Show recap, Uncategorized

Show recap: Southlands Riding Club 2-3/4 Phase – XC

Ah, XC. The reason we’re all here: the glorious insanity of jumping immovable objects at high speed on unpredictable terrain. I’m not exactly an adrenaline junkie, but galloping through a giant field over tactical obstacles on a brave horse who is having the time of her life really is a rush that you can’t replicate elsewhere.

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Boss

Day 1 recap is found here covering our dressage and stadium rounds and culminating with us leading the division for reasons I can’t explain.

I walked the XC course after my riding was done on day 1, and it was a delightful and welcoming track with lots of ramp-style questions and 2 which were just little hills. We can do hills!

The course started on the big grass field, moved out onto the hogsfuel track (whee!), cut back through one of the arenas (fun!), back onto the field, back onto the track, and finishing in the field again. Obviously when I was walking it, some of the fences looked enormous (are we seeing the trend here in my life) but they were all beautiful to ride. None of them were set up particularly challenging which was perfect for my first XC ride of the year. The only thing we would blip at was going be the small ditch at #9, as Vesper has decided that she needs to be able to peek at ditches before hopping over. I tend to lose at least one of my stirrups when she does this, and #10 comes up hot, but then there was a long gallop to #11 if I did need time to recover my balance.

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Not a lot of time to recover if I get jostled around

Goals:

  • Not too fast
  • Not too slow
  • Stay in the saddle at the ditch
  • Have all the fun

I’ll be honest here, at the risk of incurring the wrath of horse people everywhere: I slept in and only worried mildly about my horse through the morning. My ride time was 3:30pm and my husband convinced me that we did not need to be there at 7am again… The horse had a full hay net and multiple water buckets and could survive a couple of hours without me being helicopter mom. I took the bait, resulting in me drinking a real coffee and eating a real breakfast since I had hours to go before the show nerves would really kick in. My horse is used to 1 grain meal a day sometime in the afternoon, and even then she’s not particularly interested in it since she gorges herself on hay and grass all day long. So “routine” is not a huge deal in her life. I got about an hour of peace before I started worrying that she was starving to death in her stall or had drowned in her own manure or similar. Husband exercised his unfathomable well of patience and ceded to my wheedling to get us on the road again. Bless him, he often suggests that arriving an hour before my ride time is sufficient.

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We barely parked before I was already out of the truck heading to Vesper’s stall, imagining the dirty looks my neighbors would give me as I roll in to check on my horse 6 hours later than I could have. Beyond an empty hay net she was perfectly fine, proceeding to nibble a small amount of grain which indicates that she was starving exactly 0%. She got fresh everything and we went for a walk to stretch her legs.

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Favourites

I was very aware of our standing in the division and the necessity of a clear XC round to maintain it. I’ll take a moment here to mention that it was absolutely beautiful out; getting hot but not “I’m going to die of heat stroke” bad. It hadn’t rained in a handful of days, so I didn’t have to worry at all at the fact that I skipped hind shoes at this last shoeing rotation; the footing was going to be excellent.

Somehow I managed to survive the interminable waiting for 3ish hours, and as I was about to get tacked up my mom and nephew showed up to cheer us on. Naturally pony rides are required.

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Trying to subtly restrain the jazzed event horse who just wants to do anything except stand still

Now, I’m going to ask a rhetorical question that has plagued me for eons: why is it that, at every single show, I can arrive 3+ hours prior to my ride time, give myself ages to tack up and get changed, and I still manage to be short on time and starting to panic by the time I’m ready to warm up? I am such a basket case if there’s even a hint of being delayed, and no matter how much extra time I allot, I am always delayed at shows. There’s a time vortex involved.

It’s worth mentioning that this seasoned horse knows what’s up. She knows the difference between the tack for dressage and the tack for XC. She didn’t want to stand still during tack up, and the moment I was mounted she was jigging in the warm up ring. There was some gallop and a couple of fences to get ourselves in gear, but otherwise I focused our warm up on walking; just to keep her moving but prevent her brain from fizzling into oblivion. The more forward work you do with this horse, the more amped she gets; she just never tires out. I know how much she freaking loves this part of the job, otherwise it would probably make me frustrated at how little “chill” she can have.

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The face of someone who just wants to stand quietly for a minute

And, as we mentioned before about the vortex, I allowed my husband to hang onto the GoPro too long and they called me to the start box before I had even put it on my helmet. Poor husband got to listen to me swearing semi-quietly in panic as he tried to adjust it on my helmet while my horse danced around him. I’m so used to them starting without you if you aren’t ready, but I realized shortly after that this show was chill and probably wouldn’t have done that. I just can’t handle cutting it that close. And because we didn’t test the camera first, the whole video is of the beautiful blue sky as we gallop merrily around! So no helmet cam for anybody this time. 😥 You can watch my husband’s video here which covers the whole ride, except for the moments when we’re on the track beyond visibility.

