Monday 27 July 2020

What We're Working On

Owning a baby is fun and everything, but it's not really where it's at for fascinating blog content. I love getting into the nitty gritty of riding and training horses as much as anyone, but currently my goal posts look like this:

"We trotted around the arena without trying to stop even once!"

"She only got distracted and spooked twice this ride!"

"She was almost offering contact those few strides!"

"We walked over those poles without hesitation. Then we trotted them!"

"I didn't grab her face when she scooted forward that time!"

All good things, of course, but not something anyone wants to write (or read) an in depth post about.

She'd also like you to know I trimmed her mane. Exciting!!!
She'd also like you to know I trimmed her bridle path and she'd like it back.

I'm continuing to pick away at our homework from the clinic, but in a very easygoing way. After the force of nature that is Bridget, I'm very conscious of wanting to keep things fun and easy for Sophie. Sophie wants to be good and go to work and make everyone happy, so there is no need to 'work through' much of anything at the moment or 'install' a work ethic, she'll give you 110% every time. I'm not feeling any push to work hard to progress quickly, either. We're in a very lucky position to have a summer to ourselves without many lessons or showing goals or even too many people to share an arena with, so why not just take it easy, build up a really good base and partnership and have lots of fun, relaxed miles to start out her career.

Our homework from the clinic is useful to revisit no matter what stage you're at, so here's what I'm currently looking for in a ride:

 - Be very aware of where the feet are. No meandering around, even in warm up/cool down (so guilty of that over here!) Rider chooses path and speed, turn your head and look where you're going, have a plan well in advance! Straightness, straightness, straightness.

This post brought to you by outtakes. Pictured: me, not looking where I'm going and doing weird things with my arms and hands.

- Rhythm, relaxation. For about the next two years, those are the main focus of any dressage test we'll be tackling (and of course a necessary thing in general!)

- Resist any temptation to 'put her on the bit' or fiddle with the reins/push her there in her body. She needs to find her own balance and way to the connection, and that will come with the above.

- For me: don't baby her now and try to change the rules later (I got called out big time on my tendency to use a big opening rein to the point I'm upsetting her balance by pulling her head around) Small open rein is fine for now until direct and neck rein is a thing, but don't forget the entire body needs to turn, not just the head, so just go ahead and use those seat and leg aids and ride her like she's more educated than she is :)

- Forward impulsion is my friend. Straightness, turns, transitions all so much easier when she's marching along.

- Keeping things short and interesting. She figured out how to move her shoulders over and do squares the other day, so we quit there, after about 10 minutes of walking.

Troll hair alive and well ;)

I've been setting up different patterns with cones and poles this past week. I'm finding it's great for keeping us both focused and on task. We're super lucky to have a huge arena to use, but of course the flip side to that is that every time I go back to a 20x40 arena it's apparent that my 20 meter circles have grown larger and my idea of straight and sharp transitions are no match for small spaces ;) We're not worried about dressage arenas yet with Sophie, but you can't start too early, and given my general goal of keeping a defined path and knowing where her feet are, patterns and poles to define the space are a good thing.

Enjoying her down time.

Next clinic is a month away and it will be fun to see what changes we've made between now and then. I had a longer term plan of buying a trailer and trailering her down to EC's regularly next fall and winter, possibly boarding there part of the time, but if the clinician we had last time commits to coming to us on a once a month schedule long term, I might stick with that until Sophie and I are a bit further along and we can really take advantage of EC's talents. I really, really miss her and the barn crew and the show opportunities, but with travel and Covid considerations for now I'm just grateful we've got someone who will come here regularly.


Monday 20 July 2020

Plan S, Part 2 - Pictures!

Rather than edit my first post, I'll just leave some further media from yesterday's clinic here.


Sunday 19 July 2020

Plan S

A thing happened this weekend. I booked a clinic spot for Bridget and I months ago and have been really looking forward to it. With the lack of travel for work, also comes a lack of visits to EC’s barn, so my last lesson was in December, I think! I was pretty excited to get some professional instruction again.

