Minis and Carts and Paso Finos, Oh My!

Today, I took Neuf down to the Virginia Horse Festival.  We were to be a demo rider for Sonya Crampton, who has North Slope Stables in Bluemont, VA.  I have ridden with Sonya before and saw she had an opening for demo riders for her 3 sessions titled “How to Prepare to Give You and Your Horse Your Best Shot at Success in the Show Ring”, so I decided to do be wild & crazy and take Neufenstein!

Now, I have been to these Expos and Festivals before and they are a bit like a three ring circus.  In this case, 5 rings.  I was pretty sure Neuf would be ok, so long as I managed how I introduced him and was careful with how much pressure I put on him.  Which for Neuf means a lot of hand walking him to see all the things.  Let him really look, put his head as high as it goes to study all the scary things, and when he breathes and relaxes, give him pets.

The first scary thing was a white, miniature dragon horse.  It was about the size of Winston, my ancient lab.  This teeny creature was loose in one of the arenas so we just walked around.  The amount of concern he had over this creature was amusing.  Finally, he was able to sniff the small horse, I pet it, and he breathed.

Paso Finos were next.  Those horses don’t move their legs like any other horse he’d seen, and that was VERY CONCERNING.

Flags in the distance, loud speakers in all the rings, food trucks, hundreds of strollers and small children and crowds.  And he held it together.

Then I tacked up and got on, and we walked.  A lot, then a draft horse was over near the barn pulling a cart.  But, then the paso finos came into the ring with us and THAT was more concerning than the draft with the cart, I mean, what if he started having to take tiny little steps?

Then it was time to move into the pavilion for our first session.  Covered, arena, bleachers, more kids, more strollers, things blowing in the wind.  And the jump trailer with jumps being set up.  It was back to walking for a few minutes.

Once the lesson started he was a bit up, but all the walking had paid off.  The lesson was striding in lines, working on adjust-ability, and we did a so-so job.  We did not always get the strides we were supposed to, but my biggest concern was whether I could ride him when he is worried.  The answer was yes.  I was super proud of Neuf.  He was really brave and listened to me when he was worried.

We finished, and had an hour until the next session, so  a quick rinse for him, a walk in the wind to dry off and I let him hang out in his stall for a few minutes.

The next session was in an outdoor, and they were setting up a cones driving course in the parking lot at one end of the arena.  There were lots of little driving horses, minis, a pair, halflingers, and they were at the end of the arena.

I was feeling a touch worried about this.  The first time Romeo saw a cart, I had been leading him, he got away and bolted.  Taking a while to catch him.  It made an impression on me.

But Neuf is not Romeo.  He might remind me of Romeo in many, many ways, but he is definitely less reactive. So, when they started bringing multiple miniatures with carts, the white one from earlier was attached to a cart,  I sat chilly. I let Neuf look, but pointed out that none of the other horses were horribly concerned, and it was ok.

The second session was good, we did more bending lines, tighter turns and angled approaches.  More of the things you’d want in a jump off.  Neuf was good, but since we were doing whole courses, there were some long waits for his turn, and he isn’t used to 2 lessons a day he was getting tired.  We were going around the course a second time, the jumps were raised up, and as we approached a roll top on a bending line, we were looking straight at yet another horse and cart.  It might have been the pair driving.  But, I don’t think he really saw the fence until we were on it, and he’d been slowing down looking at that cart, and he just stopped, more of a rolling stall of the engine.  It was slow motion, not a naughty stop, but we went around, and fixed the approach.  Sonya had the other horses go wait at the end between the drivers and me, which helped, but he was starting to really get behind my leg.  I got him forward, we got through the rest of the course well, and I decided that he was done.  We just watched the last couple of courses and exercises and I had a teeny bit of regret that I’d said we were done, but he had been so good, all day, and we weren’t going to get anything positive out of continuing.

Sonya was great and explained that with a young horse, knowing when to stop is important and that you have to know your horse.

These sort of demos are very much for the audience, but Sonya does a great job with the exercises and teaching.  I have slipped back into my low-right hand again to turn.  I’ll have to work on that.  But, I’m very satisfied with how I feel taking Neuf places now, and this was definitely a test for us.

Neuf travels well, he drinks well on the road, he is listening to me when I reassure him, I am able to reassure him, instead of letting him get me nervous.  And, he’s just a cool dude.

