Monday, July 4, 2022

July Clinic: In-Hand


The past few weeks have been pretty busy. Some exciting upcoming news, but until then, it's just been work and more work since one of my coworkers left, so we're picking up her shifts.

But I was able to get the last slot for a clinic at my barn on Sunday afternoon after I finished work. The last two slots were in-hand lessons with a well regarded area dressage trainer and one of those individuals that's shown a large number of stallions for inspections and all of those things.

I first saw him showing some Half-Arabians for another trainer I know and I really liked his style and how effortlessly he showed the horses, so I was thrilled when my barn owner arranged for him to come up and teach.

Screen shot of an in-hand photo from last month

I think everyone enjoyed the clinic day with K. He was knowledgeable and was able to evaluate our horses and give us some tricks to help best show our individual horses.

One thing he noticed with myself and Chili is that I run very close to the triangle and the cones and he wanted to run off of the cones, as in several feet to the left of the cones to give myself more time and a corner to raise the whip to help guide onto the long side for an extended trot. I was taking the corners more as a 90 degree angle and not setting my horse up for the most time to get into a bigger trot.

He also suggested folding my reins up into my right hand and just having my guiding whip in my left. Makes sense. Less for me to putz around with. Bigger points was to look up and to go for it. I have big enough strides, but I would often try and look back or down and then give my horse a bit of a "half-halt" in hand and shut down the expression of her gaits.

In the walk, he said I especially should hold my hand a little bit higher and a little loose so she could swing through her back more. I have a tendency to be a little tense on the reins since she can anticipate and break into a trot. K's suggestion was that he often will take his right hand and even just raise it and pet the horse a little while walking so they relax. There's no rule against petting them or being nice to them and this will emphasize the difference between the relaxation in the walk and then asking for a bigger trot just a moment later.

He also suggested always trying to get my horse's expression up since her neck is a little thick and lower which I know. I think I described her as a "potato".

This horse is definitely a potato

On some horses, just asking them to look for the whip is enough or to poke them in the shoulder with the whip. Others may reach for his hand (especially if he's been hand feeding them in the paddock). Chili is pretty wise to most of these games and he suggested the magical thing of sand. Which apparently worked in the clinic. We'll see if we can keep it working at shows, but maybe I'll try and find novel things to school with and attempt to clicker train the reach up and ears forward and get it on cue. Wish us luck, lol.

Otherwise, sand in the show ring it is.

Other major takeaways from some of the other horses is don't back a horse into a stance. A small circle is better if you need to fix them since most horses will stand hocks closer together while being backed up. A smaller horse could have their front feet placed closer together in their open stance to appear a little bit taller. Sometimes less is more. Stop annoying the horse if the stance is "good enough". Some of the fixing can be done while the judge is on a different side of the horse.

Always look at the judge and move to the offside to show you are ready to start their judging.

What tricks or tips have you learned for in-hand classes?

Even though I've shown a lot, I haven't had an "expert" coach me before so I'm interested to see how these suggestions help!

Friday, May 20, 2022

A New Spring


Winter was spent still rehabbing. Chili spent a period of time looking great and then other times starting off the ride extremely sticky on the right hind. I called the vet back out for a lameness recheck and of course, the day of the recheck, she looked absolutely fabulous.

But I'm not really sure what changed. I had still kept her working lightly through the points of being sticky on advance of my vets and maybe we finally turned the tide.

The past few weeks, we have even reached a point where our rides are getting more strength and steadiness and it's just been fun. Simple things like straightness and a steady rhythm have been hard for her and she just can be difficult when she's bored, but we've been chipping away at it.

The current plan is to try and attend a couple of shows this year. It may be a little bit more difficult as one of my coworkers is moving on in a couple of weeks, so I'll be working every other weekend, but we shall see.

So in some ways, I feel so behind the eight ball. Here she is turning 11 and I have yet to master most of the training level objectives with her. But at the same time, still appreciative of the time I have to still ride her and come back from yet another horrifying accident.

What is it with horses and accidents? But her resiliency and willingness to always come back and worth again seems to make it worth it. 

