Friday, March 17, 2017

Love At First Ride

Summer was trained by my good friend's husband. After the meet at Denver was over last year, his trainer decided to take a short break before Turf Paradise started. Summer had just broken his maiden and his owner didn't want to interrupt his training. The Fiancé and I ended up taking care of Summer for a few days before he was shipped down to Albuquerque to another friend of ours.

The Fiancé had me tack up Summer one day for him to ride. After being on him for a few minutes,  TF  told me to grab my helmet. I had SO much fun riding him! Afterwards, I said that I wanted this horse when he was done running. I didn't expect that would actually happen, or that it would only be a few months later, or that The Fiancé would agree  to another horse (especially since I splurged on a new pony-horse the month before that). The stars aligned and now Summer is mine.

This is a very short video from that day. Summer was three years old. I wasn't planning on riding that day, so please excuse the sloppy tank.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Six Things A New OTTB Reminded Me

Everyone, meet Summer Meeting. He is a four year old off the track thoroughbred by Cause Ur Mine (Giant's Causeway) out of a General Meeting mare. He last ran February 22nd, ending his career with 14 starts and 4 wins. Summer was a gift, both literally and figuratively speaking.

Summer AKA #themaskedbandit

I'll get more into the details of Summer in another post, but I wanted to talk about what it's like to be riding an OTTB straight off of the track again and how he reminds me of what is important every single time.


When I first started riding Beefheart after he retired, I made a lot of mistakes. I didn't use enough leg, because he was naturally sensitive and forward. I didn't keep enough contact with his mouth, because he stayed in a frame and was super light in the mouth. Doing less seemed like the kindest way to start him out, but it certainly wasn't the best way to go and created a lot of issues down the road. I left a lot of holes in his foundation.

Love his sweet face!

My first ride on Summer, I tried to make sure to keep my leg on and to keep focusing on getting him to step up into a contact. If he wanted to drift over his outside shoulder, which is a pretty common problem with horses off of the track, I increased my aids to make sure that he stayed as in front of my leg as possible, focusing on keeping his hind end active without quickening. I'm lucky in that he naturally keeps a fairly steady rhythm and tempo. Summer still drifted a little on the circle, but not nearly as bad as he would have if I had taken my leg off and tried to guide him with just my hands. He didn't pull or get iron jawed and stayed in a fairly steady frame as long as I rode well enough (easier said than done). It wasn't perfect, but there is definitely a lot of promise there.

After a few more rides.


Here was another mistake I made with Beefheart. He did pretty good transitions from the get-go, so I didn't do enough of them. We would just kind of get into cruise control and go several minutes without doing a full transition.

After a few rides on Summer, he started to try to pull down on me. It wasn't bad and he wasn't trying to run off, but I could feel him just daring me to pull back on him. I tried to focus on keeping his hind end active in the gate we were in, but that didn't always work, so we started doing LOTS of transitions. A quality transition along with some well-timed half halts did the trick. I couldn't do too many. Again, it is all about being very conscientious to keep his hind end active in the transitions.


I was riding Summer in the arena one day and was getting way too caught up in the training aspect. The Fiancé stopped me and said, "Come on, let's go."

 He opened the gate and Summer and I followed him onto the track that goes around the outside of the property. We walked on it, then toodled around the trail course some. I trotted him on the track a little and then we walked around on it to get back to the barn. 

Car washes are meant for Summer.

Afterwards, The Fiancé reiterated the fact that even though Summer was dead fit for racing, our dressage work is a whole different group of muscles and riding in the arena for very long is tiring for him. He said I need to make sure to do lots of serpentines (rather than too many circles), both shallow and large in the arena, and that I need to do some straight work along with some shallow serpentines on the track every once in a while too. As much as it pains me to admit it, he's absolutely right. It's not right or healthy to take a horse straight off of the track and constantly hone on their training in the arena. Especially, with a horse as kind and willing as Summer.


