Sunday, May 31, 2015

may confo

I honestly don't understand why it's so difficult for me to first- remember to take a monthly conformation shot, and second- to actually take a decent one. 

But. It is what it is, I suppose. Yesterday I just happened to notice that Isabel was standing almost square at the trailer for our lesson (naturally she moved at the last moment tho) and that there was only one day left in May.... so boom - confo picture snapped.

May 2015
It's not really the greatest for comparison to April, esp given the very different lighting. Tho I think her coat is looking much better (yesssss for an end to shedding season!) and that maybe her neck is a little fuller. (Tho frankly she came out of stall rest a little 'fuller' all over - something that actually pleased trainer P). 

I don't really love how peaked her SI region is... but haven't been able to get the chiro out for very frustrating reasons. Perhaps it's time to find a new practitioner... boo. 

April 2015
And for the sake of progression, below is Isabel's confo pic toward the end of last summer. We started training in earnest the spring before, so this was perhaps Isabel's first return to true fitness in many years. 

August 2014
She had spent probably the last 5-6 years more closely resembling something like this: 

sometime in late 2012, early 2013?
Hope you enjoy the rest of your weekend!

Saturday, May 30, 2015

gear + other miscellany

I've written a lot over the past months about the process of slowly collecting gear for our new discipline - eventing. And man, this sport takes a LOT of gear haha. 

So with two back two back events in very recent memory, here's a quick recap of what I've been using for the sake of documentation, plus a few thoughts on how it's working out.


  • Ariat white short sleeved show shirt - mostly reserved for the hottest days, but white is boring for jumping lol
  • Tredstep Symphony KP breeches - Love these pants so much I ordered a FS pair in white and have a blue pair for schooling
  • Mango Bay belt
  • One K Defender helmet

  • Tipperary protective vest in navy (sweet eBay score!)
  • SmartPak SunShield long sleeve shirts (blue and white) - Got these on sale a while back and probably won't buy more. They're ok in a breeze, but not nearly as cool as I hoped. I wore the white for dressage under my show coat and the blue for jumping at Loch Moy. The blue color is lovely, the shirts are flattering, and I like the zip collar, but they are just not great in hot temperatures. Fine for spring and fall tho.
  • Mondoni Kingston boots. Learned about these boots from Amanda's review. This is likely not the first nor last time she has incited someone to click 'buy' lol.

  • RJ Essentials Show Coat in Navy. I like navy - I want to wear navy in dressage. But this coat isn't quite right (it seems too hunter-y plus it's a little warm for summer). So I got the Horseware Competition Jacket in Navy - which is, um, a whole different take on the hue. Any thoughts on whether that coat is too blue for dressage?
  • Tredstep Davinci field boots
  • SmartPak Competition Pinny


  • Bates Isabel Dressage Saddle
  • Bates Caprilli Close Contact Saddle
  • Horseware Dressage Bridle

  • Ovation Gel Body Form Dressage Girth
  • Lettia CoolMax Fleece Girth
  • Herm Sprenger KK Ultra loose ring bits (x2)

  • Back on Track Saddle Pad
  • Majyk Equipe Cross Country Boots
  • Compositi Stirrups

PHEW. So much stuff omg. But I *think* we're all set - nothing else needed hopefully for a long time. Hopefully. (And actually maybe don't tell me if I'm missing something haha). What about you - do you have everything you need gear-wise? Any big recent additions? Or something exciting hovering on the horizon?


Also - as a somewhat random aside: Lauren recently posted about tips and tricks for equestrian blog content including pointers about image use (awesome series btw!), and Aimee chimed in with more thoughts about using and formatting cell phone pictures and video stills. 

These posts seemed to generate a lot of interest so I wanted to also point out another non-equestrian blog post on recommendations for formatting images. I found it super helpful (and adopted many of the ideas) so maybe it's worth sharing. Hope you're having a good weekend!

Friday, May 29, 2015

catch-up + proof that water is a thing Izzy can do

Just a quick catch up here from our lesson at OF before last week's MD Horse Trials at Loch Moy, and a few words on our first lesson after with Dan (tho there is exactly zero media evidence from that ride, boo). 

I had actually questioned whether we should even go to OF that week. Isabel had been working incredibly well - but also pretty intensely in the past 2 - 3 weeks, and I was starting to worry about burn out (or at least any soreness). 

But the mare was fine. Better than fine, actually. And we kept the lesson pretty light anyway. We did a couple smaller fences to warm up but trainer P kept us to a minimum. Isabel was kinda snarky for the fences anyway - like we were making silly mistakes and she was getting sassy after (again). Me thinks she feels too important for smaller fences now unless they're part of a grid or something like that. What a princess lol.