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Jumper Fun with Neuf

Once upon a time, I loved jumping and had delusions of grandeur on what I could do with Romeo or Pico, and all kinds of confidence, but lacked the skills to match, and we should all probably be grateful that there is scant video or photographic evidence from those years. I also lacked the money and time to take lessons frequently enough to really polish my rudimentary basics. I also really like to figure out what the horse wants to do, and then actually do that.  This has led me into a fair amount of dressage, trails, horsemanship, and just having fun riding.

Romeo (a 1984 model) and Pico (1992) have both died now at 28 (in 2013) and 18 (in 2010), respectively, they were awesome horses for me and I learned so much on both. Not surprisingly, each new young horse benefits from the horses who taught me horsemanship and riding. Sparkle (a 1998 model) was the next teacher, she is my husband’s horse. I did a fair amount of dressage on her, and she is a super-cute jumper, but she has tiny QH feet and a pretty substantial body, so jumping is not the most comfortable thing for her. I got Bali, and she is pretty athletic, so we started out really well in jumping.

I got more lessons, improved, then ended up being over-faced on Bali, by an instructor around the same time a bunch of railbirds picked apart my riding, from still pictures…and my rational brain couldn’t seem to override the gut reaction that if I was that awful, I should just quit jumping.  I slipped into dressage.  Decided I was probably aging out of jumping, so I just did little stuff here and there and definitely quit putting any “learning” pictures up.

Then I bought Neuf, as a long yearling, he has strong jumper lines, but I rationalized my decision that the jumper lines improve the dressage canter.  Neuf has had other ideas.  He says jumper lines also make good jumpers.  I worked through his rebellious years, with a lot of help from my trainer, Martin Douzant, and I nearly sold him last year. But I started to have fun again.

I still get a tiny bit nervous about shows, but that is a little bit of “will I get a flat tire?” “will the hauling be trouble free?”, “will I ride well?”, etc.  But it is getting easier to channel that energy.

Today was another schooling jumper show.  The weather is cold, so turnout was light.  But I had fun.  I missed at an oxer and knocked every, single rail down when Neuf skidded into it.  But, I realized, this is why I like jumpers, because the jumps fall down when I make a mistake.  I went back, corrected my error and rode it well.

No video of the miss, since I wasn’t showing at that moment, just schooling.

I had a bit of a problem getting going on the lead I wanted in my second round, but it was a clear round, even if I wasn’t aggressive enough with my turns in the speed half.  I was having fun!!!!  And Neuf’s reaction to a “whoop” when he jumps really big at 7 is a bit funny.

Then the third round, I had a rail at fence 7.  I had him too deep and he knocked it with his hind.   Overall, I felt like everything is improving.  I like this trajectory and will enjoy making my rounds even smoother, then move to 3’3″ or 1.0 meter classes.  Get those smooth, then maybe I can do 1.10 meter (3’6″).

I also think he was getting tired by round 3.

I have to admit Jumper shows are way more fun than dressage shows.  But, it is time to start looking for my next yearling.  Neuf is 7, Bali is 13, Sparkle is 19.  I wonder what the next one will want to do.  I’ll probably focus on a bit more dressage lines, but who knows, maybe that will be what I look for in my 2022 horse.  I am considering waiting one year to look, but I’m keeping my ears to the ground.  Odds are good it will be a plain bay German warmblood.

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Neuf’s Ribbon Collection Grows


Today, was a local schooling show at Swan Lake.  It was chilly, but fun!!!  I rode in the .90 meter division, we got 2nd in the first class (with a jump off) and due to an unlucky rail, only 6th in the second class, but it was good!

Neuf and I showed there at .70 meters last year, and it was very slow.  Then, I pretty much turned over the showing to Martin shortly after that, I was too nervous, which showed in my riding, and so while I rode Neuf all last year, from April – July, I always had supervision, ALWAYS.  Martin showed him, I put the giant monster up for sale, because he was not fun for me.  People tried him, I watched, he was good, but not the right horse for any of them, and in the meantime, I started to enjoy him again.  So, at the beginning of the year, I pulled him off the market, at least through the winter.

I’m now showing him and having fun.  He lives at Deerfield with Martin for Feb/Mar, and so I get loads of lessons.  When we go to shows, he comes home the night before, since the shows are all north, so closer to home.  He seems to like having a sleep-over at home before the show.