Then, Bridget had heave-y symptoms. We fixed that, only for her to be a little off and on lame again the past couple of weeks. Ugh.

So, I totally adulted by just pretending it was all going to work out and didn’t cancel my spot in the clinic.

A few days ago, looking at Bridget’s now obscene lack of fitness, it was apparent my plan wasn’t going to work.
She’s round.

So, on to plan B  S!


Sceptical side eye.

Ha, yes, I totally took my neon green pony to a clinic this weekend.

Because I’m not totally stupid and do try to be fair to my ponies, I did take her down to the arena to see the sights the day before so she had a good chance to experience some of it without any timelines or pressure. With COVID concerns I wasn’t comfortable actually staying and stabling there so a visit the day before was the best I could offer her. Generally speaking, she was a pretty good girl for our test run, but there were some interesting moments and I was seriously doubting my decision. Taking her to a clinic at this point was a huge ask.

Not that you’d know our test run was a bit challenging, look at her happy little face.

I told myself we could always go do something else or opt out if and when it got to be too much. My worries were unfounded though, because in true Sophie fashion, on the day she exceeded all expectations :)

Where do I even start? The atmosphere was bigger than I expected, with tons of stuff going on. A pack of children running around pretending to be velociraptors? Check. Auditors with coolers, chairs, umbrellas and all the other things they bring? Check. Upset horses screaming away in the stabling? Yep. How bout we add in a bunch of people camping and a farmers market running next door? Sure, why not? It was almost getting comical by the time the guy in the loud diesel truck started doing donuts in the parking lot across the road.

The clinician set up a little course of poles and I was again like “why not?” While I’d never even walked her over poles she’s not the type to fuss too much over things like that. She’s pretty spatially aware, and to be honest I thought the little “course” might do us both good as far as giving us something to focus on that wasn’t the craziness going on outside the arena.

I TOTALLY failed at media, guys. I was nervous and didn’t think to ask anyone to take pictures or video. I know a couple of friends did anyway, and here’s the one picture I’ve got from my husband. I’ll share more in the future if anything usable comes my way.

As you might expect, our stop and go is still a little sketchy, and sticking to a pattern was HARD work for me as a rider. I forgot how much work it is keeping babies on track.

I’m beyond proud of Sophie, though. “Proper” ride 5 (or 6?) and we were out the doing the thing. What more can you ask? We trotted through the whole thing multiple times, even adding some extra extended trot flair through the trot poles. The steering was never totally out to lunch, and by the end when she sort of started to “get” it, she was turning and hunting down the poles herself - a pretty slick way to help her understand my turning aids, I’d say!

We ended with some practice giving and taking the rein on the circle, and leg yielding into trot and walk. That sounds rather more advanced than anything we really do, basically I was just starting to introduce the idea of giving to contact. My instructions for now are to focus on rhythm and relaxation and just keep my hands up and elbows steady. I found that hard on the corners where we wanted to drift but of course the clinician is right, I should only be babysitting with my big open rein the very minimum amount - the rest of the time just stay soft and steady and use my body correctly to turn - she’ll find her place between the aids given time and a consistent place to be.

To say I’m thrilled with the pony right now would be an understatement. She’s earned herself a few days off and lots of scratches.


Friday 17 July 2020

Expanding The Comfort Zone

TLDR: Riding is happening.
This was a nice horsey week for me. I kept to my plan of riding the Banana Pony every second day, and I had R hop on midweek too.

Grown up but still has cute baby pony face.

Of course, R blew it out of the park and cantered Sophie for the very first time. As I could have only hoped, she just offered to step into to canter from trot and it was all very relaxed and non eventful. I may or may not have been way too excited when I saw how it looked - I’ve never thought she had a bad canter, just maybe more “flat” than I would dream of. But, it looked great, very bouncy and fun, with lots of natural cadence. Much nicer than when she’s I guess limited in space and balance in the round pen or on the longe.

Spoiler alert: My rides aren’t nearly as exciting and I didn’t canter this morning, despite having a plan to.  I was just not quite there today.
Smiling and laughing this time, though!