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Hello, Percheron breeding

As far as the ride went, I was exhausted in about 73 seconds because I had z.e.r.o. brakes. Vesper dragged me around that course like a kite in a headwind, which was not helped by my stirrups being too long. Thank goodness she’s such a pro and I trust her, because there was not a whole lot of inter-species communication happening up there lol. The pelham did absolutely nothing for the first time ever BUT it also sort of didn’t matter that much, beyond my offense that she was ignoring me. The jumps are so manageable for her at this height and none of the course was difficult, so although I wasted a lot of energy trying to get her to ease off the bit, I eventually just left her mostly alone and steered. As nice as it would be to occasionally feel like I have a say in how XC goes, I cannot overstate how much I enjoy riding an experienced horse who knows and loves her job! I regularly thank God that I didn’t end up buying a youngster like I originally planned.

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I was so exhausted here between #10 and #11

We stormed the “barn” at #1, almost tripped onto her face when the footing changed to the hogsfuel track for #2 because she was so keen, blasted through #3 and #4 on the track and I finally got a modicum of control going into the arena for #5 bending line to #6. That was short lived as we came back out into the field for the up and down bank at #7a-b which she pinged across like NBD, hunting down the upright at #8. She allowed me to suggest we trot into the ditch at #9, which still got a pause and a side-eye, but I didn’t lose my stirrups so we made it over and to #10 and galloped tiredly across to the ramp combo of #11 and #12 where I chipped us in because I just wanted some kind of brakes.

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#13 was a shaded upright to a mini hill(!) at #14 down to a ramp at #15. #16 was a bigger hill down to #17 my first ever skinny, and the watch was saying 30 seconds to optimum time. We headed back onto the hogsfuel track for an upright at #18 and I decided to push the pace out a little bit to come out strong to the last jump #19 which was the adorable “picture frame”. We crossed the finish 7 seconds under OT for a very strong double clear round!

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We were both pretty puffed, me more than her. I regret holding her face so much through the whole thing, but I recognize that we just need to spend some more schooling time before our next one to work on that. She will very happily run every course at Intermediate speed. Husband was cheering me and I knew that he realized that we had basically won the division, but I was so bagged that I couldn’t think much beyond “my horse is amazing, where is the nearest water”.

Ours was the last division of the day to go, so most of the entries had already packed up and gone home. We had to wait until the very end of the day to collect our results, which was totally worth it: we took home our first ever red ribbon and championship prize for an event!

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I teared up more than once, realizing what a milestone this is for me personally. Yes, the blanket is beautiful, and the ribbon is huge, and we even won a saddle pad for having the top score across the divisions for riders over 18… But I am a girl who has spent her whole life trying to be an excellent rider and never feeling “good enough”; who wrecked her shoulder in a high speed riding accident and developed major riding anxiety; who couldn’t jump anything over 2′ for years and years and who certainly couldn’t ever leave the quiet hunter ring. I am a girl who met a horse that took every ounce of trust she could barely let go of, who taught her how to be brave and how to truly trust in an equestrian partnership. Who forgave every mistake that I made out of fear and who always brought 150% even those times that I accidentally shut her down. They say that to ride a horse is to fly without wings, and Vesper has unfailingly lent me her wings every time we saddle up.

So yeah… we won the Pretraining division! And walked away with the top dressage score for all senior divisions. I still have to sit back and process that sometimes.

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Here’s to the horses that “made” us. I deeply admire those equestrians who bring along their own, untrained horses – but my heart belongs to those schoolmasters who turn us into riders.

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Show recap, Uncategorized

Show recap: Southlands Riding Club 2-3/4 Phase – Dressage & stadium

I’ll split this one over 2 posts so that it doesn’t turn into a Wheel of Time book.

This one was a doozy, let me tell you. “Unexpected” doesn’t quite do it justice! This show was intended as a fun weekend to get back into the swing of eventing, get my boots wet, chill and enjoy the vibe, etc. I had no plans at all for any kind of ribbon – I just wanted to ride a better dressage test than we have previously and not ruin my knee going XC.

Based on our results from last season, my focus has been dressage lessons since my horse doesn’t appear to know how to stop at a fence or knock a rail once she’s in competition mode. No matter how ugly I set her up.

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Who is driving this thing anyway

Our last few events placed us based on our dressage score since she always goes clean in the stadium and XC. I’ll embarrass myself for a minute here and admit that until last August, I had no idea how the scoring actually worked, so I didn’t realize that folks weren’t joking when they said “dressage is important in eventing!” So now we dressage, which I actually love doing in a schooling environment; my dressage saddle is 1000% comfier than my jump saddle to begin with, and the feeling of unlocking true connection with my horse is way cool. So my limited lesson money has been going towards sandbox lessons and they have been immensely helpful in teaching us warm up techniques that target our weak areas and how to highlight our strong points.