Today there were tons of riders in the .70 and .80 meter divisions, so even though I didn’t arrive until 10:00 a.m. I still had plenty of time to hang out with Arya (Martin & Ashley’s daughter), watch the show, get nervous, less nervous, more nervous, less nervous…

Finally, there were only 12 more rounds in the .80, they would drag the ring and then we’d be into my division, .90 meter.

I unloaded Neuf, and kept to my system of handwalking him around the warm up area, he looked around a bit, but was calm and relaxed.  Back to the trailer to tack up.  Martin came over as I was bridling, and I got on and we had a few minutes in the warm up at the end of the .80, which was perfect.  It was quiet and deserted, so I did my main warm up, then.

I had learned the course while watching the lower divisions, and due to the lovely modern technology…can share the course map!  The days of crowding around the course map are over, we all can take a picture and study it on our phones!



The 2-3 line was a forward five, or a holding 6…or for some ponies, a 7!  My goal was to go in, get the forward pace, really get Neuf off my leg, and get that in 5.  But, depending on my jump in, make the decision for what I needed.  I chipped in, rode it well, but forgot to count, so had 6, but it was the right decision.  I had planned to take the inside line, inside 9 to get to 4, but apparently my rapid decision making has limits, so after getting that 6, I needed the longer route to get myself back on plan.

The line from 7a/b to 8, I initially thought I’d take the outside line, around 5, but I landed from 7b, and turned, and realized “oh wait…oh well, go Neuf!” and we got it done.

Then we were within the time allowed and stayed in for the jump off.

I am pleased, I felt good, comfortable and not nervous once I was on Neuf and riding.  I am getting better at riding courses, and definitely riding more forward, next I’ll start focusing on getting him on the right lead sooner, or the same lead.  He doesn’t mind some cross canter, but it is not efficient.

The last course was mostly the same, but power & speed.  Since we tapped the first fence and dropped a rail, I focused on seeing if I could ride really forward and well to my fences, and I got that black and white line in a smooth 5!!!

Since I  had a rail at fence 1, there was no speed half, but the first half was good!

Neuf earned his cookies!!!!

And, damn he is a fine looking horse!!!!!

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Lift those withers!

Bali is very happy to pull herself around, with her front legs, on the forehand.  That large engine back there is for looks only, it doesn’t need to actually do any work, right?

In my long, slow path to a  USDF Silver medal, I’m working on developing more sit, more collection and more lift in those withers.  I’ve been working on it a little bit, in every ride, and today I had a lesson with Joanna, who is really good on the ground with a whip, touching Bali to encourage her to lift her front legs and chest more, we’ve done this enough that Bali, being quite smart, knows what is coming and she literally starts to lift her withers and do the horse equivalent of sitting up straighter as soon as the first touch happens.

We started out with a couple of ground poles, to encourage her to lift her feet more, just integrating them into our warm up.  After we were warmed up, we moved onto  Joanna helping me from the ground, keep that hind leg activity.  Some leg yields, some steep, some more shallow.  Keeping the uphill feeling, a little more connection in the side we were going towards.

We did canter transitions with the piaffe whip in front of her, and it really helped me get a feel for the steps, not letting it drop forward, but lift upwards into the canter.

Joanna suggested I do a bit of the same work, in hand, with Bali, and that is a good idea, and a skill I’ll definitely need to practice.  I plan on discussing this, because I’ve not done much close, in hand work.  I’ve done long-line work, but every time I do something new, there is a new coordination to figure out.

There was a lot of feeling and trying to remember the feel in today’s lesson, so not all that exciting to write up.  Towards the end, Bali was tired and literally couldn’t do the last haunches in at the canter, we switched sides, and she did it there.  It is winter and while we’ve been working 5-6 times a week, they’ve been a little shorter, and this was like a tough, weight lifting session today.

I’m also reminding myself that Bali is 13, I am going to talk to my vet, I think it might be time for her to get hocks looked at, possibly injected.  She works hard, and has never had anything besides a couple of rounds of Adequan.  Her right hind has always been weaker, and she’s done well with good work, but she works hard, tries her heart out, and if she can be even happier in her work with some hock injections, she deserves it.

Bali is the best.

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Lead changes on the Treadmill?