I really don't like galloping at the racetrack. It's not the horse, but the traffic that gives me anxiety. To me, it's about like driving on a freeway with way too many idiots and jerks. Yeah, there's a lot of people that obey the rules and pay attention, but it only takes one ignorant asshole to get you killed.

That being said, knowing how to gallop helps a lot when you're riding an OTTB. I never take a cross on one for training purposes, it could easily become too tempting to use it to force a frame instead of developing one correctly. However, knowing how to use one when things start to get a little out of control can come in handy.

He's so cute! Don't worry, I bought him a better fitting girth after having to make due for a couple of rides with this one.

Summer is pretty solid guy, he's not spooky and is rarely reactive. Still, he's only four and not entirely bombproof yet. The other day, a bird flew out of a barrel right in front of him. He ducked sideways and then bolted. I had just gotten on and was walking him on a loose rein when Tweetie decided to make an appearance. As he took off, I was still scrambling for my reins. He didn't go more than a half a lap before I got him to come back, but if I hadn't known how to take and use a cross, it could have been a lot worse. Summer had just raced less than two weeks ago and I would have never had the strength to stop him if I had just pulled back on the reins.


I was extremely blessed to be gifted a horse with such a great head on him. It keeps it fun. It can also make it easy to put too much pressure on myself. He was going so well from the beginning that I started getting down on myself if I felt like he didn't make enough progress during our ride. I'm always proud of him, I'm a HUGE hardass when it comes to me. Trying be as perfect as possible can end up putting more pressure on him too though. Once again, The Fiancé chimed in and told me there is no pressure, just have fun with him. Damn it! Another time he proved himself wiser than I ever wanted to have to admit.

It's more fun outside of an arena!

*On another note, TF wanted to get on Summer one day to see what he felt like. He said that I've done a good job with him. The man doesn't say anything he doesn't mean, so I glowed a little with pride on that one.


Summer isn't very tall. He's 15.1, yet he's broad and deep enough that my 5'11" frame doesn't look completely ridiculous and my long legs don't go down to his knees. I've never minded riding a smaller horse as long as they had some substance to them. When a lady at the barn told me that Summer was the perfect height for me, it made me chuckle a little. I just hadn't expected anyone to say that.

 He thinks that turnout is the best thing ever.

Summer may not be tall, but he is strong and athletic. He has a really good mind. He's EXTREMELY smart, but uses it in a way that makes my life easier instead of more difficult (unlike a certain elephant-horse I know). He's taken everything I've thrown at him in stride and has never lost his cool (the bird incident doesn't count since he went right back to his normal self right after). He may not have "10" gates, but he has solid gates that will be able to be improved because of all of his other good attributes. Summer is cute and he's fun. The horse is kind, willing, and forgiving. I may make a thousand mistakes throughout the training process, but he's not going to hold it against me. Summer is ideal in all of the ways I need him to be.

As the Oh-So-Wise and honest to a fault Fiancé has said many times, Summer is a nice horse. I guess I'll have to admit that he's right AGAIN.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Caution to the Wind

I've been pretty conservative with bringing Indy back from her injury. According to the rehab protocol, we could have started cantering a couple of weeks ago. Giving her an extra month didn't seem like such a horrible idea, so I was going to wait until early February before getting back to any canter work. How silly of me to think that I could stick to anyone's time schedule but Indy's.

What more could I possibly need?

At our lesson the week before, Indy had gone FANTASTIC and my trainer said that if she was going like that again, it probably wouldn't hurt to do a small amount of canter work. You know, because it's the elephant horse and any time she is doing things correctly and willingly, you might as well take the opportunity to do a bit more.

Blurry screenshots because YouTube hates me. I'll edit this with video if it ever uploads.

*Before anyone starts wondering why I'm taking lessons on a horse being rehabbed, you should know that the lessons are aligned with the rehab protocol. They aren't ultra long lessons and have been just walk-trot up to this point. Basically, my trainer is just helping me with managing and getting quality work from Indy through the process of building her up to full work.