After a couple warm up fences P set everything up to competition height and ran us through a single course. 

this is our 'giddy up' face
Most of the efforts went well, tho I had a tough-ish time getting the right striding down an outside line. I planned for 5, but when it came down to it I should have adjusted for the 4. Got 4.5 instead. Came back around to get the 4, but jumped in pretty tightly. Should have adjusted for the 5... and got 4.5 again. Ehh.... these are my problems tho, not Isabel's, so we kinda left it at that. 

I was actually worried that the fences were set too low for BN and wished they were a little higher. Which is CRAZY for me bc who am I and why am I asking for raised fences? I guess it was about not wanting to be surprised or unnerved by the height at the show tho. 

Turns out that the Loch Moy stadium fences were actually right around this height too, so it was all good. Not sure if they were set a little soft (some were definitely bigger than others) or if my eye is just starting to adjust to the fences we see in lessons with Dan - which he claims are around or above novice. 

Anyway, after the lesson P was kind enough to allow me and B to hack over to the xc course to take a quick spin through the water complex. We weren't sure whether B would see water on the intro course, and obvi Isabel's problems with water are well documented on this blog. 

PROOF. it will happen guys - one day water will not be a problem.
But of course she's seen this water complex a few times by now and had zero issues trotting and cantering through, plus going up and down all the banks. Good mare! Now we just need to build on this confidence so that she can face unfamiliar water with equal aplomb. 

Moving on to a different lesson earlier this week (after Loch Moy): barn mate K and I rode again with Dan. It was kinda nice having another person in the lesson again bc while I got a TON out of last week's private with him, it was a little pricier than I budgeted for and just omg so much work! lol...

We spent the whole ride over a single exercise after warming up over another small fence and cavaletti. Before the furthest right part of the one stride was set up, we went back and forth down the line getting 5 then 4 then 5 etc etc. Dan actually told me not to move into canter too early for the 5 strides - that the small collected canter necessary to make the 5 work was very hard work for the horse and Isabel can't yet sustain it for very long. So I need to be economical in my approach to avoid any flattening in our canter.

His specific directives included really focusing on lifting Isabel's shoulders - particularly through our final turn to the fence. He also wanted us making the necessary adjustments quickly - as if we were in competition. No circling - everything should be done promptly. And if we were cross cantering - so be it. 

The exercise then moved to practicing each of the lines above, and ended by putting them together. First, down the one stride then to the oxer in 4, right turn to the diagonal back to the one stride (we got this in 5). Then we turned it around: down the one stride, bend to the diagonal (only got it in 6 in this direction), left turn to the oxer then 4 to the one stride. 

This second direction was naturally harder for my right handed pony and we frequently came into the oxer cross cantering and had to gallop for the 4. But we made it work. 

I also really focused on softening my hands and releasing over the fences. Novel concepts here, folks. Dan wants the rider to allow the horse to carry itself through a gymnastic exercise. In other words - once we've gotten to the first jump of the one stride I should be able to just float my hands forward and let Izzy take care of the rest. 

We talked a little bit about how tight I was at Loch Moy (especially evident in all the photos) but he thought that had more to do with the pressure of being in competition. In any case, it'll be a work in progress I guess. 

So that's pretty much it on the riding front through the week. Princess finally got a little bit of time off - then we'll have a couple lessons this weekend (including a bio-mechanics lesson, yay!) then back into show prep mode next week for Waredaca on the 7th!

Thursday, May 28, 2015

MDHT: cross country!!

Going into cross country I knew my standings - something I usually avoid as a rule to reduce any undue pressure. But I couldn't resist and looked up our scores on event entries. So. Going into xc we were in 4th place based on dressage score - followed by a clear stadium round. 

We jumped two warm up fences for Izzy to get her eyes on something solid, then we were off! Recall from the course walk that the first three fences were all pretty big - with fence 1 definitely maxed out. Perfect mare was perfect straight out of the start box - jumped well and with confidence. Yessssssss.

Fence 4 - the brush - was also quite large. And I suspect with the brush it topped out somewhere above 2'7". We were going slightly down hill in approach and there were patches of different colored grass which sorta distracted Isabel a little. I rode strongly tho and she was up and over with no problem.

Then we trekked back up the rising terrain to fence 5 - which was kinda in the middle of nowhere. 

I made it a real point to try and let go in between fences, and not start setting Isabel up too early. I just get so handsy and grabby all the time... it's gotta stop!

Isabel looked a little bit at fence 5 but jumped well. It was definitely the first *different* looking fence on course and I kinda anticipated the wiggles so it was fine.

The mound rode a little funny but that might have been mostly my fault. I kept expecting Isabel to anticipate and look around and she really didn't - she was nicely forward straight through it. 

Actually - so forward that we kinda got the mother of all long spots to fence 7, the ark. Oops. These pics crack me up too bc Izzy's like, c'mon Emma, wtf keep up with me! And um. Yea also scope is not a problem for her at this level. Duly noted. 