I use my treadmill to keep my cardio up, I figure if my horses have to be fit, I need to be fit as well, and I don’t want to be the one who is gasping for air, begging for a break in a lesson….I have my pride.  And yet, I’m going to confess one of my stranger places to visualize riding.

Running, or rather skipping, on the treadmill.  I use it to work on my own coordination, particularly for lead changes.  Always during my “cool down”, and only 3-4 minutes, usually between 5.5-6.0 mph.

This started with just skipping, the thinking of the aid changes, and changing leads.  Visualizing where my shoulders are aligned, hands, legs, where does the movement initiate?

Over the years, I’ve done things like holding my hands where they are just touching the treadmill handles, from the top, then the bottom.  This challenges my core to not rely on my hands, but makes me carry them.  I visualize changing my inside/outside rein aids with my fingers as I do each lead change.  It is really easy to cheat by “hanging on the reins”, aka, the treadmill handles, when you get a bit fatigued.

I usually start with 7 or 8 “strides” on each lead, then I’ll progress to 4, 3, 2, and 1s.  Those ones are surprisingly not as easy as you’d think, keeping all the aids coordinated, this isn’t just skipping, but mentally focusing on keeping all the aids upper and lower body smooth and coordinated.  I now use my core to lift my new seatbone forward, instead of it coming from my lower leg, when I started, I would just skip, and it was more of a swinging motion, using momentum more than finesse or control.

Yesterday, I noticed that on my right lead, my upper body is more stable, on my left lead, my shoulders tended to have a slight gyration.  So, something new to focus on while on the treadmill.  Another small adjustment.

Does any of this help?  Who knows?  It sure doesn’t hurt and it makes me feel better about my practicing on just me, and leaving Bali out of the equation while I master some of the coordination. Then I can focus on her being straight and less on my own movement.

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Three Days…Four jumping lessons

Last week had a few LONG days at work, so that meant I could leave a bit early on Friday, to get a lesson on Neuf, in the uncharacteristically spring-like weather.

Friday’s lesson consisted of working on me being able to influence and  control the striding.  We used cavalletti for this exercise.  4 of them.  2 as a bounce at each end of the line, because it keeps you more honest if there are two poles to get over.  We rode the line in 5 and 6 strides on Friday.

When Neuf gets stuck and doesn’t want to go forward, he swings his butt around, so my job is to figure out where, keep his shoulders in line with his butt and send him forward, staying out of his face, no hands, just legs.  Neuf will always be a diesel engine. He is slow to warm up, but has definite power once he is warmed up.

In the canter, I’m focusing on keeping his shoulders and withers lifting up, while keeping the base of his neck low and stretching, which is a subtlety, given that the base of the neck and withers are next to each other.  It is so easy to have both low (which can lead to heavy and on the forehand) or both high (leads to hollow and losing connection), but I’m finally starting to get the feel of the difference.

I did some cantering with haunches out, with some counter-bend, not shoulder-fore.  This helped get him onto the right better.  Once we had the good canter, it was time to start taking it through the line.  I was able to get my 5 or 6 strides, as I chose, almost every time.  There are always a couple of times it is a little long or a little short, but nothing that was a “yikes”.

Saturday, I went back over and we started out on the same line, after warming up, but this time, I was to ride 5 and 7 strides in the line.  That went ok, but when we moved to a line with fences, it was just not smooth.  There was nothing awful but I was either getting in too deep or too long, too many “superman” jumps from Neuf.  Poor Martin was rubbing his head in frustration.  I finally pulled out an “ok” 5 followed by an “ok” 6, and we had to quit, because there was no reason to punish Neuf for my inability to see a distance!  And he was getting tired.

Sunday, I took Bali over with me, and had my first jumping lesson of the day on her.  She is much more compact than Neuf, so I don’t think we ever bothered with trying to get a 5 stride in the cavalletti line on her, 6 & 7 strides worked and was smooth.  Bali tends to drop her withers more in the canter, something I struggle with in her dressage as well, so it is good to work on this in a jumping lesson.  I was getting into and through the line much better than Saturday, so that was nice.  After we finished, Ashley asked if I ever do the 4 strides small canter, 4 strides big canter exercise, and I said that I do, every day…but with 5/5 as my count, but then I said, but I’m using it to develop my pirouette canter, not a forward pace jumping canter, so I might do some of the same exercise out in the big field, with a bigger canter – more medium to extended, less medium to collected and more open in the poll.

