon ride.  We had the arena to ourselves, the air was cold and crisp, Mads was really forward (I left her quarter sheet off, to encourage a little extra spunk).  One problem.  As we were trotting around warming up, before I was even asking Mads for anything more than a little stretch here or flex there, my legs were tired.  Really tired.  At first I thought that I’d get warmed up, and I’d be okay.  But “okay” wasn’t forthcoming.

As we were warming up, before we even moved off into a trot, Christy – in her weird, mind-reader, prescient way – was talking about a book about equine physiology she’s considering adding to her library.   Among other things, she’s interested in learning the physiology of muscle development and how to build equine muscles correctly.  Any sort of muscle development requires that the muscle be overloaded.  Soreness – a result of minute tears in muscle fibers (“microtrauma”) – is part of the process, an indicator that you are in fact working – and stressing – the target muscles. If it’s not getting a bit sore, you’re not using (and developing) the muscle.  I’m no sports physiologist, but I’m pretty sure my body was telling me to give it a rest. It was a short and unfulfilling ride.

The discussion of muscles got me thinking about Friday’s ride, during which Mads read one of my aids (pushing with my inside hip flexor) as a canter cue, when I intended for her to just bend.   I’ve long been gently bending this light and responsive mare at the trot simply by pushing gently with a hip flexor, making kind of a scooping action with the seatbone on the same side. It’s a small aid (or, at least, it is when I use it as described. It can be much stronger) and when I do it on the long side of the arena, I can bend Mads gently one way, then another, and then back again, keeping contact with her mouth steady and unchanged.

So why was my subtle cue now eliciting a canter? Well, it probably has everything to do with my new, improved leg position.  If I’m riding in a correct position, more of my leg is against the horse.  In my old toes-out postition, my leg wasn’t in much contact with Maddie’s side – really, just my heel and upper thighs.  Now, however, when I ride with my hip angles open, my whole leg rolled (for me) inward, and toes pointing forward, my entire leg is in contact with the horse.  So that subtle cue I had been giving was amplified.

Just one more thing to think about as I rebuild my seat.  I have to re-define my aids, as well.