Then came the water. Sigh. We came down to walk, then halt, then side pass.... but got in without a backward step or penalty. Good mare. Lots of praise!

And here's where my greenness really showed. We were super disorganized and Isabel was still really uneasy about the water (check out that hock action lol!). Plus I lost a stirrup. But did I circle around? Did I give myself space to organize, pick up my stirrup and get our pace back? Or did I just kick on and take the direct route to the big fence out of the water from a trot?

Um. Yea. Poor planning Emma! But as Dan says, "experience is that thing you get right after you needed it." So. Poor Isabel obviously had no real chance at fence 9. 

I circled to the left and re-approached from a pretty steep angle to slice the fence (thus staying on dry ground), and from a trot too bc Isabel was too sticky to canter. Good good good mare gave it a HUGE effort tho and made it happen with quite a bit of encouragement from me. I did NOT want another refusal!

The above is the backside of the same fance - you can kinda get a sense of the angle we jumped it from. This mare. She's a pretty good girl :)

The refusal actually upset Isabel a little bit and she was a tad sticky for the rest of the course. LOTS of verbal encouragement - mostly along the lines of constant praise and counting out the last few strides to each fence (usually from four out - about as far as my eye can go at present). 

So it was a relief that two of the next three fences were let ups (10 & 12).

The ditch went well too. Tho you can kinda see by the angle of Isabel's head in the first two pics that she actually noticed that it was a REAL ditch after take off and kinda gave it the hairy eyeball. No biggie tho.

She didn't look at all at the carvings on the turtle log for fence 12 - and then we were off past some seriously big fences toward the woods. Poor thing actually spooked at a fruit stand type jump right when I softened my reins to allow her to cruise, too. It was at this point that I realized that the stop had knocked some wind from her sails and she needed a little more support from me.

I'm glad I picked up on that too bc the next fence was 13, the white lattice hidden in the shadows. Isabel looked hard and really tried to slam on the brakes - but we somehow managed to climb over. Seriously - I did NOT want another stop! Mucho praise for the princess, plus an economic turn through the woods (really threading the needle through the trees) to get to the pheasant feeder as quickly as possible and she was much better for that fence. 

Then a long canter to 15 which she jumped very well - getting back into the groove - then through the finish line! We did it!!

I'm pretty sure the only reason I didn't burst immediately into tears of joy and relief was bc of that stop... I still felt incredible for completing - and recall that was my only goal for the day. But knowing that we had been so well positioned after dressage and stadium, only to have a refusal on xc bummed me out. I mean, it's kind of a no brainer that 20 penalty points at this level is enough to drop you right to the bottom of the pack. 

But lo - I was not the only one to struggle! In a way it reaffirmed my initial assessment that this course was somewhat high-level for BN considering it was a starter event... The course was influential enough that I only dropped two spots in the rankings to finish 6th with a score of 46.8. Kinda crazy but I will take it! 

So. In summary - we're going to stay at this level. Almost all of our training pieces are in place to correctly handle the complexity expected at BN. Water needs work, period. But that will hopefully continue improving with time and experience!

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

MDHT: dressage + stadium!

Ok I finally have everything together to do a full recap of our beginner novice debut at the Maryland Horse Trials at Loch Moy! The bottom line? We outstripped our goal of completing the competition and had a fabulous time doing it. This level is definitely challenging for us - but at no point did I feel over-faced or like we were in over our heads. There's work to be done, yes, but I feel prepared.

does this pic kinda make isabel look like she has two heads? lol
I'm pretty sure Isabel knew exactly what was up the moment I brought her in from her field at 5:30am. She tucked right into her special breakfast (easy keeper mare usually only gets fed at dinner time) and hay while I cleaned her up. Then it was onto the trailer with Wick and off we went at 6am. A little over an hour later we unpacked at Loch Moy and the horses settled in with the hay and grass. Wick was a little bit on high alert - but Isabel was her usual professional self. Good mare! 

Loch Moy had four dressage arenas set up - three side by side in this maaasssssive arena with a pretty bonkers sea of riders warming up; and the fourth in a separate arena on the other side of a small lane. 

I was assigned to that fourth ring - which also had its own much quieter warm up - score!! I mean, not that it really matters for Isabel bc she is used to arena traffic and is typically indifferent to horses around her. But I still appreciated the relative quiet (tho perhaps it was lookier with some construction equipment right next door). 

Isabel warmed up really well - straight to work like a very good girl. So I tried to keep it pretty easy with some trotting to get her loose and moving, mixing in 20m circles and leg yielding and serpentines. Then a couple canter transitions (including maybe our best EVER!), and then a few practices of the trotting diagonal followed by the right turn then canter transition and 20m canter circle. 

dear emma: please sit down.
dear isabel: please don't ever change!
Figured we were good with that - which was pretty good timing bc we were on deck! And then we were circling the arena for what felt like an eternity before the judge rang us in... and it was show time! Isabel was SO GOOD. I really can't stress that enough. She was just so consistent and steady - even when I knew my aids were garbled or my position was a little whack.

