Forward Progress – part 2

I went to Florida for a weekend, kept riding, but no jumping shows and not really much jumping for Neuf, and suddenly it was the week before Upperville.  Martin was to be riding 1.10m, 1.15m, and 1.20m on Neuf, so we quickly came up with a plan to meet up at a jumper barn and Martin would have a jump school with a coach.  Neuf was fantastic.  They finished up with a vertical that was 1.30m!   With that prep, we all felt good about Neuf at Upperville.

They had a great show.  Placed in the 1.10m and 1.15m divisions, which were HUGE…over 30 and over 50 in the 1.15m!!! He had a rail in the 1.20m but it was still a really nice round.

I missed the first two fences as I didn’t make it over in time to get into position to video after setting warm up fences!

I did NOT show Neuf at Upperville.  That is my goal for next year, but this year, the plan was for me to ride at the Loudoun Benefit show, which is at the Upperville showgrounds, the week after.  That is where Neuf won the 6 year old Jumpers last year.  I did RIDE Neuf at Upperville though, it was a mental game for my own confidence.  After Martin finished, I put my saddle on and hacked around the grounds, watching 1.30m classes.

Loudoun Benefit was next with ME riding.  I entered .80m and .90m, because there was no .95.  I am close to entering 1.0m, but I want to work on improving my pace and not getting time faults with the fences at a height that Neuf can step over.

First thing I did was to take a jumping lesson on Tuesday morning, and it was good.  I also was relaxed and had fun, even riding on the sloped, grass jumping field.  Then, I remembered to take an ulcer med on Wednesday night, took another Thursday morning and managed to eat some rice, which is my go-to settle my stomach food.  I also brought my bowl of rice with me in the truck, so I could eat a few more bites.

I got there, and left Neuf in the trailer while I went to walk my course with Martin and get my number.  The course seemed ok, the oxers always seem big to me, but I reminded myself that Neuf had just done 1.20 meter quite easily a week before.  Neuf unloaded as calm as if we were at Martin’s for a lesson!!!! My stomach was good, I felt good.  I tacked up, used my trailer step as a mounting block and strolled over to the warm up.  I had a good warm up, only a little bit of spook at the other horses, and then I went in.  I really wanted to be within time allowed for this show.  I’ve often had time faults, since I don’t ride him as forward as I should.

I felt good, rode forward and we went double clear!!!!  A blue ribbon for this class.

We had a LONG wait until the .90 started, so I took him to the trailer and loaded him up, got lunch, then we went to get ready again

I lost some of our forward in this round and he pulled a rail, so no ribbon, but overall, I was pleased.  We were within time!

The next day, I was a tiny bit nervous, but I followed the same food protocol.  Felt good, but Neuf seemed tired at breakfast.  But, normal, so off we went to the show again.  He was more “up”, but less forward.  Spooking at the other horses in the warm up ring, I had to work harder to get him forward.  Our first round reflects that…with commentary from Martin (videoing) to get him in front of my leg!

It was a clear round at .80m but one time fault.  Drat.

We ended up with a long wait for the .80 m to finish and them to drag and reset the course for .90 m, but I went in with a plan to “wake him up”.  Shorter warm up, more reactivity to the other horses, but I handled it.  When I trotted into the ring, my plan was to get him forward before the buzzer rang.  At the beginning, you can see a solid kick out when I insisted.  But, mission accomplished.  We took 10 seconds off our time from the earlier course.  I felt really good.

I had fun showing this week.  Neuf was excellent, I rode well and felt comfortable at the .90m.  I wasn’t anxious or too worried, just the good amount of nerves that you have before some sort of performance.

It is time to start moving up to 1.0m at the schooling shows, work on more forward, at some point I’d like Neuf to look as good with me on him as he does with Martin riding, more fitness and then we can maybe do some Low Adult Amateur classes (these are 1.0m).

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Forward progress – part 1

Wow, I’ve had a long  break in journaling.

Bali first

Bali hasn’t been to any shows this year because she had a reaction to a vaccine, spent about 6 weeks with enough of a cough to require some medications that aren’t show legal, but luckily not bad enough to completely require rest, so we are still working.  I was going to ride with Gary Rockwell again, and then I had to go on a trip with my husband that weekend, so I gave my rides to Ashley Douzant of The Frame Sporthorses, as I can get some trickle down out of them, because she teaches me lessons.  Her excited clinic reports to me made it worth it, I love hearing someone else as excited over amazing lessons as I get.

I’ve spent the past several months working on getting Bali stronger in lifting her shoulders and carrying more behind.  Getting more forward without nagging, working on going with her. It is time to do a progress check with a test or two.  I may go for a schooling show, much more cost effective.  Changes are getting better and PSG is looking attainable.


Neuf is finally growing up!  I came off after he had a legitimate spook that he escalated into his bolt & buck, I realized that I’d had that “I should lunge him” feeling before I got on, so I finally started to listen to that little voice and I lunged him during high sugar grass/cool spring mornings.  I also realized that I needed to add a one-rein stop to his repertoire, and I was able to change my reaction to his starting to bolt, and redirect.  My attempting to keep his head up with both reins is never going to work super well.

Then I had to start truly wanting him to go forward.  I’ve been guilty of asking him to go forward, and then saying “WAIT, not THAT forward!!!” with my aids and body.  This reaction is directly tied to his signature bolt & buck, because true forward felt remarkably like the start of the bolt.

We had a show in Lexington, VA, Martin rode Neuf in 1.10 meter classes and I rode in .90 meter.  I was pretty nervous at this one.  I hadn’t shown Neuf at a rated show for over a year.  I’d done some local showing, but this was a big, multi-ring show, crazy warm up ring, but I love the Virginia Horse Center.

Day one, I handwalked Neuf around the colliseum (the 1.10 meter was in there) in the morning, walked him all around the ring I’d be riding in later.  He had a bit of playing in the one corner before we started, and we were a bit slow, but a respectable round.

The next day,  I was still nervous, oddly, almost MORE nervous.  I didn’t eat much, and so my stomach was more upset than normal nervous and I had a pounding headache.  But, Neuf was pretty chill when I got on after Martin had finished the 1.10 meter.  My warm up was going super well, with both of us relaxed, until a rambunctious gray buck/bolted in front of us as we’d just landed from a warm up fence.  Neuf spun, started to bolt, I remembered to use ONE rein, circled, never left the canter until we were fully in control, then I trotted, asked how much more warmup the other horse had left and waited for him to leave the ring.  I finished my warm up, never finding my good forward again, but it wasn’t awful

I was riding more forward than a year ago, but not as forward as I should, and I gave myself 4 faults by crossing the timer after the buzzer but before I actually started my course.  I had entered the .95 meter, but my not eating enough and a pounding headache caught up with me.  I asked how long until the .95 meter, and it was going to be too soon to go untack, eat and get back on, but longer than I wanted to feel nauseous.  So I scratched the second class, because I felt I’d accomplished my goals.

My biggest take-away from Lexington was that I need to find MY nutrition plan for shows.  What can I eat when I’m nervous, so that I can get to the start.  Once I’ve got my first round under my belt, I’m ok and back to eating, but that is sometimes pretty late.   I also realized ages ago that I do better if I take an ulcer med like Prilosec in the day before and during a show, so basically I need my GastroGuard, just like some horses.

Next big show was going to be Upperville with Martin riding.

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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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