Wednesday, October 28, 2015

How I Stumbled Upon My Trainer (and she puts up with me)

The title is a tongue in cheek version of this post at A Enter Spooking.

I’ve been looking for a good instructor for Katai and I for a while now. Unfortunately I’m limited in both budget and in the fact that without a trailer I really need to find a good place to board that also has a good instructor. For a while when I was first starting Katai I was trying to have a local dressage trainer that travels come to me and teach but she can be flaky and, honestly, I’ve studied with her before and just didn’t get that much out of it.

See I may be new at needing and picking out a dressage instructor but I’m not new to this type of instruction (weekly lessons) in general. When I was five years old I started weekly piano lessons and when I was twelve I added cello lessons. For those years (from 12 through 23) I took at least weekly lessons on two instruments from two different teachers. I also went through several teachers sometimes moving on as I advanced, sometimes switching when my previous instructor moved or became unavailable, and sometimes just needing a change. During this time I discovered a few things about me and the way I learn and those are things that I now look for in anyone who will be instructing me.

– I’m an active learner and need to be able to ask questions/sometimes challenge what I’m being told. I rarely get argumentative, I did with J but that was when I realized I needed to move on, but some instructors take questions (especially asking why) as arguments and I don’t tend to do well with that type of person as an instructor.

– Because I don’t have your typical Warmblood, Thoroughbred, Morgan etc. I need an instructor who respects my right to ride what I want to ride and who isn’t constantly trying to talk me into something "better". I learn quickly and while I’m not a beautiful rider or an advanced rider by any means I think that the instructors that I’ve ridden with in the past have seen potential and to them I think that often means that I should get a more competitive horse. Unfortunately for them that is not what I want and I’m extremely stubborn. This doesn’t mean that I need someone to praise Katai or gush over her, I realize she’s not an upper level prospect and doesn’t possess loads of talent but to me dressage is for every horse so I should choose the horse I want to ride every day and the instructor should work with me to help me minimize my horse’s challenges and increase my horse’s strengths. Not spend their time telling me to get a different horse, of course unless I were crippling her or something.

– Flexibility is important to me as well. As an adult amateur I have a full time job and many demands on my time. I’m also not training for the Olympics so there will occasionally be days where I’m sick or have a headache and I’m just not willing to "push through the pain" to ride. I need someone who recognizes that and doesn’t get bent out of shape. (Of course these aren't that often, any more and I’d feel like a flake.)

– I will not EVER put up with someone that yells or swears again. I’ve had music teachers do this and I dealt with it and was sometimes even motivated by it but at the time I was taking those lessons that was going to be my profession. If I was being lazy, doing something wrong, creating a new habit etc. it was directly tied to my livelihood and a kick up the ass was warranted. With dressage instruction though it’s clearly not. As I said earlier, I’m not training for the Olympics and this is supposed to be fun. I will not go to lessons that give me a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach and there’s just no reason to yell or swear when I’m very clearly trying to learn and improve.

– I will also NEVER put up with someone who talks my horse down or insults her. If there is a soundness issue just tell me like a human being and be supportive. I won’t put up with an instructor telling me that my horse is worthless and I should sell her on a meat truck because she’s not who they’d choose to ride.

What I did to choose my current instructor was have someone at the barn recommend her and schedule a lesson with her. That was it. In the future I’ll plan on auditing first probably but I had done that with J and it didn’t help. At the time that I was having L recommended to me I was actually considering a different instructor that is fairly well known in the area. She does more classical dressage and has an almost cult-like following. I had audited two lessons with her and was impressed enough that I planned on working with her. When I mentioned this to one of the more advanced dressage riders at the barn though she gave me sort of a soft warning, a "maybe you should consider L instead" sort of warning and since L charges half of what that instructor charges I figured I’d go ahead and try a lesson with her. I’m so glad I did!
I think it just goes to show that there’s no "right" way to find an instructor. It maybe also shows that I have no idea what I’m looking for yet but that’s a different story.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Two in One: Lesson Recaps 10/18 & 10/25

I had a great lesson today and since I never did a lesson recap for last week I'll talk about both lessons in one. For the last couple of lessons we haven't been introducing anything new, just firming up what we have. Last week this was trotting and cantering 20 meter circles, staying straight, working on canter departs and doing some spirals in and out. This week we mixed things up a bit by riding in the outdoor arena which gave us the opportunity to work on a couple of pony behaviors that we avoid in the indoor arena. 