My riding-a-baby comfort zone got expanded in a big way this morning though - the arena was busy! I’ve been going at off times on purpose and I thought for sure a Friday morning would be “safe”. Not so much - it was the busiest I’ve seen in a very long time. There were trailers coming and going and other people riding, someone weedeating, a dog roaming the perimeter,  horses in the show stabling, more people chatting and setting up for a clinic on the weekend, plus a fairly athletic horse letting loose in the round pen.

Sophie was looky but sane enough, but I still didn’t want to get on. All the activity and people watching us was making me far more worried than her, silly anxious brain that I have:) Anyway, I know for me that’s a slippery slope I don’t want to go down, so on I got.

 Sophie is intrigued by the activity. I’m sending death wishes to the weed eater on the other side :D

And, I had a nice ride. I’m very proud of the baby pony for settling in and (mostly, lol) staying on track and listening to me even though focusing with all those things going on was a big ask for my spooky little social butterfly. Just one big spook and scoot when someone cleaning up threw a forkful of manure in the bushes behind us, but she came right back and I never once felt precarious up there. That’s confidence inspiring for sure - I think I still have PTSD from baby Ginger who would spook so huge and then panic because I was off balance and bolt off (she’s lovely these days though). Steering was maybe a tiny bit less effective than normal (not that it’s super great yet anyway ;) but I feel like she gave me 110% and I really appreciate that she’s got such a fantastic brain. Even with me not feeling the bravest when I hopped on and all those distractions, she confidently went out and did her job as best she knows how.

Totally picked this one to share from the other hundred where she’s a baby giraffe. I have no shame.

Because this happens too

But mostly it’s like this, which is more than acceptable.
Anyway, I’m calling Week 2 of Sophie being a proper riding pony in the books, and a success. Onwards to the weekend! I hope all of you have a good one.


Monday 13 July 2020


I’ve tacked up and ridden the banana pony a few times since my last post. I’m rapidly gaining confidence on her, but haven’t braved a canter yet. On the longe there’s usually a bit of bronco action and that sticks in my head. We’ll leave the first one to R, I think!

Indoor ride Friday morning. Pics didn’t turn out but I just thought this one looked artsy

We do now, however, have basic stop and go and even steering! That’s the rewarding thing with babies - from ride to ride you make huge progress. I was able to teach her some basic leg yielding a couple of days ago, and last night we figured out moving shoulders at a walk and did some half decent squares. She’s figuring out a rudimentary place to be between inside leg to outside rein, and there are moments where I can feel the potential.

She’s so cute and happy to have a job.

Right now, though, it’s all very wobbly baby where we find a sweet spot and loose it, find it again, then the wheels fall off a little again. I’m trying my best to stay light and balanced and to reward the good instantly, but if there’s anything that can make you feel like a terrible rider, it’s riding babies whose feet feel like they’re randomly able to be in fifty places at once:)

Anyway, here’s a little media from tonight’s ride for posterity:

Pre ride pep talk
I look miserable in every photo and Sophie is just all happy and excited :)

Trotting outside in the “big” arena. I’m getting braver.

Cones! That weren’t there last time! Lol

“Wheels falling off“ face

I just like the lighting in this one 

Happy pony ears, focused rider face :D

Weaving through the cones

Golden pony bum


Thursday 9 July 2020

Learning to Be A Grown Up

Both pony and myself have had a challenging week. I got my dream job offer, but then another competing one, and I think I'm going to be forever second guessing my final choice. I put SO much thought into it and am sure I chose wrong anyway. Adulting is really not my thing.