Thursday, January 20, 2022


One thing I am grateful this past year was the chance to go to Iceland. We went in November, which was not ideal summer weather, but seemed reasonable enough. The sun was a little bit lacking though. We saw it about twice the whole time we were there. ;)

Þingvellir is a national park and World Heritage Site in Iceland and where annual parliament was held from 930 to 1798. A pretty important place. It's also where there is continental drift between North America and European tectonic plates. It happened to be snowing quite a bit when we were there. My husband was the one hanging out in a short sleeved shirt and then later on a rain jacket while all the rest of the visitors looked freezing in an extreme amount of layers. Apparently after life in the frozen tundra, what's a little Icelandic snow?

 The Black Church at Budir. Absolutely lovely, but we were only there for a couple of minutes and it's closed to visitors.

Anyone else travel to Iceland? What were some of your highlights?

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Is it Dawn or is it Sunset?


The first few days home were tough. I have the world's most amazing barn owner and we had a plan. There's a very small turnout pen at the barn known as the "penalty box". It's about the size of a stall and there's a paddock adjacent to it so Chili could go outside and stay calm.

My veterinarians at home devised a plan. Stall rest, radiographs, Softride boots, leg wraps inside, and cold hosing. This was to cover the major differentials for her acute lameness. The radiographs taken at the show were extremely poor quality with some artifacts, so several sets of repeat radiographs were taken over the following few weeks.

Dwelling on the poor handling of the situation by the show veterinarian, I called the practice manager to share my experience and how I would have improved that interaction. To my surprise, the show veterinarian actually called me back to discuss my experiences. I doubt any of what I said stuck since she ended the call with "Have a good rest of the 2021 show season." OK thanks, my horse is lame, lame, lame, but I'll get right on that.

Video a few weeks after getting home. Significant improvement.

After a few weeks and starting to rule other things out, it was a presumed medial collateral ligament injury. I could take her for an MRI to confirm the diagnosis, however, her lameness was improving with conservative treatment, so we opted to skip that and save the money.

Since she has a known spot of hock arthritis from a traumatic injury in April of 2020, I try and maintain Adequan twice a year. It certainly wasn't going to hurt Chili and to support her while she was in the penalty box. It was tricky because the confinement certainly seems to improve the front end lameness, but then the hind end gets sticky.

Finally at the end of November, I had the OK from my veterinarian to begin working Chili in straight lines at the walk. No lunging, no turnout, and to evaluate if she maintained the same level of soundness.

Kind of fat and definitely out of condition

Now, I understand the idea of straight line rehab and the goal to build up her strength before turning out, but has it's winter here, she's a dragon, and she hasn't been turned out in three months.

But I've had some amazing barn mates and friends that have been willing to serve as an emotional support human. Our first rides were definitely on the end of a lunge line to ensure she stayed quiet and didn't torque that front right foot. When she's been quiet, we've been able to be let off the line and we've even built up to a little bit of trot now.

So while the past few months have been filled with a lot of uncertainty about the future, there does seem to be the dawning promise of a return to schooling and training once again, fingers crossed.

Thursday, January 13, 2022

Expect the Unexpected


September had started out with a bit of hope, despite the daily drain at my job as a microbiologist. My dad came out from the West coast to help me haul to Sport Horse Nationals which was about a nine hour drive from my barn.

I was a bit proud of myself for being able to haul through some busier cities. I am not particularly brave while hauling the truck and trailer as there's a lot of stupid people out there.

The drive seemed well worth it to show at the World Equestrian Center in Ohio. I mean, look at the size of that arena! Unfortunately Chili had a little scrape on her hindquarters from a bump in the journey (I blame the super pot hole filled roads through Indiana and Ohio!) and was a little sore behind.

Fortunately, there were some people that did Magnawave on the grounds and that seemed to help. Chili's first classes were with my friend who showed her in hand, but unfortunately no ribbons for them. The classes were big--more than forty horses and Chili was still pretty tight behind and didn't move as well as I would have hoped.

My dressage test with her was on Wednesday, so each day we went to school in the various arenas at WEC. I have not ever really shown inside with her and certainly not dressage and not these giant arenas. The first few times, she was a very hot tamale. I was immensely grateful that my dressage coach and barn owner extraordinaire came with to the show so she could also ride and help school.

