Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Halloween Show 2018

Yep, it is a full week after Halloween, and about 10 days since this show happened, but I am just now blogging about it because life. And better late than never, right???

So every year, for the final show that my barn puts on, they make it a Halloween show! The highlight of the day is a costume contest and high jump class. I prepared Banner and I's costume at least a month in advance, but we will get to that in a moment!

To kick the day off, we just popped around a couple 2'9" courses. With only a week in between our Karen O'Connor clinic, and this show, he was definitely a bit more on the tired side. Not so much so that I felt bad entering him, but he just was ever so slightly less thrilled about everything than his normal self.

We had quite a nice warmup and he was feeling pretty forward and solid, so we headed over to the ring and went in. Jump one, two and three felt really smooth, but the line from #3 to #4 was a bending 6 stride into jumps #4 & #5 which were one stride apart. It was a really short approach to the one stride, and I didn't ride it as well as I probably could have or should have, and he had an uncharacteristic stop. I re-approached twice more and same thing. He was disinclined to forgive my mistake. I popped one other single fence in the arena with him before exiting and he was fine over that.

I definitely felt a bit disheartened by that, and so I took him back over to the warmup and we schooled for another few minutes. I hurried back to the ring and tacked on another class at the 2'9". This time I made myself have a better game plan (including remembering a whip this time...). And he went around the whole course feeling incredible. I took him to the one stride that had previously caused us trouble and sat up, put my leg on and committed to making it over that stupid thing. And sure enough my horse rewarded me and the line rode perfectly.

He didn't even so much as take a peek at another jump the rest of the day. It was definitely an uncharacteristic moment for my superstar pony, but nothing abut it felt like it was a problem, it just felt like more of a "nahh, you didn't set me up well enough for me to save your butt on that one".

We had a couple of hours before the costume contest, so I got a couple quick parts of his costume ready and then just let him snack while I cheered on some friends.

I am pretty rarely into Halloween and costumes. Usually they are a last minute thrown together idea of whatever I had in my closet that day. This year was very different! I planned this one out for over a month. Hopefully its obvious in the above photo, but I took Banner's show name and ran with it! We were Black Widow and The Incredible Hulk!

I love this costume it was insanely fun to put together and wear. Everyone mentioned that I literally did not once stop smiling while we were all walking around in our costumes.

We ditched a small part of our costume for the actual jumping so that we were both a bit more comfortable and safe, but he still looked awesome!!

We cleared the 3' in the high jump, and attempted the 3'3", but he just tipped it with a toe and it fell. It was a really lovely jump though, and he felt great!

I definitely had a blast with him doing some new things for this show and he got a very well deserved week off afterwards!

Friday, October 26, 2018

Karen O'Connor Clinic

So, as you may have gathered from the title, I did in fact make it to the Karen O'Connor clinic this past weekend (yes I'm very late on this post...we just won't talk about that). Spoiler alert, it was amazing.

Epic water shot
(I've always wanted one of these)

Day one was SJ work. We were in the BN group, and Banner was wonderfully bored with everything we did.

Karen honed in really quickly on what everyone needed to work on, and we were no exception. Her first, and biggest note for me was that I need to get the impulsion from Banner sooner, but be a better manager, because he can quickly go from impulsion to impulsive. 

Banner and I only did each exercise once, which can easily feel like you got overlooked, but I know from watching Karen several other times, that if you only do it one time, that means you did it right. I felt like we got some good notes and work, and I honestly felt awfully proud & happy that she didn't feel the need to drill us through the exercises.

Karen was just as amazing to ride with as I always thought she would be, and she actually was way less scary than I feared. As long as you take her advice and notes and work on them, she really won't yell at you (too much) and is fairly complimentary as long as you just take her advice. The only people I saw truly get drilled through an exercise, or yelled at, were the people that kept doing it the same way and expecting different results. Once they took her advice, all of a sudden, things changed and she would give them a break!

Day two was CROSS COUNTRY, which is obviously the best. And Banner agrees wholeheartedly. This was only the 3rd time I have personally ridden him on XC, but he is just super straightforward to ride out there that I felt extremely confident!