Since this would be my first event since last October, and my first since knee surgery, I had pretty simple goals going into the weekend:

  • Enjoy it!
  • Remember the dressage test
  • More forward in dressage
  • Lots of softening/bending in dressage
  • More forward in stadium
  • Keep both stirrups at the ditch in XC

I don’t ask for much as you can see. This was also my first time stabling Vesper at a show, since it was going to be about a 1.5 hour drive each way (on tight city roads no less) from her stable to the venue, and I was straight up not doing that multiple times in a weekend. I already deal with performance anxiety, I don’t need to compound that with trailering anxiety! Instead I got to deal with “I’ve abandoned my horse in an unknown environment, what if she runs out of food/water/oxygen” anxiety. Thankfully, none of those things happened (hallelujah for hay nets) and she didn’t hang herself from boredom either. She was a big time Show Horse™ in her younger days, for which I am endlessly thankful because she knows the drill and is super chill at shows. It was very convenient to have a stall for her instead of tying her to the trailer and spending the day wondering if she’s pulled free yet.

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Priorities: find the boys. Bend them to your will.
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I don’t care how much of your body is out as long as no hooves leave that stall

Dressage was 9am on Saturday, so naturally I was awake by 5am and unable to eat or drink due to butterflies. Poor husband can’t bear the idea of taking 2 vehicles to the same location, so he kindly made himself semi-awake to accompany me to the show for just after 7am. Vesper was still alive and hadn’t injured herself, so that was a major plus. After breakfast I tried to remember how to braid, with husband valiantly helping to keep her head still. I am regularly reminded of how happy I am to have roached Vesper’s mane, when I only have to braid her forelock instead of her entire front end. It’s a good thing I left the hunters!

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That’s enough for me thanks

Also, fun fact: I had sent out my dressage saddle for a bit of an overhaul a few days prior and just found out on the Friday morning that the tree is cracked. Cue the sound of my heart breaking into itty bitty chunks. It certainly simplified things to only bring 1 tack set instead of 2, although inside I was crying over my beautiful Regal saddle and worrying about trying to sit the trot in my jump saddle after being so spoiled by basically riding in a cloud for the last 11 months. I definitely had a couple of moments worrying (absurdly) if our tack would affect our score in some way as I watched the other riders warm up in their lovely matching black and white tack, but I noticed that I wasn’t the only one in jump tack – and then I remembered that eventers are the coolest and as long as you’re neat and tidy and within the rules, nobody cares what you’re wearing.

Warm up was lovely, as per usual; V always warms up very focused and right away she was offering forward, swinging gaits. The hard part is maintaining that type of ride into the test as well, but coach had provided us with some good exercises to work on. She also suggested that posting the trot might make for a nicer test, since we both tend to tense up a smidgen when sitting. I tried both posting and sitting in the warm up, and decided to ride the test posting just to see if it made any difference in our score.

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We fance

As for the test, I was pretty darn pleased with how it went. Vesper has a tendency to lock up and really resist me through the bit and rib cage once we ride into the ring, but this time around she actually stayed quite supple and didn’t try and take control and just barge around. Posting definitely helped us both stay relaxed and encouraged the forward that I have trouble with. I felt like our test was really accurate, especially considering how little I actually ride 20m circles. I remembered to smile most of the time (smiling won me my first blue ribbon at my first horse show ever during the leadline walk class at the age of 8 okay) and be “present” in each moment. It felt way more like an opportunity to show off my horse and what we’ve worked on instead of You Are Now Being Judged, which was a really nice change for me.

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We dance

You can watch the whole test on YouTube here and have a chuckle at how we practically don’t even halt at the end, she’s just so ready to move on to the next thing.

There were some really lovely pairs in my division, and I saw a couple of rides that I knew were going to take the top scores. I felt that our test was the best we’ve ever ridden, but I wouldn’t have marked it in the same class as the gorgeous paint/draft mare who followed us, for example. Have I mentioned that I love the diversity in this niche of our sport? Any breed, colour, gender, age can be successful.

We were able to move right into the stadium portion which was awesome, since we were already warmed up and a tack change wasn’t necessary this time! I opted to jump her in the snaffle again because it was such a success last time and it helps me think “forward” when I don’t have a heavy duty e-brake in the pelham. All I had to do was swap out my stirrups for my wide-bed ones and shorten my leathers and then we headed to the jump warm up ring.

As she is now 19, I avoid over-jumping Vesper; she’s a pro, so all we need to do is adjust the gears a little bit and let her know what height we’ll be working at. A cross rail, 1-2 times over the vertical at height and an oxer at height is all we really need as long as it goes pretty smoothly. I sat my butt down, kept my body back and rode to our fences so it went smooth and quick since our dressage had us both limbered up. I will take this moment to mention that I am SURE that at least the warm up oxer was 3’3″ and I didn’t. even. flinch. riding up to it. *air punch* You can’t imagine what a big deal that is for me, who couldn’t jump over 2′ not that long ago. We didn’t even have to wait to go in for our round which is amazing when you compare it to jumper shows where you’re waiting around for ages.