Of course, work stress meant I was extra motivated to spend time with the ponies. Bridget is just hanging in the pasture getting ever fatter and ever more opinionated. There was a funny moment yesterday when the both of them lined up to do some mutual grooming but it seems both expect the other to groom them and to not be obligated to return the favor. Sophie being a smart cookie gave up and made a beeline for me and politely asked and let me know where to scratch and asked for more fly spray, B found a tree and generally raged against it and the flies (further anger when I insisted on fly spray, I have no idea why she suddenly hates all spray bottles this year). And, that about sums the both of them up in one experience :)

Still no joy with the Pivo, but I did take some pics of Sophie last night with R riding. Sorry for the funny cropping, I'm trying to keep R's face out because she's actually a superstar everyone would recognize and she doesn't need the extra fame. (Just kidding, although she is an amazing person to hop on S for me)

Sophie had a bit of a tougher day because some of our barnmates were there and then left her alone, plus there was a rather suspicious deer popping up in the far corner of the ring (long story, but it's been a couple of months and we're fairly certain she's living there and/or stashing her fawn there and gets protective/worried), and a dog club meeting going on in the other. So many scary and interesting things!

Anyway, further photos!:

So, that's arena ride 6 (?) in the books and I couldn't be happier with her. Despite all the distractions and not finding the same relaxation as last time, she only gave the odd spook and settled in and tried her best.

Sunday 5 July 2020


Sorry for the lack of posting. Shortly after my last post Bridget came out kind of sour about heading to work, then a few days after that, despite just walking on flat ground, took a big stumble and went down hard in front, then immediately felt lame behind again. No heat, no swelling, very similar feel as whatever (vet suspected left hock) she strained last time.

She’s looking good, though.

So, she’s back on vacation and I just kind of needed a pity party time out for myself.

Time out, no horses.

Anyway, that’s life. I need to remain grateful that she’s happy and got a life that suits her, and that there’s no reason to think that with a good diet, a further break, and the time to properly build her back up again she won’t happily be taking me out on the trails for years to come.

Sophie, though. While she’s not miraculously grown since my post worrying she’ll forever be too small for me, she’s really looking good under saddle with my friend R and feels pretty good for me. (Yes, I have been riding too!)

Of course right now my definition of “really good” is that she’s forward and sensible and goes where we point her. That’s more than enough for a pony with very few rides under her belt and in an often busy community arena!

She’s getting a lot more confident and the sticky moments are rapidly disappearing, so I’m getting a better feel for what Future Sophie might be like.

From a couple of weeks ago when the big open space was kind of new and exciting and going forward and steering there was hard.

And just what kind of “feel” does she give under saddle, you might be wondering? Buying a youngster is such an unknown. You might spend all that time and then not really enjoy riding them. So far, though, I can tell you she’s everything I could have hoped for and more. I think this morning would have been just her fourth or fifth time trotting any distance at all with a rider, but her balance and ability already exceeds Bridget’s. She wants to be connected and push from behind. She’s aware of what her body and her riders is doing and instinctively makes good decisions. She wants to take you along in a nice rhythm, and I can feel hints of how amazing she could be with time.
Purpose bred horses for the win, I guess!

Temperament wise, she’s of course the same as on the ground. Excited to learn and do new things, sometimes easily distracted and overly busy thinking, but super honest and happy to try for her rider.

I’ve yet to canter her, but I think that’s a reasonable next step given how forward and lovely we’ve got the trot coming along.

I’m inspired enough that I’ve lost some (much needed anyway) weight over the last couple of months and been hopping on her myself once or twice a week the past little while for a little walk/trot ride and feeling OK about it. I’m within 20% for sure now and she’s not at all worried about packing me around (honestly not sure she’s capable of getting tired - her turnout paddock racing antics have given her a shocking level of fitness!) so maybe there’s hope we’ll meet in the middle and I’ll be happier with the overall picture as she builds muscle and I hopefully trim down more.

“Where are the pictures?“ I imagine you might be asking. I’ll be honest - I’m such a hater of pictures of myself that last week I just didn’t want to be worrying about them and simply wanted to be in the moment for my rides on her. This weekend, the Pivo arrived to change all that, but I’m so far failing at getting much usable. I think I need a phone upgrade or to delve deeper into where the videos are saving to, as the most I can get is about a minute of video before my phone crashes. Just enough to see me peering into it and setting it up and leading Sophie to the mounting block, lol. Anyway, my intentions are good and I’m sure you’ll be sick of video and stills once I figure it out 😁

Such incredible media! You’re super impressed, I know. I’ll try my husbands phone next time.