Karen had been so impressed with us on Day 1, that she told Trainer to move me up to the Novice group. Trainer told me that Karen was worried I hadn't gotten "enough" the day before, and wanted to challenge me. I felt extremely honored at the compliment! I had mentioned to Karen that Banner and I were a fairly new partnership, but he is the horse I want to take up the levels, I want her to challenge me, and I was thrilled that she heard me and thought we were good enough to move up.

She started the day off having us all work on sending our horses forward, and bringing them back in the canter. I found that Banner's improved fitness level was really obvious to me when we worked this. He finally feels strong enough to maintain an uphill balance in a forward gallop. I love how responsive he is as well! My body weight was able to adjust him super easily, before I even had to worry about slowing him down with the bit. He is a very sensitive ride and I love that about him! Fun fact: Banner rides in a nathe in all 3 phases!

Next, we got to do the fun stuff. Jump the jumps!! We ended up jumping  a couple of the biggest fences that we have done as a pair, and Banner didn't even so much as bat an eye! His confidence definitely helped make me more confident as well.

It was also the first time I've done down banks with him (although I'm fairly sure he has done them before), and we crushed it!! We even did down banks into water, which is the first time I have ever done that! Banner was completely unphased by every single thing I asked of him! He only had 1 time that he got a lil annoyed at me for making a poor decision on a take off and he threw a lil baby buck afterwards, but I totally deserved it! I apologized profusely to him for my poor riding there, but he never holds a grudge which is so amazing!

We had a lot of fun ending the day playing in the water. Also, I've always desperately wanted an epic water photo, and just never been able to get it, but this weekend delivered in surplus!!

All in all, Karen was incredible to ride with, and I will definitely be riding with her again!! She has an impressive ability to quickly and easily hone in on exactly what you need to work on to improve and she pushes you hard to get there! Her training style is tough, so if you don't have some thick skin, she may not be the clinician for you, but for me, it was just the kind of training I was looking for.

Also, I took notes all weekend of some of my favorite phrases and things she said, so I will drop some of those below!!

  • A half halt is not asking for half of a halt, its asking for a half for half of the time.
  • [That horse] is gonna get some religion this morning.
  • You've got a little bit of an anger management look in your eye.
  • I know you're strong. Big deal. So am I.
  • Be gentle [with the bit]. Its not punishment, its language.
  • It's never what you thought you did, it's what [the horse] heard you do.
  • Go back to the lineup and think about your sins for a moment.
  • There's two kinds of pressure. Rhythmic pressure and steady pressure.
  • Your horse is what you make it [behaviorally].
  • Sometimes you talk louder thinking that the volume is the problem, when really its the connection that is bad.
  • You're not going to die out here, but I might kill you if you don't get better!
  • You put on a poker face, except the horse doesn't play poker!
  • Make a plan. Then make a plan to keep the plan.
  • We want the horse to have impulsion, not to be impulsive.
  • You will never see a good stride when [the horse] is hollow. 

Thursday, October 4, 2018


So at the end of my last post, I mentioned giving Banner a few well deserved days off. I fully intended to give him like 4-5 days off and then launch into some work. LOL. He got nearly 2 weeks off. But we did stay semi-productive in that time - I bribed him into still liking my presence with many, many cookies, he had a chiropractic adjustment by our vet (and wow did that make a difference!!), and he got his fall vaccines & teeth floated. Phew.

I do actually ride sometimes though

First: His chiropractor appointment. Banner has this strange tendency under saddle to hold his hindquarters to the right, and fairly significantly to the right at that! Apparently this has been common for him for a very long time, since I mentioned it to a trainer who hadn't ridden him since May of 2017, and even she was like "oh yeah, he still does that annoying thing with his haunches?". Instantly, when I realized this was an ongoing issue with him (not just a me problem or an out of shape problem), I knew I should get my vet out! My vet is an absolutely awesome lady who is very active on continuing education in her field and has also extensively studied dental, spinal manipulation (chiropractic), and acupuncture. She was more than happy to make a trip out and really enjoyed Banner's quiet, kind, stoic behavior. Although one time he definitely did push her off the block that she stands when he had an itch and apparently it was really itchy you guys.