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The jumps finally sized themselves down to a more manageable appearance once I was in the ring on V’s back, and I don’t have room for anxiety once I’m actually riding; it’s just a “get ‘er done” mentality. I got us a bit stuck to begin with as usual, chipping in more often than I’d like. Around jump #4 I finally figured out our pace, especially since it was coming off a turn and I find those way easier than a long gallop down the straight. There were a couple of rollbacks that required some planning, but the only speedbump we had was at #6 when we weren’t totally in sync and we did that hilarious air-stride that cracks me up whenever I see other horses doing it. That was a first for us as far as I’m aware of:

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Saving my a** all the day long

We galloped through the dreaded 2 stride #7a-b no problemo for a change, and Vesper decided she’d had enough of me screwing us up and basically hauled me to the big oxer at #8 which was totally fine because she knows better than I do. That finally got us motoring (thank you unicorn) and we cruised around the last 3 jumps nice and clean. Full round is here.

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I finally learned how to look for my next jump

I’m still not offering the release I should be, and I’m still not getting a forward enough gallop, but it really is improving every round we do, and I love the security of actually enjoying myself instead of potentially losing control of my bowels. We have a lot of moments where I am air punching in my head as we work through the course.

Between a really strong (for us) dressage test and a very secure stadium round, I was feeling super pleased with how things were going so far. As I was grooming the Queen post-jumping, I was eavesdropping on my neighbors discussing their placings in our division. One girl mentioned she was “just looking it up” and I realized that I didn’t have to walk all the way over to the club house to check my results for dressage: I could just check it on Startbox. I was only mildly curious as to our standing, expecting to be somewhere in the middle which generally has been our norm. I opened it on my phone and saw the following:

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Um what

My instinctive response to this was, “there seems to be an error on the site” because I couldn’t possibly imagine in a billion years that we would be leading with our dressage score!? And a score below 30? I was floored, I must have stood there like a knob staring at my phone for a solid couple of minutes trying to process this information. I mean… it was a great test for what we’ve been trying to accomplish, but I would not have put us on the same level as some of the other pairs I watched. Yes, you are your own worst critic, but I wasn’t been unrealistically critical – I just didn’t think my test was a first place test! Obviously my opinion is irrelevant however, and the judge liked what she saw from us.

My dressage coach received a message immediately from me, as did my husband who was napping in the truck and responded appropriately as below:

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#same

I definitely sort of maybe teared up in that moment? No one was around to witness it except my horse though and there’s no way she’s testifying to that. Really though, it was so unexpected… I just came for a good time – and maybe that’s the key to all of this! Performance is shown to improve when one is enjoying themselves. We nabbed a couple of 8’s on our test in areas that aren’t normally quite that strong which is evidence of the work we have put in, and I’m really proud of my horse for being so willing to work with me on the tough stuff.

This was all fun and amazing until I realized that suddenly I actually cared about my result in this event because I discovered that I could go home with a really nice championship cooler (and gigantic rosette) if we stayed on top. Also to maybe walk away with a first place doing something that I never imagined that I would have the confidence or skills to ever even try? Activate competition mode, subset anxiety mode. Vesper has never had any issues with XC (other than maybe trying to go Intermediate pace at every single level and needing to peek down into every ditch) so I knew that we just had to stay under OT to maintain our placing. Of course, now that there was a win on the line, my nerves were chewing me up for the rest of the day.

We did go for a walk along the Iona Beach causeway after Vesper went back into her stall; it’s an 8km round trip, because why not do extra exercise on show weekend? My Fitbit counted me in at 35,000 steps that day including what was ridden on the horse. I may not be taking those steps per say, but I am definitely burning calories in the saddle so it counts.

Her ladyship got a walk around the property and a new haynet in the evening before we headed home; she had survived the first night without me so I was a little more chill about abandoning her the second time. It’s a good thing I was so exhausted from the day that I didn’t have the capacity to stay awake worrying about absolutely nothing at all.

Stay tuned for XC recap!

review, Uncategorized

Millbrook stirrup leathers: Review

I always swear that I’m going to stay more updated with this blog, but then I get busy and yadda yadda. Although it really is a wonderful thing to be too busy riding to blog about it, hey?

Anyway, moving right along. Let’s review the famous and coveted (at least they are here in North America) Millbrook stirrup leathers! For those of you who want the quick or “tl;dr” version: they are nice, but not worth the price tag.

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Wide. Pretty. Modeled by yak.

I was introduced to these wide leathers via Instagram and the consistent review that got my attention was how much more stable they were making everyone’s leg than your standard sized leathers. I am a long time involuntary subscriber to the Crappy Lower Leg Society, so anything that might help this problem is something I’ll look into further. “There’s no substitute for hard work!” you say. “Yes but I’ll take any advantage I can!” I reply as I tie my stirrups to my girth with yarn.

The leathers are originally made in France by Pravins Sellier but are sold by the American company Millbrook Leathers. I follow Millbrook on IG and I really appreciate how family-oriented they are; lots of posts about their riding school and positive encouragement for riders. Plus the photo on their website of their founder Alexia is literally her throwing her arms in the air cheering for her students, which warms my heart greatly! They also sell the most adorable spur covers and fun customized half chaps.