It was pretty warm most of the time we were there and I was having issues with not feeling well from some POTS related issues. My electrolytes would get out of wack, I wouldn't eat, and I just felt terrible. Add in a spicy horse and I was pretty convinced I should just scratch my dressage ride.

Well, S, my barn owner and coach didn't let me so on Wednesday, I dutifully put on my dressage coat and rode down center line. I had some minor geometric errors (sorry! I know better coaches!) and definitely dashed up some movements with coefficients. Chili was tight at times, but probably because I'm not sure I decided to breath the second half of the test.

But you know what? When I went down center line the second time and halted and saluted, I cried. I said thank you for the judge and looked over at the stands where my friends, coach, and my dad were: they were crying too.

There's been so much that's happened to Chili, to myself, to the world that who would have thought I would have finally made it down the the center line on a horse I bred, foaled out, trained, hauled, rehabbed, and rehabbed some more. A dog attack, my hip surgery, my increasing physical issues, Chili's fence accident. It all seemed irrelevant at that moment.

And like every good person at WEC, I had to go through the coffee shop drive through to celebrate.


After our dressage test, our next classes together were on Friday and were two in-hand classes. Chili felt good, so I was hoping for better placements than earlier in the week. I was dressed, she was braided, and I led her out of the stall when I felt her slip coming down onto the concrete.

I didn't think too much of it until I reached the end of the barn aisle when something didn't sound right. Chili didn't look quite right. I ended up making the heartbreaking decision to scratch. I handed the horse off to my dad and sent my husband to the paddock gate to let them know I wouldn't be coming. I had to run to the show office to fill out the official scratch paperwork. Don't fill out the paperwork and there's a hefty fine.

When I came back from the show office, my coach had realized something was wrong and was helping my dad with the horse. Chili was by this point immensely lame and could hardly walk. We cold hosed her and I had to brace her shoulder and help her walk back to the stall.

I may have cried. My coach undid her braids and my dad called the show vet. We waited and waited.

Finally the show vet came and it was by far the most upsetting experience with a veterinarian I've ever had. The abbreviated version is the vet said Chili had an abscess, disregarded my commentary about how she had slipped coming out of the stall, and then tried to pull her shoes. She was unable to pull the shoes so the show farriers came out, who then wanted $100 to pull one shoe.

The following day, Chili was not better and was so lame that we cold hosed her in the aisle as we couldn't even get her down the aisle to the wash rack. Again, we called the show vet. While waiting for the vet, I called my veterinary clinic back at home to discuss which diagnostics should be done to determine if we could get Chili home safely. Nine hours with a three legged horse wasn't going to be an easy task.

My dad ran to a local automotive store and picked up a camera which we hard wired into the trailer so we would be able to keep an eye on her. My coach called her coach whose barn was just an hour away. If need be, we could take Chili there until she was safe enough to travel home.

The show vet finally came back. I had asked her for radiographs and to block her to rule out a fracture. The radiographs were done and didn't seem to reveal much. The blocking was fine and she did block out about 80 percent sound.

With this information and working in conjunction with my wonderful clinic at home, we thought we would be at least get her home for additional diagnostic work and rehab.

We wrapped her up like a Christmas present, backed the trailer back to the end of the barn aisle, and were grateful that I had a ramp on my little two horse trailer. Chili handled the standing wraps, the Softride boots, and hopping in the trailer on three legs like a champ. The whole way home, we anxiously watched the camera and were impressed that she wedged herself back up against the wall and divider and rocked back off her front feet. Somehow, she managed to keep balanced even through all the traffic and turns and came of the trailer more comfortable than she went on.

At least we were home where we could create a plan and then assess what to do next.

Saturday, August 21, 2021

August Clinic: Quit Overthinking


Another month, another clinic weekend that I was fortunate enough to be able to fit into my schedule.

There's a few miscellaneous topics I need to create separate posts and catch up on, but the low down is that I am also riding and showing a friend's half-Arabian gelding while she is pregnant. I feel very privileged she asked me to ride him for her. I struggle a lot with imposter syndrome, so this has been a great way to boost some confidence.