I stuck Bali in Neuf’s stall, got him tacked up and headed back into the ring, to see if I could redeem myself.

I could and did.

Neuf felt nice, did our usual slow warm up, and then shortly after we started the canter, he decided to object to my leg demanding more forward, he kicked out, 4 times.  The best part of this…I’m solid.  My leg stayed put, I didn’t get tossed about, I felt tight in the tack!!!!  His shape has changed.  So, around we went and pretty much nailed all the distances.  At one point, I got a big jump in, didn’t adjust soon enough, so the 6 was tight, but I passed the quiz, and said what I did wrong, came back and fixed that.  We ended on me calling out, 5 or 6 strides before I entered the line, and I got it every time!!!!


We finished up walking around the hay field with another boarder.  She was on her younger horse, who can be a bit spooky out there, but I assured her Neuf is solid and wouldn’t even mind if her guy spooked into him.  We were able to go around the top part 3 times, since we were chatting about life & my son, and so she was able to relax on him.

Excellent bunch of rides!  Neuf has today off, Bali & I will hack out.

Oh and Neuf was 6th place for USHJA Horse of the Year in Zone 3 for “Young Jumpers, 6 years old”!!!  Well done Martin Douzant & Neuf.


2016 HOTY! Neufenstein!

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Neuf Nailed It!

I took Neuf to another VHSA Associate schooling show today.  This time, the plan was to do 2’9″-3’0″, low jumpers.  I did one round in the 2’6″-2’9″ division, unjudged as a warmup, because I still feel better going over the jumps for the first time with them small.

Neuf was excellent.  More forward than last time, jumping well, super fun to ride.

The first round was beautiful.  Forward, met all the jumps in stride, it was FUN!  Which is why I do this crazy horse thing.

Then we waited around for the low jumpers, and someone was really looking for another amateur to fill the children/adults amateur division, which was scheduled to be 3’3″.  I’m sticking to my plan of building up gradually, and the plan was 3′ this show, not 3’3″, and so I said I wasn’t going to do it.  The beauty of a schooling show, they can decide to alter the prize list for a division, so they said they would run it at 2’9″-3’0″, so I scratched out of the low jumper division and added into the Ch/Amateur Adult jumpers.

Martin said to me “you have to try to beat her now”…he might be a leeetle bit competitive.

This did entail another hour+ of sitting around, so I got off Neuf, got his cooler to keep him warm…ah horse world terminology where we use a cooler to keep them warm. We hung out and chatted for a while, then it was time.

I went in and Neuf was fantastic.  Clear, forward, it felt easy.  He still looks pretty slow in the videos, but he feels much more forward.  We won.

Next round was the power & speed class, I went in, he was still forward, and it was great, I was to keep to the right in the 2-3 line, check, until the last fence, when I missed…and I missed big, but Neuf said “I’m supposed to go”, he jumped, couldn’t clear it, took down the back rail of the oxer, landed in a heap ,and I fell up his neck.  I too was in a heap and he was still cantering along, and I kicked free and fell off, yay Morven for nice, soft footing.  Drat.  It had been going so well.

I got up, came over, apologized to Neuf, as that was MY fault.  Dusted all the footing off me, Ashley wiped my boots, I got some padding to snug up the helmet, because it was falling into my eyes on landing (and I’ll be replacing it, since it did hit), got back on and get this…

Since I stayed on until after the timer, that fall was only judged as a rail in the speed half of the class, I still won with my 4 faults.

Then, even better?!? I rode the last course well!  I didn’t pull, I didn’t pick, I rode!!!!  This is a HUGE accomplishment for me.  Often, I’ve gotten backed off if I made a mistake, and then started riding poorly and backwards, and that is not a recipe for success.  but I didn’t do that!!!  Also, since I fell off vice being bucked off, it didn’t impact my confidence.

Since the other rider had faults, all I had to do was go clear, and we won another blue AND the championship.

Hopefully the video will come back to life.  YouTube seems to be having technical difficulties.  This is not the round where I fell.

Three blues and the championship!  woot!  Neuf earned his day off tomorrow!  Horse shows are fun, but they are even more fun when you win.

Now…for some advil and a hot soak in the tub!

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