Katai was diving for the gate out of the arena since thats the way her friend left. This meant lots of working on outside leg aids for me as well as working on appropriate timing. L wants me to start to be more proactive and we talked about how when I start to get proactive I also start to get aggressive and let Katai pick fights. If course that's not good and something I need to work on so that's my homework for this week. 

At one point we had this really nice, forward trot and she said it was almost a lengthening! It felt really good and Katai's balance is getting to the point where I can influence her in various different frames. I'm able to stretch her forward without her just taking off, although today in the outdoor that was way tougher! 

L had also been to the Jennifer Truett clinic and so some of what we worked on in my lesson were things that Jennifer talked about at the clinic. We also, in keeping with the theme of it being me that needs more work at this point then Katai, worked on my elbows and keeping my hands more stable in the trot so that Katai can feel good about stretching forward into the contact. It made a huge difference! I had seen some of the floppiness in the video I posted but wasn't quite sure what I needed to change to fix it. When L said I needed to fix my elbows to my sides that did it :-)

I'm really quite proud of how we're looking as a team and how much more stable my position is! Photo evidence below :-)
Spring 2015 (Aprilish?)

Summer 2015 (Juneish?)

Summer 2015 (Augustish?)

Today :-)

Thanks to P who just recently moved to my new barn and who I boarded with at J's barn for the photos

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Clinic Season

It seems we are well within clinic season here in the midwest. Fall temperatures mean it's dipped below freezing a couple of times now and the show season is pretty much over. Through November I think i just about have a clinic every weekend.

To start it off I went to a Jennifer Truett clinic today. This is the second clinic that I've attended with her as a clinician and I really enjoy her. She is great with people of all levels, is comfortable and able to climb on horses if needed, and will teach anything from proper saddle fit to biomechanics, to just good solid dressage principles. I think one of my favorite things about her as a clinician is that she also does work in hand that would sort of be "natural horsemanship" but only in that she uses a rope halter and lead and moves horses around on the ground. What I really like about how she does this is that she mainly focuses on their mental stability and focus rather than just moving them around until they submit. 
          Photos from

The first lesson was someone who hasn't been riding for very long but had a good grasp of basics. It was wonderful to see some amazing improvements after a 45 minute lesson and I, as always, learned a lot. The second was a women who has an advanced level dressage horse that has such major anxiety that she's never been able to show him. Jen had worked with them on Friday as well and by this lesson on Saturday he was soft, listening, and licking and chewing. People who had seen him both days couldn't even believe the difference and based on the horse she had today the rider was going to try to ride on Sunday!

There were two more intro - training level riders one of which just did a lesson on saddle fit. It made me check my saddle fit as soon as I got home but, other than still being slightly wide in front from the flocking settling (I do have it shimmed in front and that's working for now), it's fitting wonderfully.

Then I watched two training - first level riders and learned even more. The emphasis was on adjustability within the gaits and straightness. I've been starting to work on adjustability within trot and canter in my lessons so it was good to gain some more insight in this. One of the riders was also doing too much to balance her horse through the reins which is something I used to do a lot and still do at times. It was another great reminder to me.

After the clinic I went to the barn with two goals in mind. Straigtness and being able to send her forward or slow her within trot and canter. I also wanted to work on not loosing her shoulder. I decided that based on the weather, and for a chance to change things up a bit, I wanted to ride her outside. This was the second time that I've riden her outside so I figured she might be a little flighty. After pulling her into the barn and tacking up quickly I headed outside to make the best of the daylight. 