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EXCUSE ME I need every single colour

The price of the leathers originally prevented me from following through on a purchase. Ringing in at $210 CAD, they are way beyond what I consider a reasonable price for a pair of stirrup leathers in my personal budget. However, I had aggressive knee surgery in November 2018 and as I was getting back into riding with my rehab, I decided that I wanted to give my knee the best possible chance of an excellent recovery, so I purchased a pair of the wide leathers directly from the Millbrook site. It would be money well spent if the stability they offered gave my knee a good base of support while rehabbing.

Using a coupon code from one of their sponsored riders on IG, I paid $210 CAD including shipping to have them delivered to my USA postal box (very thankful that I live so close to the border). I ordered the 53″ (135cm) in brown for my jump saddle – I asked the company directly what size they recommended for me. For reference, I am 5’8″; there is much discussion about what size to order depending on your preference. The leathers are often noted to stretch out, as they are fully leather with no nylon core. Millbrook also does not permit returns on the stirrup leathers, so it pays to take time

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Sizing notes from the Millbrook website

As everyone says, they are stiff when they arrive, although not quite as bad as some folks seemed to indicate. They were both nicely made, well-stitched, well-stamped and the cute little logo button on the ends is a sweet touch. They aren’t perfectly uniform in colour, but it’s a very natural look and they darken easily with oil application. The website recommends olive oil, but I just had neatsfoot on hand.

I didn’t bother “breaking them in” on a stall bar or similar… I just oiled them, threw them on the saddle and got riding. After 2 or 3 rides I didn’t notice them anymore, which is basically how I classify something as being broken in.

The major questions:

Do they stretch? Yes they do. The reason I know this is because my leasor always rides with one leather shorter than the other, and because these are not lined, the stretch-out was very obvious when I put them back on even holes. We nipped that in the bud, because $200 is way too much to risk on uneven leathers. The stretch hasn’t been noticeable now that they are balanced out again, although my jumping has been super limited post-surgery.

Do they stabilize your leg? Yeeessssss… Somewhat. Are they magical? Definitely not. Did they make enough of a difference for my weak knee to justify $200? Sadly, no. I just don’t really notice much of a change between them and my “normal” leathers. My husband did actually notice a difference, which I found interesting! He is a beginner and has only ridden in my saddle maybe 10 times, but he commented the first time he tried them, saying he felt more steady with less leg wobble.

Would I recommend them? Only if you aren’t concerned with budgeting or price.

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One reviewer commented she couldn’t run up her stirrups? I have no issues with that clearly

Apparently Ovation has their own (much cheaper) version of these but they only come in brown and 52″ – they also seem to be back ordered on every site I’ve checked. They are listed at $43 USD which is far more in my budget. I was going to try and get a black pair for my dressage saddle, but I need black 60″ which doesn’t exist yet. If anyone has these, please let me know what you think of the quality!

Now please excuse me while I go and pick out some spur covers to hoard and never wear because they’re far too pretty to get dirty at the barn?!

Uncategorized

Show recap: MREC jumper rounds

6 months post-op and we finally made it to a horse show 😍 MREC is probably my favourite show location; their facility is gorgeous and the prices are so reasonable, it makes all of their shows very appealing and accessible for me of the Budget Tribe.

I intended to purchase just 2 rounds: the first one would definitely be a 2’9″ class (because I can cruise around that height without any problems) and the second one would maybe be a 3’… to be decided depending on how the first round went. And then I was going to bop around their gorgeous XC course and see if I remembered how to ride something other than a stick fence.

I had a few simple goals for our first show this year:

  1. Have fun. This seems so obvious, but I get performance anxiety and used to be a vicious perfectionist, so it always has to be my #1 priority with my riding these days.
  2. Come away feeling confident. Whatever rounds I chose to do, I wanted to leave feeling strong and ready for the next thing, not riddled with anxiety and doubt. If this meant that I arrived and had to coast around a 2′ round to make that happen, that’s what I was going to do!
  3. Ride an “uphill” canter through each round. Or as uphill as my draft cross will ever get. Which isn’t much, but we’ve been dressaging and gosh darn it if that won’t help our jumping too!
  4. Sit back and keep my heels down to the fences. Because… duh.
  5. Allow my horse to go forward in the contact and avoid micromanaging her every step on our approaches.
  6. Be knee pain-free!
Summer shinies on their way

The weather was absolutely perfect: sunny with a small breeze and the occasional cloud cover. Vesper had a freshly washed tail, freshly roached mane and much of her thick winter hair has disappeared so she looked way more like something belonging at a show than a plough horse with mange. Doesn’t it feel good when you know your horse looks great?! My mom came to watch and brought my 4 year old nephew along who spent most of the visit asking to pet all the pretty horses. #adorbs #start’emyoung

We had the usual 10 years while of warm up time before the 2’9″ rounds started, so I took my time working on elements of our dressage lessons to help keep us supple and balanced. Lots of bending around my inside leg, releasing tension in the poll, riding up under my leg to avoid dumping on the forehand… Because of how well this has all been going at home, I decided to take a risk and try Vesper in her loose ring snaffle at the show. We always school in the snaffle at home, but we show over fences in the pelham because Her Ladyship tends to get really strong when she knows she’s competing and I always felt the need to micromanage. I figured, what the hell – if she runs through it completely, it’s only 2’9″ and I’ll just not fall off. She was being very polite about balancing off my seat in our warm up so I was feeling relatively positive about experimenting with the lighter bit. Dressage is a thing, yo.