A couple of days after my lesson, Indy had a ton of energy. She wasn't doing anything bad, but I could feel her just wanting to go. I'd go as far to say that she was trying really hard to be good, yet was begging to be able to get some of that energy out. I mumbled something to myself about how she damn well better not buck me off and asked her to canter.

She doesn't do resting bitchface anymore!

Much to my surprise, she gave me a gorgeous transition and went on with a lovely, balanced canter. It shocked me so much that I just sat there like a dumbfounded sack of potatoes, being nothing but a passenger, and she STILL cantered around like a pro. On a circle. This mare can canter balanced for days in a straight line, yet 20 meter circles have always been a challenge for her.

I don't know how much I've talked about this, but I've gone through HELL with this horse and her canter work. Seriously, everything. All of it. I've had to make her gallop very FORWARD to get in front of my legs, which wasn't all that fun at the time since her steering wasn't the greatest and if I used too much hand her head would be in my face, which led to having to galloping even more forward. If we weren't forward enough, I had her ears up my nose. Then SHE decided that forward wasn't forward enough and that the thoroughbred side of her needed to be shown off. After that we went through a cantering sideways stage, which involved kicking at my leg every time I tried to get her in front of it. That was followed by drama llama canter transitions. Oh, and let's not forget the stage where she thought charging at other horses would be fun. There's more, but you get the general idea of her masterful evasions. Submission has definitely not come easily with this horse.

Hopefully, I can get some canter pictures soon. Until then you're stuck with boring trot pictures.

Back to the present, Indy gave me three good circles to the left and I asked her for a downward, which she did flawlessly. Obviously, I had to canter her to the right too. The transition was decent enough. She was a little fussy and wanted to drift over her left shoulder. We went back to the trot. I let her settle and reminded myself that I might actually have to ride her instead of just sitting there. I asked again and it was better. It took a circle to get everything togther, then she gave me the same beautiful canter that she had given to the left, which was followed by another beautiful downward. What the holy hell?! 


So we cantered. In a respectable manner. After not cantering for almost eight months. It wasn't 100% under the terms that I had originally wanted, but maybe it was good for me to be reminded that waiting for near perfection isn't always ideal. I would love to say that we're over the hump and we'll continue to get this quality of work that we can really begin to build on. However, it's day by day with horses. With Indy, it can be minute by minute. We'll still have our good and bad days, like anyone. I'm very glad for the good moments I get from her because they bring promise to the worse ones. They remind my of why I've stuck it out with Indy for as long as I have, of why I've always maintained hope for us. And the bad moments; I know we will get through them in time. Stride by stride.

Most importantly, I'm having fun with her.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Blog Hop: Training Excercise of Death

I have one dreaded excercise when it comes to dressage (or riding in general): turns on the forehand.

That moment when you ask for a turn on the forehand and your horse finds attempting to piaffe backwards easier. I can't even blame her, it sounds easier to me too.

Yes, I understand the purpose and how to ride them and how a correctly done turn on the forehand should feel. That doesn't make them any easier or enjoyable to me. I try and do them a lot with in-hand work and Indy understands them from the ground. In the saddle it's a completely different story and absolutely the best way to piss her off. They're getting better and help with the rest of our ride IF we can get them right. I still don't get any enjoyment out of doing them. 

So what are the excercises you would prefer to avoid in your lessons and daily riding? I'd love to hear about them.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Piss Off

No, this post isn't based on an angry rant. At least not one coming from me. Indy, on the other hand, decided to dub "Piss Off" as her own personal anthem for the Tracey Lert clinic this weekend. 


Saturday went fairly decent. Indy was a little fussy and distracted. It wasn't horrible though and I wouldn't want her to be perfect because it's the times that her attitude pops out that I need the most help. Some days she's very good. Others, not so much. Some are in the middle. Yes, this is pretty much typical of all horses, I fully understand that. However, Indy is much more extreme. One day she is a cute and furry little Mogwai that is oh, so lovable and the next I'm wondering what asshole decided to feed her after midnight (these are references from the book and movie Gremlins in case you weren't born between the 40s when the book was written and the 80s when the movie was made). Some days it's like someone threw water on my little darling and all her alter egos morph from her.