Indeed pony was quick and rushy so at first I just worked on getting her settled a little and slowing her tempo while lengthening her stride back to its new and improved length. I wasn't going to push for any kind of extension but just a good working gait. In a fairly short amount of time I was able to get her back to a good quality working trot so I went right to a canter. It was amazing!!! I swear she's been doing homework since it was one of the better canters I've gotten. I was also proud of myself because I put on my big girl pants and galloped her even in the new ring. We felt a little like we were going to win the Kentucky Derby (short pony legs eddition) and then when I asked she went right back to a nice working gait without any sass!

I was really impressed and ended with that especially since it was starting to get dark. I'm looking forward to my lesson tomorrow! Then next weekend Susanne Winslade will be teaching a clinic at my new barn! L really wants me to ride with her when she comes back next time (I think early next year?) so I'm going to go watch her next weekend. I'm especially excited about this since I know L wants me to ride with her :-)

Then on November 14th my friend H is riding for Janet Foy! I've never seen such renowned dressage clinician and having H actually ride for her is especially exciting! I can't wait to go to that clinic either.

I'm not thrilled that it's already late October but I'm so truly enjoying all of these amazing opportunities that I'm not even too unhappy that winter is coming.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Summer Favorites

I’ve been wanting to do a post like this for a long time. I actually had a post typed up for summer favorites but never completed it and didn’t have as many fun things to talk about. My idea is to do a seasonal favorites post about items used in the previous season since I would have a pretty good impression of the product by then. This summer in particular I feel like I had a lot of new things to try since I basically refitted Katai with a new saddle, new bridle, new reins etc. I’ve also been riding in a new wool pad and got some new dressage saddle pads that I really like but since that wasn’t until more recently they’ll need to wait for my fall favorites post.


So, let’s start off with my saddle!


In early spring I started saving for a Heritage Custom Saddlery mono flap dressage saddle and it arrived, I think, sometime in June. I was really hesitant to order this saddle since there was no opportunity for me to sit in one and during the waiting period while it was being made I was really concerned that I would get it and it wouldn’t fit or would just be uncomfortable or put me in a bad position. Luckily my fears proved to be untrue and it fit both pony mare and myself very well.


think my review of this saddle is almost completely positive with just really one small thing that I wish I could change. I would absolutely, 100%, do exactly the same thing again though and it’s a really amazing saddle.


 One thing I wish I could change is the placement of the stirrup bars. I’ve always had trouble with a chair seat no matter that placement but my personal confirmation wishes that these were a little further back. Matt will actually make saddles with adjustable stirrup bars so part of me wishes I’d done that but I also know that it adds more bulk and sometimes still doesn’t adjust to the point where it would be helpful. Instead, I’ve put small spacers on my bars to keep the leathers back a little further. Between that and working on my position I have no ongoing issues with this.


The only other small things right now are that the flocking has settled which is causing it to be a little low in front and #newsaddleproblems it’s still a little squeaky and smells strongly of new leather. I’ve actually never owned a new saddle before so these are obviously things I haven’t dealt with in the past J I’m currently trying to locate a good saddle fitter that can come out and reflock it but until then I have my wool pad!


This saddle is one of my favorites for obvious reasons and I hope that it works and fits Katai for a long time because its easily the best, most comfortable saddle that I’ve ever ridden in.


My new Micklem bridle is my next favorite item but honestly it didn’t easily make the list. It fits, doesn’t look bad on Katai’s particular head, and does what it’s supposed to but it also hasn’t been a magic bullet. I do think that Katai was a little more likely to take the bit when I first got it but ultimately her being comfortable going on contact came from hard work. She also still rubs her head after every ride so it hasn’t seemed to make much of a difference in that either.