One benefit about arriving that early before our class means that I know the course to death, because I end up watching about 50 other riders go at the lower height. Memorizing a course is way easier for me if I can watch others ride it, as opposed to just reading it off the posted map. Bless the jumpers for always having numbered fences.

My first round went a little bumpy, which was to be expected after all our time off. I was sometimes seeing my distances but I definitely wasn’t being helpful enough to my horse so there was a lot of “Yes? No? Do we- Oh crap” going on. We chipped in to almost every fence, to the point that I actually had to tap her shoulder with the whip in our jump off as she started backing herself off too much. That being said, she pinged around with her usual unicorn-ness and I – miracle of miracles – sat up to the fences? Mostly kept my leg on and rode actively to the fences? I bet most of our blips were from my horse being so shocked that I wasn’t just being a passenger.

Based on that “meh” round, I decided to just keep my second ride to the 2’9 height and work out the kinks instead of moving up to 3′. I wanted to walk away feeling really confident, and if I wasn’t riding the technical aspects well at the lower height, I definitely did not deserve to move up that day.

Round 2 was absolutely beautiful in comparison. I don’t remember us missing a distance (maybe just once)! I sat up to each fence, allowed Vesper to move forward in the contact on our approaches instead of pulling back every stride and we flowed together so well! She was starting to abuse the lighter bit by the time we got to the jump off (dragging me through the contact a little too much) but I was successful in rebalancing her in the turns and kind of just let her have her way for the last couple of jumps. Plot twist: sitting back actually works to prevent dumping on the forehand! What a discovery. There’s so much that my brain has known for years, but somehow I’ve only been able to physically apply it in the last 24 months or so.

The result of the classes was a 4th place ribbon, although I wasn’t there to get a place; I just wanted to check off my goals and it genuinely felt like the nicest round we’ve ever had, so I count us as winners there!

When everyone in the photo except you has their selfie face on

After a break, we took to the lovely XC field for some fun. Vesper decided back in October that ditches suddenly require close inspection and/or avoidance, so we spent some time schooling those which was a bit difficult for anxious me. I wanted to support her to go forward but had to ride defensively so that I didn’t get dumped in the dirt, and it’s been 7 months since I last rode anything resembling a XC question. We managed to get through it a handful of times (all of which caused me to lose one or both stirrups), and did a bit of work with the water which had also become an element requiring too much consideration. Vesper became an absolute dragon the moment she realized what we were out there to do – as much work as it is keeping her from just blasting off, I do love how much she enjoys that type of work.

Happiest pon

We only spent about 20-30 minutes playing, and managed to enjoy ourselves over some of the PT fences we rode last season which was a lovely confidence boost. I was intending to attend a local derby show the following weekend, but based on our shaky confidence with some XC elements, I decided we’ll skip that one in favour of some more play time in the big grassy field 🙂

I will also mention that this was my first real test of the Millbrook stirrup leathers that I purchased back in February, so keep an eye out for my review of those coming soon!

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Review: Mondoni Aspen boots

I am looking forward to doing more reviews on my blog this season, as I’m the type of person who loves to read reviews of products before purchasing. I’m also a super budget buyer so if you’re looking for deals, I’m your girl; I never shell out for the expensive stuff.

Let’s dive right into this one! These are the Mondoni Aspen boots from Divoza Horseworld, an online tack store in The Netherlands.

Hello, gorgeous

I had been hunting for decades months for a brown tall boot that I could wear as a daily “lifestyle” boot after I discovered the exquisite (and wrenchingly expensive) Regina boots by Fairfax & Favor, over which I thirsted for many weeks before accepting that my wallet could not justify that kind of price. Especially because the conversion from GBP to CAD is absolutely brutal. My size is also never in stock apparently, which is probably for the best because then I had no other option but to accept my fate as a non-owner of Fairfax boots.

My tall boot search was greatly hindered by my height of 5’9 and my acclimatization to riding boots which fit nice and tall; most fashion boots fit a lot shorter (like 14-16″) and those just make my muscular calves look enormous. I wanted something at least 17″ tall, brown, no heel, simple design and doesn’t cost the equivalent of my left kidney. Major points if it had tassels. I literally spent months hunting on every site I could find, checking all the local shops, to no avail – everything was less than 16″ tall and/or had a heel. It was a dark time in my life.