We had a chat about some of what I had been noticing with him under saddle. He can be a bit stiff in his neck sometimes, less left to right stiffness, but a lot of breaking at the 3rd vertebrae instead of at his poll. Also he definitely struggles "sitting down" on his RH, and obviously the issue of his hindquarters being permanently shifted right. She listened and took in all my information & asked me a few more specific questions, and then got to work. 

She pinpointed his couple of problem spots very quickly and explained them to me. The biggest thing was that his pelvis was rotated to the left, meaning his right hip was higher. That made a lot more sense as to why he carried himself the way he did! P.S. it has made a huge difference now that he is back in line. She also mentioned that several of his neck vertebrae were a bit out and his poll was also out. His TMJ and hyoid are also pretty stiff, so we got some exercises to work on to improve his flexibility there! Loosening up his neck has really helped with not breaking at the 3rd vertebrae as much, and actually getting his poll up and his nose out!

My vet also placed a couple acupuncture needles toward the end of the session to relieve some muscle tension. Banner had only had some fairly small reactions to the chiropractic work, but when she did the acupuncture? He licked and chewed and yawned for nearly a minute. She laughed and told me "I guess he's an acupuncture junkie". I loved that he was super easy for her to work on (especially since my vet is currently pregnant), and he maintained his very personable, gentle behavior the whole time, even if it was a bit of a new experience for him!

Our first lesson back after the chiro, Trainer SG commented "that is the straightest I've ever seen him move!". I couldn't have been more thrilled!

The week following his chiropractic, we had his teeth & vaccines done. She also did a quick double check of some of his problem spots from the chiropractic the week before & realigned him just a little bit. His teeth need some work, although they are not too terrible. He is going to be a 6-month guy with his teeth for a while. My vet simply commented "well we had to find something wrong with your perfect horse". She isn't wrong about the perfect part...

So anyways, there is an update on my life & Banner right now! On another note, we may or may not be entering a Karen O'Connor clinic in a few weeks so we shall see if that happens! 

Monday, September 17, 2018

Fulfilling Dreams

This weekend, our local barn hosted their first ever true schooling HT. It was a 2-day show, with dressage & SJ on Saturday, and XC on Sunday. Banner and I signed up to do the Beginner Novice!

Our dressage test was mid-morning, and there was a storm threatening all day on Saturday. It was definitely brisk, and it was getting to a few of the horses, but Banner came out true to his unicorn status and warmed up like a champ. We are working on improving his transitions, and he gave me some of his best yet to date. His downwards tend to be a bit abrupt, and his upwards tend to start in the front with his back legs struggling to catch up, but on Saturday we got most of our transitions in great form - fluid and smooth!

He stayed relaxed and rhythmic in our test and gave me some great work. Our upward canter transitions could have been better, and our free walk could have been stretchier, but I was pleased with our test, and excited about the fact that I still think we have so much potential to be even better with more time!

We came out of dressage on a solid score of 31.1, putting us in first place for our division. We had a few hours to kill before SJ, so I killed some time chatting with friends, and perusing the local roaming tack shop (always a dangerous past time). Again, just like the superstar that he is, Banner hung out at the trailer without so much as a peep.

Banner and I did a 2'3" SJ round for warmup & practice, and he jumped like a seasoned pro. The course had some difficult turns and lines, but he took every distance and line exactly like I asked and felt truly incredible! We ended up taking home the blue ribbon in our 2'3" class!

Unfortunately, our 2'6" class was very full, and we sat around for the better part of half an hour between our classes, so he was a bit asleep going into that course, and pulled the first rail. The rest of the round rode well and we are really starting to learn how to bend over fences to get our bending lines to feel more smooth! Our rail in the 2'6" class added 4 faults to our dressage score for the HT, and bumped us down to second place.

We ended the day with a 2'9" round. He put in some great effort and felt like a million bucks. I rode one of the lines poorly (half halting is indeed important if you were wondering!), and we pulled a rail, but still ended up 5th in the class! I was thrilled with how he rode and felt. Super adjustable and responsive over all of the fences. Feels like I am finally starting to truly figure him out!