So basically it does pretty much what any bridle I’ve ever owned would do and let’s face it, the leather just isn’t very nice. Mine is all wrinkled looking across the brow band and the lining around the nose seems to be coming unglued a little. Honestly, I’m really considering getting a PS of Sweden instead since they’re still anatomical bridles but with nicer leather and a more traditional look. With the price that is pretty far in the future right now though so I’ll happily keep riding in the Micklem for the time being.


The reason the Micklem makes the favorites list is that for a reasonable cost I have a nice bridle, in brown to match her saddle, that fits Katai. It was also her first exposure to any type of flash and she’s been really comfortable with it and never seemed to have any issue so I’ll chock that up to the Micklem and who knows, maybe she’ll hate any other bridle now that she’s worn this one! I also really like the way it’s designed with fewer leather straps. It just seems nice and simple and is easier to handle for cleaning than other bridles I’ve owned.


The next thing on my list of favorites is something I’ve been waiting to talk about for a while. It’s the Topline conditioning spray and it is AMAZING! This stuff smells like an Aveda salon in the best possible way. It’s very herby and almost has a toasty smell, it also leaves Katai nice and glossy without the same slipperiness of Show Sheen.



Unfortunately I have the last two known bottles in existence. *que crying*


I originally got this at a local tack store only because it was on clearance. Once I realized how much I liked it I started looking online for other products but couldn’t locate the company. Of course I went back to the store to ask and she said that it had been made by a local guy who had gone out of business and whatever they had was the last of it. I pretty much ran to the back of the store and found one more bottle. So I have 1.5 bottles of this amazing, incredible, perfect stuff and then it’s gone for good.


The Total Saddle Fit shaped girth is the final thing on my list. Of course this thing can’t make every saddle fit but it sure helps keep my saddle back where it should be on my pony (provided I remember to actually girth it up tightly enough J ) I’ve had one of these for a long time and I think I’ve talked about it before, however, I had an 18” but with my new saddle’s shorter billet straps I needed a longer one so I got a 24” and I love it just as much. The leather isn’t quite as nice on the 24” as the 18” but otherwise the quality is the same. I would absolutely order another if I ever needed to and have been eying the fleece cover that they now offer.


Since it was 34* out this morning and we are rapidly moving into Winter I will have a Fall Favorites review in a couple more months!

Monday, October 12, 2015

Back and Forth: Lesson Recap 10/11

Oops!! Just realized that this has been sitting in draft form. Just in time for me to do the next one.

I woke up on Sunday and just didn’t feel like myself. Over the past couple of months I’ve noticed how much changing my sleep schedule affects me and since I got too much sleep on both Friday night and Saturday night think that’s what was going on. I’m also really sensitive to weather change and after a few weeks of consistent mid-60s to low-70s Sunday’s high was in the 80s so that could have been it as well.


At any rate I pulled myself out of bed, got dressed to ride, and picked up a coffee on the way to the barn but I was feeling negative, tired, and just sort of out of it. Once at the barn I started to feel better as usual and was able to actually get Katai in the barn and tacked up for our ride despite feeling like I was still half asleep. At some point last week I thought I had heard L saying that she was going to ride Katai for my next two lessons but true to form, Katai decided to be a sweet heart for the lesson and so I think that L decided not to ride her. 


What she started us off with was changing the speed of the trot. She said that she’s noticed that Katai gets into a rhythm and doesn’t want to break it. “Hey lady, I’m trotting here.” she then tunes me out and doesn’t want to go faster or slower. This is, of course, going to be very important as we progress up the levels and it’s another moment where I’m so glad that I have an instructor who has ridden several levels above me since she can be proactive about correcting things now rather than when they become an issue. 


She had let me know that she didn’t want to start this too early with my pony since Katai has only recently started to trot at a decent tempo and rhythm and L has been concerned that we’ll blow her mind and she’ll regress. At this point though I think we are both feeling that Katai has truly passed that sewing machine phase and is ready for this concept before she gets too determined that she’s only got one trot speed again. L had me slow her trot until she almost broke into a walk and then push her up slowly to baby lengthenings. She cautioned me that she doesn’t want me working on this on my own since I still can’t really feel it and it would be too easy to teach both of us a bad habit. From working on this in my lesson I can absolutely agree that I’m glad I have an expert on the ground and my main takeaway is that I’m giving up too much rein when I’m pushing her forward which will teach her the opposite of what we want.