But onto the clinic! Saturday, I rode Chili. Since the previous clinic, we had changed her bit back to a thicker three piece boucher. Part of J's thought was that a slightly larger bit would help stabilize our communication with each other. I also have spent a lot of effort in trying to minimize my reactions to whatever Chili is doing half the time. The horse is wiggly, I'm hypermobile. One of us is going to have to find some stabilization.

So the good news is that I didn't need a full recap of last month's clinic theme. The theme of this month was quit thinking.

My coach wanted the clinician to evaluate my struggle with 3 loop serpentines. A judge at the last show focused a lot on how they needed to not have a straight line and that my circles were occasionally too flat.

I'm a scientist. I get frustrated because I understand the dimensions of a dressage court and I theoretically know what a serpentine looks like. I can draw it out. I can walk it out. But why the heck can't I ride it?

Well, the dissection that took place in my lesson was a couple of things. One, Chili has an obsession with just staying on the rail. That's probably my fault. I like to ride on the rail because I'm afraid of running into people when I cross lines or do circles because I can't hear what's going on. Two, the more people start discussing circles, serpentines, and everything else I start overthinking. When I overthink, I stop riding.

That part I probably knew. Only because I overthink everything.

The next day when I rode my friend's gelding Max, I tried the 3 loop serpentines again. The clinician said she would give them an 8 and promised to leave me alone. We had plenty of other things to work on.

But it's nice to have some outside perspective and that in some cases, less is more. Overriding and overthinking is a major struggle for me.

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

July Clinic


The other weekend, over the 4th of July weekend, I had the opportunity to ride with one of the coaches that comes into the barn.

Clinician J's point of emphasize on balance of the pelvis, the structure, and how to use it to influence the horse. A lot of Saturday was spent in the walk and off the horse. At one point and time, the coach actually had me feel which muscles and the tilt of the pelvis she would use to influence the horse in the walk. Nothing like being up close and personal!

She had me stay in the walk at first and utilize my pelvis to influence the stride and speed of her walk. She felt that often I was letting Chili drive and that I often maintain a passive pelvis that is the source of some of our inconsistency.

She also emphasized keeping a steady quiet contact, no matter what the horse was doing and if she was winging her body around. I was right and the horse was incorrect in her response, which is probably true.

Usually our rides go like this:

Me: Please take this contact

Chili: For only one stride, then I want to swing my haunches in

Me: Put inside leg on and probably pull on a rein I wasn't supposed to. Please stop swinging your haunches in.

Chili: *loses contact and goes above the bit* Huzzah. I win.

-rinse and repeat-

By trying to maintain a soft contact and having me actively ignore Chili's running commentary, I actually had a proper working walk with minimal inconsistency in contact and less work evasions. It didn't really matter if I was going straight as the initial point of the exercise was to maintain the rhythm from my pelvis and to accept and carry the bit.

On Sunday, we started off reviewing Saturday's lesson, then moved into keeping me busy. Clinician J did correctly surmise I like to override my horse and annoy her as well.

At one point and time, she alternated leg yields, shoulder in, and various circles and diagonals to keep me busy. After a few laps of the arena, she stopped me and told me her intentions (which I had guessed) were to keep my mind busy enough that one, the horse was kept to the task at hand and two, I stopped annoying my horse by overriding and usually either shoving with my pelvis or wandering off with my right hand.

I was pleased that she did let me know that would have scored one of my shoulders in a 7. It sounds silly to hope for a 7, but it was nice for a few strides to have her really feel connected inside leg to outside rein and to just side and ride. I wasn't really doing much besides just thinking of the movement I wanted and it happened.

Then I overrode it next time I actually thought about what I was doing.

At the end, the clinician had us working on shallow canter loops on the left lead. Our left lead at times has been tricky as I haven't always prepared her very well and she just prefers to pick up the right lead.

But she picked up the left lead well and it was a good lesson for me to keep riding the canter, sit back, and stop being so passive. If I ended up being passive, she would come down to trot. It is tricky to me to slowly reformulate my thinking of having an active seat/pelvis and not shoving. I don't know where I picked up that habit along the way, but I would prefer if it would please disappear.