Sunday was CROSS COUNTRY day!!! I walked the course on Saturday night and it looked super fun and like a perfect balance of challenging and totally doable. Heck, I even took a look at some of the novice fences and they looked like we could have conquered them like no big deal!

Warm up on Sunday was easy and I quit after only popping the warmup fences maybe 6 times. He was doing so well that I didn't feel the need to jump his legs off for no reason. The grass was a little slick so I made sure to note in my own mind to keep our turns wide and loopy to make sure we kept our footing.

Banner continued to impress me with his awesome brain by walking around on a loopy rein for about 20 minutes while horses around him were galloping right and left. But once we left the start box, he was all business. We got an awesome start out of the box and had a great little gallop to the first fence - a simple hanging log with a fake "ditch" under it. Then up the bank and around to a show jump.

Then we popped the table to the rolltop which are both nearing maxed BN height, and Banner couldn't have cared less. He just kept rolling along in a lovely adjustable, forward canter.

Then it was around to a show jump in the far side of the field, and another show jump on a little mound. We splashed through the water with no issue, and popped another simple natural show jump. Then into another small field with a show jump oxer, around to a steeplechase jump! This field was the slickest, and I watched wayyy too many horses slip going around, so I made sure to really slow up the canter here!

There was a super wimpy little faux ditch after that, and I'm 99% sure that Banner stepped right in the black bark that is supposed to resemble a hole in the ground. If you listened hard enough, I could've sworn I heard him laugh at it. This brought us to the final big loop of galloping. An inviting log rolltop to an A-frame coupe. Then a triple log on the far side of the field and a gallop home through the same rolltop to table line, just going back the other way.

We finished up with the same faux ditch (he definitely laughed at it this time around) and a show jump to end the day. We ended up being literally 2 seconds away from being penalized for being too fast (whoops!). He came off the course and wasn't even sweaty or breathing hard. He felt like he could've run it 2 more times without even trying.

I keep thinking he is still out of shape, but he definitely proved me wrong this weekend. He is far more fit than I realized, and is feeling great!

Double clear on XC kept us on our 35.1 score, and ended up winning the class! Banner was one of the few (if not the only) horse in our division to go double clear! This horse has such a heart of gold and I am thrilled to keep learning with him. Now for a few well deserved days off, and a chiropractic appointment for him this week!

I'm thinking he looks good in blue!

Monday, September 3, 2018

Saying Goodbye

Yesterday, I said goodbye to Wonder. I haven't had enough time for 3 horses, and something had to give. I had been toying with the idea of selling him for a little while, but hadn't really fully committed. I lightly marketed him on ISO Facebook posts, but didn't really expect much, if anything, to come out of it. Luckily, I was wrong! The perfect home just happened to come up within a week of me beginning to market him.

My all-time favorite photo with him

A family reached out to me, interested in him for their 15yo daughter. She loves thoroughbreds, but their current horse is needing to be retired. She can get anxious over fences, so she needs a horse that doesn't feed off of her anxiety. I was happy to have them out to see Wonder, but I really wasn't sure how he would be with someone that young, and with some anxiety when jumping. It turns out that he is a perfect match for her. He is steady and quiet in all the ways she needs him to be, but he listens and reacts to her obediently when she asks him to do something.

Her trainer came out and he also approved the match! She even jumped a bigger jump with him on their second ride together than she is usually comfortable jumping at home with her own horse. And Wonder really seemed to connect to her. He stood with his head in her arms for over 20 minutes the first time they came out.

As sad as I am that my goofy, opinionated, athletic, chubby blaze-faced boy is not with me anymore, I couldn't have picked a better home for him if I tried. I think he has wanted his own "person" for a very long time, and I think he will get all the attention that he deserves and more with his new girl. My pasture, and my heart feel a little emptier today, but I've already gotten several photos of him in his new home and that helps a lot.

I'm also very grateful that his new owners live in the area and will let me know when he goes to any local shows or anything, so I can still see him! Saying goodbye to him yesterday was pretty tough, but it was infinitely easier than it could have been, knowing how much his new girl already loves him.