Then we started working on doing a canter transition out of that tiny trot. Katai nailed it a few times and then later, when I was just picking her up after a nice long walk break, she spazzed out and did a walk stride, canter stride, walk stride really balanced on her hind end. L laughingly told Katai not to show her how athletic she is or she’s going to have all sorts of fun new things to teach us J


After that long walk break we started working on the same thing in the canter. L wanted me to kick her up to a gallop and then bring her back to a small canter. I did push her but I think my enthusiasm was lacking because she really didn’t get faster at all until L intervened. L wants her to jump forward off my leg cue but I think it would help if I actually gave strong enough cue! I used to be terrified to canter and while I really trust Katai and have gotten over the worst of it I think my canter PTSD came back a little and I was reluctant to gallop feisty pony. That, in a nutshell, is my homework. L wants me to make sure that Katai really responds to my forward cues and even gallop her if needed and I need to make sure I’m confident about it and actually push her to go fast. Out on a beach or a trail I wouldn’t have any trouble but I’ve had a horse fall on me in an arena and I’ve seen a friend have a horse fall on them so that’s scarier for me. Unfortunately we don’t have any safe clear stretches of trail to practice on so the arena it is.


So, for next time hopefully a more forward pony, a braver rider, and maybe even some pictures!

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Video Recap - 10/5

Finally a video that I'm comfortable posting! I know we've got a lot of work to do, please forgive my complete and utter lack of ability to do anything properly with my upper body, but I'm so proud of how far we've come and Katai is seriously like a different horse!

I think this video is private so if you can't see it please let me know!

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

In Line with Charlotte: Lesson Recap 10/5

I’ve been trying to make time for lesson recaps even if nothing else just because as far as journaling my progress on this blog I think these are most important. I apologize for the continued lack of posts but I’m making baby steps to increase my blogging and at least weekly is better than I’ve done in the past :-)


My lesson was on Monday this week due to an event that L was attending so I rushed to get there after work. I like not having to plan my Sunday around a morning lesson but I really dislike being at the mercy of rush hour traffic to get to my lesson on time so I’ll keep my Sunday lesson thank you very much.


My rides this week have been rough but things were looking up on Sunday so I was hoping we could hold it together for my lesson. Katai started out prancing and stiff right off the bat but I got a good warmup in (thanks to rush hour traffic letting me get there on time) and so was in a better place by the time my lesson started. With that being said, she still felt like a stick of dynamite that could go off with the slightest leg pressure so when L asked how she was I explained my rides that week and let her know that this lesson may not be as productive as the last couple. Indeed when she asked me to pick her up Katai got sticky, sucked behind the leg and threatened to rear. L clicked and encouraged and I did a couple of my best pony club kicks and we got to a canter for a little while. After she had settled a little we got back to trot and started to make some progress! While we trotted and I worked on bend L coached that whenever she feels like that I need to send her forward as quick as I can. Gallop or canter or whatever it doesn’t matter but push my elbows forward and kick her on. I know this in theory but in practice I struggle to actually do it so that is one of my main take aways from this lesson and something I’m going to make sure I’m doing this week because it has such immediate results.


After that we had a really great lesson! Katai got sticky and stubborn once more after a walk break but this time she didn’t suck back, she just wanted to go. L coached me through it by again reminding me to just keep my body the same, keep doing the same thing, not to escalate and just to wait for her to comply so that I can praise her. She also reminded me to keep my leg on her and not keep taking it off since that just rewards her for doing the wrong thing. Of course with that expert advice I had a nice walk after a bit and we went back to trot.