I paid really close attention to our inside bend (through the shoulders, Emma!) on the circles and it paid off big time. Our geometry was maybe not quite as good while I'm getting the feel for this, but the movement was better. I think it's a worthwhile trade off for now, and the geometry will come in time. I also really tried to start all our transitions (particularly down) with my thighs and seat and it seemed to make a big difference. 

Oddly, leaving the ring I didn't have the same feeling as last week when I just *knew* we'd hit a new personal record score. But I felt really good about it - like we did the test justice. And when I ran into Dan, who was there coaching other students, I told him it was a great test for us - still had our typical bobbles but was an excellent representation of our current level of training. So I was blown away when I saw the score. Seriously. Was not expecting that!

Tho I tell myself not to dig too deep into it, and that each judge has their own typical way of scoring. This test's 26.8 put me in fourth, just like last week's 35.0. So I'm considering them relatively equivalent efforts - tho there were some distinct improvements.

(please forgive the videographer's occasional shakes - she was flying an OTTB kite while simultaneously filming. nothing major was missed from the test tho)

After my dressage we set the horses back up on the trailer (they'd probably be fine tied to the trailer in our absence but I always kind of worry that it's bad form to leave a horse tied at a show unattended...) to do our course walks. 

We were really surprised (and not in a good way) when the ride times showed that we'd be jumping at exactly the same times - meaning B's intro division had it's own courses. This was a real disappointment bc obviously we wanted to watch each other... but sadly it was not to be. But at least I had time to walk her course with her before she needed to get ready for dressage. 

Wick was a little high but they had a really solid event - a first for both of them!
Then after her dressage we had a little less than an hour until our stadium times. It was actually kind of fun getting ready at the same time - and it certainly resolved the whole puzzle of 'what do you do with one horse while the other is jumping that won't make it get crazy nerous?'

of course isabel never gets nervous. she's a pro
I admit to being a little bummed tho - B had family present (including her husband, plus his brother and sister in law and their toddler) and it was kinda sad leaving the party for our own solo jumping adventures. And even more so bc it meant no video of our stadium rounds - sorry guys! Really thinking a helmet cam might be on my wish list this year haha. 

do we look ready?!?
Then it was off to stadium warm up. Isabel knew exactly what was up - and that we had transitioned from fancy prancing to jumping all the things!! She warmed up well - and I tried to repeat last week's warm up exactly: trot the X, canter the X, canter the vertical, canter the oxer, and be done. 

Tho I ended up adding a third pass over the X when we really whiffed a distance. Oops. And our oxer jump wasn't great - Izzy rubbed the rails a bit, but I felt like maybe that'd be a good last feeling for her going into the ring, like she'd remember to pick her feet UP more haha.

Then it was go time! The ring stewards were letting us go in the order we arrived to warm up, which was perfect and we only had to wait around for two trips before our turn. 

side note: i am kinda digging this braiding arrangement. since it's looser than a typical running she didn't shake it aroud as much and it stayed neater through the day. i might stick with it - any thoughts?
And Isabel was phenomenal. Didn't look at anything, was really rideable - just so so so good. It wasn't as smooth as last week's stadium but that can be attributed to me fussing too much. 

We found mostly good distances to everything except for the jump on the short end of the ring that Isabel would have been blameless for refusing after I totally buried her - but she jumped it cleanly anyway. Good mare!

The lines rode about how I expected - the diagonal in a super forward 6 strides that I failed to organize after (thus almost eating the aforementioned short side end jump), and I *think* we added a chip stride for seven down the other long side tho I honestly can't remember.

All I know is that I was riding somewhat aggressively - which makes for kinda hilarious pictures bc the face I make while clucking looks like some terrible stretched-face grimace. Oops lol!

But when I remembered to squeeze my legs from hip to heel (and jam that heel down somewhat defensively) everything went fine and dandy. 

I was perhaps a bit behind Isabel's motion - as evidenced by some of the pictures - and not really giving much of a release.... That really REALLY needs work. But for now all I can say is that Isabel's a very good horse for tolerating it and jumping well all the same.

But in any case - all the jumps were still standing when we crossed the finish line - and the spectators all looked somewhat amused (Izzy is always a fan favorite!). So I'm calling it a success! 

And Interestingly - all horse and rider pairs in my split went clear through stadium. It turned out that cross country was much more influential - and we were not spared haha. Details tomorrow!


Also - all jumping photos from today and tomorrow are by GRC Photo. They caught so many awesome moments and I'm thrilled with the package I purchased. Definitely check out their trailer if you ever see them at a show! You can view the whole Loch Moy gallery here (requires entering email address to view).