I first discovered the Mondoni brand when I bought a pair of used tall boots off a Facebook horsey buy/sell page, because I’d given up finding something online and figured these would be as close as I could get to my Unicorn Boot. They were too big in the foot, and slightly different colours (from sun exposure maybe? Who knows) but I was exhausted from hunting. I went online to see what I could find out about the brand as far as retail value, reviews, etc. and as I was scrolling through their online selection, the Aspen boots revealed themselves in all of their glory.

I’ll skip the part of the story about my elation and trepidation, but including shipping to Canada they cost me a total of $285 CAD. I was willing to extend my fragile budget up to $250 in order to get a pair that I loved, which was a success except for the $30 duty fee which I forgot about and was dinged with when it arrived.

Shipping was quite quick for what I expected from Europe, I think they arrived in about a week. I literally gasped when I opened the box and saw them for the first time. They were basically everything that I had been hunting for.

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Milk chocolatey goodness

The full grain leather wasn’t as orangey as the online photo suggests; it is the colour of milk chocolate and I’m pretty sure I had literal heart-eyes when I peeled back the packaging. The leather definitely looked on the fragile side, like it would scuff really easily. I pulled them out and they felt super soft and more durable than I originally thought, and as beautiful as they looked. To my surprise, I discovered that the entire boot is lined with sherpa, which I obviously did not notice when ordering online. I had mixed feelings about this, since I was hoping to wear them through spring and fall and had concerns that they might be too warm. There is a stretch panel with elastic in the back which is always a yay for my calves, and a really adorable button closure at the top of the zipper. The sole is rubber and very sturdy.

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I was anxious about the size, since I can wear anything from a US 8 – 9.5 depending on the brand. I ordered a 39R which comes with a height of 18.5″ and a calf width of 14.2″ (my calf generally measures in at 14.5″ so I was biting my nails). The foot bed is actually about half a size too big, but the calf fits nice and snug with the elastic panel; as much as I’d prefer a more snug-fitting foot, I could never squish into the calf of the next size down. I have a pair of Ovation paddock boots in a size 39 which fit me like a glove, so clearly Europeans have the same problem as North Americans where sizes are totally different across brands.

I immediately applied leather conditioner and waterproofing from Nikwax because these were going to be my “dailies” through the rain of winter and spring in Vancouver, BC. It turns out that they are already super waterproof without it, but I felt better being extra careful. I also had my heart set on having a pair of boots with tassels, because Fairfax ruined me, so I marched off to the nearest Michael’s craft store to make my dream come true. High five, crafty self!

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Look at the adorableness of this

So I’ve had the boots for 4 months now and can speak more to their longevity. As far as the leather goes, yes it does scuff very easily but it rubs out just as easily with some leather oil or conditioner, which leaves them a beautiful rich, chocolatey brown. Here they are after a few weeks of no conditioner:

As far as fit goes, they are quite loose through the ankle on me (did I mention my calves) and have “fallen” a bit, and they give me very minor rubs around my upper heels but only if I walk for extended periods in them. The leather is soft but the structure of the boot is still to be fully broken in; they feel firm without being uncomfortably stiff, which leaves me hopeful that they won’t drop or sag much. The sherpa lining is wonderful for cold winter days, but can be warm when our weather fluctuates into spring; wearing a thinner sock helps but the foot bed is still too large for me. I’ve been meaning to try a liner to fill space but keep forgetting! The height of the shaft is perfect for me and the sole is extremely sturdy with great grip during the winter months.

The leather strips over the elastic panel have some fraying and cracking but that appears to be inevitable based on the way they’re attached. It’s negligible to me TBH.

Overall I love these boots. They’re beautiful and almost exactly what I was looking for at something like less than half the price of the Fairfaxes. I would call them very comparable to the Fairfax Imperial Explorer which appear more sturdy than the Reginas. Considering that you can pay $250 for a pair of fashion boots at a department store that are way less durable, I’m pretty chuffed with this purchase. I do wish they didn’t have sherpa, but whatever. They’re tall, sturdy, waterproof and gorgeous. And I can interchange my tassel colours so basically I’ve won at life.

**I’m editing this to add that I went onto Divoza’s website again today and discovered that their shipping prices to Canada and the US has gone up to 75 euros standard rate, which is the equivalent of $113 CAD! Unfortunately nothing could justify me ever spending that much on shipping, so I’ll have to quit drooling over their bridles. Those of you shopping from Europe or the UK won’t have that same price to worry about, you lucky dogs.

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Digging in

So we all know that I had to take 3 months off from riding this winter due to a major knee surgery (I’m still bitter that the snow didn’t start in December and get itself over with like I expected, but instead held off starting until I was back riding in February. You suck, winter), and due to other extra curriculars happening in my life, I didn’t start riding consistently again until late March. That’s almost 5 months of down time, and rebuilding my stamina has been a work in progress. We aren’t going to discuss relearning how to post the trot. Or irrelevant details like how to ride in general.