Then, once I had a compliant pony, we worked on doing trot/canter transitions into the wall on a ten meter circle. I feel like starting with this lesson I’ve got more to work on than Katai. Her canter is so balanced and while certainly not fancy, it is easy to ride and she is comfortable doing it. I pulled her in an extremely small circle once, my fault for going into autopilot and not looking where I was going, and she just kept right on cantering and doing her best. I was stuck on the struggle buss and was having a tough time seeing the 10 meter circle so our snap was all over the place and couldn’t seem to make the transition at the right point. We finally got one good circle exercise and after a walk break started working on leg yields along the long sides. 


We pretty much had leg yields figured out on a spiral 20 meter circle at my last lesson so I’ve been working on my homework and slowly trying to get all the parts of my body to work together. This was another moment when I felt like I’ve got more to work on than Katai. I was struggling with turning down the quarter line and then wasn’t too bad yielding to the right but was blocking with my right rein when trying to leg yield to the left. I finally got it, and sort of felt it, so hopefully I can replicate that tonight when I ride!


Friday, October 2, 2015


This week has been a mixed bag. After last week being so amazing it's a little disappointing but I'm continuing to learn how to improve to make another incredible week possible.

My main issue has been my schedule. Being an adult sucks sometimes and recently I feel like there just isn't enough time in a day. After never having much of a social schedule I suddenly feel like I've got all kinds of events I could participate in and even with being selective I'm running out of time.

Last Sunday after my lesson I had finally decided to take the rest of the day for myself to decompress after my previous busy week. Unfortunately that still meant doing laundry, grocery shopping, cleaning out my car, cleaning my room, doing dishes, cooking dinner, and taking Veggie out for a walk since those were all things I failed at the week before.

On Monday I had my normal day off riding and thanks to my work from the day before I actually spent a quiet weekend, curled up in bed, binge watching How To Get Away With Murder (sooooo good, you should seriously watch it!). It was a wonderful quiet evening and I feel like I need more of those sometimes.

     How I function on my late barn nights

Then on Tuesday I had a date and was proud that I went straight from work, got there on time, did the whole date thing and then got home, took Veggie out and went to the barn. I had a WONDERFUL ride and got to hang out and talk horses with someone that I used to board with at the last barn who also moved because of what was going on there. I got home around 10:00 and pretty much went right to bed.

Wednesday I had my yearly physical, had to leave straight from work again, and had plans to ride but was just too burnt out to make it happen.
   The ladies at the barn found a Fresian weanling blanket that fits her perfectly so she's trying a new look :-)

Thursday I had a normal evening and rode again but between my haphazard schedule and Katai being in raging heat it was a rougher ride than we've been having. I'm proud though because I still got us to a good place by the end of the ride. There was just a lot more tension than there has been and she was being bit fussy.

Now tonight I was planning on riding again but that would have meant that by my lesson on Monday she would have been ridden for 5 days in a row and that's just too much for her right now. Plus I would have had to go to the barn straight from work and then get to a date straight from the barn. Probably better to not show up to a date wearing full seats, tall socks, and tennis shoes and smelling like the barn. Or that could be a good technique to find out if the guy will be tolerant of my horse habit :-)

So that leaves us in the sucky position of every other day rides so far this week which just isn't a good way to do things.

The plan going forward is to ride tomorrow morning and then I have a plans in the afternoon. I should still get some time to myself though which will be great. On Sunday I'm cheering for a friend who's running in a local marathon in the late morning and I'm planning on heading out to the barn to ride in the afternoon sometime. Then I have my lesson on Monday evening!

I'm hoping we can pull it together again by my lesson and am already making plans for how I can improve next week to make sure I get my five rides in. I'm not that disappointed that I only managed four this week since that's still really good especially considering everything going on right now. I just want to make sure that I get back to five before that feels like a stretch because that's how I've ended up at two rides per week in the past.


With my current decision to move I didn't have to think that long to decide which barn I would move to if I could. The barn I'm movi...