Oh yeah, back to the clinic.

Anyway, Sunday, was not a pleasant experience, which made it a very good learning experience. It was pretty obvious from the beginning that Indy wasn't in the mood to play. Everything I asked was answered with a huge "GO AWAY!" followed by grabbing the bit and pulling it in directions that I'm still a little surprised a horse's head can go. At least she's flexible. 

This is pretty much how it went:

I put my leg on.

Indy- "Take that leg and shove it. I don't want to go forward. I think I prefer shuffling. Actually, maybe any lateral direction sounds more fun."

I pick up the contact. 

Indy- "OH HELL NO! You did not just touch the reins that touch the bit that is in my mouth! How's my head feel in your face?!" *flips me off*

Tracey tells me to halt.

Indy-"You can't make me! Haha!" *flips me off again*

Tracey has me try a turn on the forehand.

Indy-"HORSE ABUSE! CRUELTY TO ELEPHANTS! I will not stand for this! I shall fight until it stops by moving my body in every other direction than the one you want. Backwards and upwards or stomping/kicking sounds like a good defense to ward off this evil attack from your leg." *flip off number three*

We eventually get to trot.

"Look at me, I'm going so pretty! JUST KIDDING!!! Since you want me to bend left, I'm just going to lean against all things left and start head banging!" *insert the double bird*

I wish that this conversation was a dramatized version of the story, but it's really pretty accurate.

That moment when she finally started thinking things through.

 I like riding with Tracey. She's fair and she's not mean, but she also isn't going to take "almost there" as being good enough. Once you get one thing fixed she will immediately go to the next thing (and you're doing well if it is only one thing instead of two or three or ten) that isn't correct. She will push hard. She will call it like it is and draw attention to every mistake you're making in the present, but also the ones that you probably made in the past that have led to the issues now. She will adjust every flaw in your position, you will learn to post perfectly, the basics will be hammered into your brain until you get it. She will not baby you. 

It's worth it though. If you can handle all that she throws at you, you WILL come out better. So far it seems like I did. I tried hard, I drew a line, I didn't lose my composure during the lesson. I learned to be tougher, to disconnect from the personal aspect (she's a horse being a horse, her problem, not mine, etc.), to make sure that I didn't go away no matter what fuss Indy put up. 

We made it through alive. I was actually happy with what I learned. I didn't mind Tracey pushing for more or calling me on everything that I was doing wrong. It would have been way more insulting to have her think that my horse and I aren't capable of more. 

That didn't keep me from leading Indy out of the barn and bursting into tears. I don't know why. Mental and physical exhaustion? Release of tension? I can't remember the last time Indy made me cry. I vowed a long time ago not to, no matter what, because owning and riding her is an opportunity and that's enough to be grateful for, I'm not entitled to have good rides every time. We'll just call Sunday an exception and move on.

I gave Indy Monday off, we both needed it. After having a day to process everything I learned, I was able to apply it better. We've had nothing but good rides since and my lesson today was full of very excellent quality work from Indy.

Back when I played basketball my friend would always say, "You're the only person I know that can be upside down, backwards, and surrounded by players and you'll usually make the shot, but when you're open and in the clear, you miss it almost every time." The fact is that this really relates to my riding. I needed to be pushed, to get knocked around, to have to perform better. I needed the extra pressure that day. It might not have come easily, but what I learned in that clinic will stick with me always. Like The Fiancé said, it needed to happen. It did and Indy and I are that much better because of it.

That being said, that's what clinicians are paid for. They come, they push, they leave. I sure as hell wouldn't want that type of intensity every single lesson, just like I wouldn't have  wanted that kind of pressure every time I shot a basketball in practice. Getting back to the normal grind with my trainer in my lesson today was a very refreshing experience. She still pushes me, but I get a little more time to take all that she is telling me in. Riding with her is very calming, yet still challenging, to me and that is more what I need on a regular basis. Especially with Indy.