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We have this totally under control

Last week I decided that we were fit enough that we could handle a dressage lesson, since a full length jumping lesson would still probably be too much for my knee. I did warn my coach that we had been off all winter and she would need to go a bit easy on us, but otherwise I was feeling very optimistic. Call me psychotic, but I actually really enjoy dressage lessons… Almost more than jumping lessons? I love the feel of unlocking things in my communication with Vesper and the sensation of what I fondly think of as “leveling up” in the simplest things; plus we know that I get anxiety when jumping, so there’s that too.

I jumped this for fun, because I am 784% mentally stable obviously. I’m 5’9.

Most of the details aside, during my lesson I ended up blowing through all my reserves of energy and strength that I had in the tank and went way beyond physical perseverance into the realm of mental perseverance. I felt like I had been beaten with a hammer on almost every part of my body, and I could barely walk that evening! In retrospect, I clearly just needed to request more rest breaks to prevent that kind of physical exhaustion – but in the moment all I could focus on was putting my best effort in to achieve what my coach was asking of me. Much of it was super simple things, like just getting my really long, front-heavy mare to work correctly over her back, but I’m a lazy rider if I’m not in a lesson and I’m not very disciplined at developing those muscles. I swear Vesper activates her draft blood the moment I put the dressage saddle on.

It made me consider the psychology of sports and about the fortitude of our mental “grit”. Equestrians are some of the “grittiest” folks I know, but most people who have played competitive sports know the feeling that I’m talking about: when you physically do not have anything left to give, but somehow you bear down and will yourself to keep going. Part of me is embarrassed to admit that I practically had an out-of-body-exhaustion experience from a dressage lesson of all things, but to ride Correctlyrequires a lot more effort from me than just bopping around a stadium or XC course .

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It’s really hard to get even this much collected from either of us

I read this great quote from Henry Ward Beecher:

The difference between perseverance and obstinacy is that one comes from a strong will, and the other from a strong won’t.

I love the difference here between a positive, “will” and a negative, “won’t“. There’s a sense of pride that comes afterwards, knowing that I could overcome what was physically hard and reap the rewards of success. I find that a mindset of “won’t” tends to block progress, especially with horses! It’s something I have to be mindful of daily when working with an independent and strong-willed mare.

There’s something about horses that inspires me to dig deeper into my resources (be that physical capacity, mental capacity, determination, etc) than other areas of my life. Perhaps it is the partnership and knowing that my horse is giving to me unreservedly; so why shouldn’t I be doing the same? I find the feeling of us working together 100% to be totally addictive – when we’re both super focused and determined and pushing ourselves physically.

What about you? Are there areas in your riding where you find yourself tapping into that deep perseverance?

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Welcome back

Well folks, it’s been a while! I took a long break from blogging for a few reasons; the primary one is that I had major knee surgery in November 2018 and had literally nothing to post about since I didn’t ride for 2 (tragic) months. I also didn’t specifically know what I wanted this blog to really be about beyond chronicling my riding achievements and adventures.

Now that my knee has healed enough to allow me to get back into riding, I decided to revamp my blog a bit and get back into posting, with the intention of recording my training and showing progress this year, offering product reviews and perhaps discussion topics. At the very least, it’s a handy space for me to keep a riding “journal” for my own future reference.

A brief recap:

• October 2018 we competed against almost 20 other riders at a horse trial in the Pretraining level and came away with a 3rd place. I was over the freaking moon! I didn’t end up recapping that one for some dumb reason.

• I finished up the show season with a jumper schooling show doing PT level just to lock it in – after that, I felt like it’s time to move up to Training (which I actually cannot wrap my head around; not long ago I couldn’t jump more than 2′).

• We had a fun little photoshoot because!

• November was major knee surgery: a microfracture to fix my chronic arthritis issues. They chipped into the bone of my femur to stimulate new bone growth; it was 2 weeks of total non weight-bearing and then weeks of painful rehab. 2 months of no riding was really hard, but so far I’m seeing success. I’m ahead of the predicted recovery and my specialists are very hopeful for a full recovery. It will likely be a year before we know for certain.

• Husband decided to take some riding lessons to help keep Vesper ridden while I was recovering. He took a few western lessons but ended up preferring to ride Vesper english and have me teach him. He hasn’t kept up with it since I’ve gotten back in the saddle, but he picks it up really quickly and even has goals of learning to jump!

He even bought himself a helmet, boots and gloves! Who is this guy

• I kept busy through the winter with another theatre performance which meant almost no riding anyway. We also got tons of late and unexpected snow? Yuck.

• I just got back from a Caribbean cruise and am finally ready to get back into full time training for this season! *twitch*

Pretty, but seriously lacking in horses

• Vesper just turned 19 while I was away! She’s a real senior citizen. I could tell she was bored of the winter break so I’m sure she’s just as happy as I am to get back into a schedule.


That’s about it for now. I’ve got a few products on the go that will receive reviews here (one of them being the coveted Millbrook stirrup leathers!) once I’ve had some more consistent time to trial them. I’ll be posting my show season plan shortly, too!

Thanks for checking in 🙂