At last!

How on earth do I begin to describe the amazing events of the past month? Such a lot has happened, and I’m in horsey heaven at last! In my last post, I told the story of how Lena the Argentinian mare came to Acorn Farm. I’d had a most impressive “perfect” ride on her at her home stable, then transported her down to the Farm for a trial period.

Lena and me at the canter during my first ride.

Lena and me at the canter during my first ride.

The strange thing with Lena is that it wasn’t “love at first sight.” When I first saw Lena, all tacked up for my trial ride, she simply looked like any other horse to me. Lena was (obviously) a mare, 16.2 hands, chestnut, tall and slim, with an asymmetrical white blaze and little white spots on her coppery body. She’s also been branded in three places: a saddle-shaped brand on her left hip, a faded indistinguishable brand on her left hind hock, and three numbers in a vertical line down her left buttock right next to her tail (what one of my barn buddies refers to as her “tramp stamp”!).

Lena didn’t fit my mental picture of the horse I thought I’d buy. I thought I was looking for a 16.0 hand bay gelding with no blaze, or with a perfectly symmetrical blaze(!) and a shiny, muscular body with a long black tail. But as those profound 20th century philosophers, The Rolling Stones, sang: “You can’t always get what you [think you] want, but if you try sometime, you might find you get what you need.”

Luckily, I know Nathalie well enough to know if she says she’s found a great horse, then I’d be crazy not to try it just because it’s the wrong gender and color! It was after I got on Lena and she trotted when I asked, cantered when I asked, and stopped on a dime, that I began to develop a deep respect for her. I remember at the end of the trial ride, while I was walking Lena around the ring, Nathalie came up and asked, “Well, what do you think? Do you like her?” I simply couldn’t fault Lena on anything, and answered, “Yes, I do. I like her a lot.” So perhaps it was like-at-first-sight. The love would quickly develop as I got to know her.

Lena loves to graze after her work-outs.

Lena loves to graze after her work-outs.

The rainy days that followed Lena’s arrival afforded me the opportunity to experience her ground manners at  close quarters. Like her behavior under saddle, Lena’s ground manners turned out to be impeccable. When taken for a walk on a lead line, she didn’t pull, walked at my pace, and didn’t invade my personal space. And all that after being cooped up in her stall because of the rain. More perfection!

I found myself waiting for the other shoe to drop! It all seemed much too good to be true. But then when Nathalie rode Lena when the footing dried out after the rain finally stopped (five days after Lena’s arrival), she reported back to me that Lena was “her usual perfect self.”

I was scheduled to ride Lena the next day, January 29th. The only regularly scheduled riding lesson I’d had in the previous four months was the half-hour I’d spent on a very sassy Rio earlier in January, so I was incredibly rusty. Although I was excited, I was nervous, convinced that something had to go wrong. I kept looking for issues that simply didn’t exist. Surely, this couldn’t be going as well as it seemed to be?

Nathalie was very kind and kept my first lesson with Lena quite short so as not to exhaust me.  We did a few trotting laps to warm up, then a couple of canter laps in each direction. That was enough to start. Nathalie’s philosophy is that she’d rather get one or two really good laps with Lena and me giving our best, than half a dozen sloppy tired ones.

Nathalie joins us for a walk down the lane.
Nathalie joins us for a walk down the lane.

That first week, I rode Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, then (mercifully!) it rained again on the Friday, giving me time to rest what felt like an old, old body! Saturday and Sunday we were good to go again. Each time, the lessons were getting just a tad longer, but nothing I couldn’t handle.

At the end of the first few lessons, Lena and I went for a walk to the end of the farm’s lane to cool down, with Nathalie walking beside us. Soon, however, I felt comfortable walking Lena down the lane alone. I wasn’t feeling cocky, I had simply learned to trust this wonderful horse. She had never given me any reason to doubt her and that gave me confidence.

The trust had developed in the little things too. As I’ve quite often mentioned in this blog, I’ve always been leery of horses’ hind legs and having to clean their hind feet made me uneasy. Lena has a habit of raising her feet very high to be cleaned. At first I thought she was trying to kick, but I soon learned just how helpful she is. Holding the weight of a horse’s hoof close to the ground while cleaning it is a physical problem for me, but conveniently, with Lena, I barely have to bend to clean them.

Lena models her new halter.

Lena models her new halter.

After the first couple of rides, she and I settled in to a comfortable routine. When I want to clean her feet, I tap the first leg and say, “Foot please!” She immediately lifts that foot high for me to get at it. But more than that, she’s quickly learned the sequence in which I clean her hooves, and as I move from one to the next, I don’t even have to ask. She lifts the next foot in turn high for me to grab hold of and use the pick on. It works really well for both of us.

Another way in which her wonderful manners bowled me over was in putting the bridle on. Show her the bridle and bit, and she simply opens her mouth, takes in the bit, and keeps her head down while you adjust the bridle over her ears and get it fastened. Unbelievable. More perfection!

Lena and I enjoying the canter.

Lena and I enjoying the canter.

After five days of riding Lena, I was 100% convinced: she really was THAT good, and working with her really was going to be THAT easy! I think that was when I officially fell in love with her; a kind, sweet horse with no issues, just a wonderful, wonderful personality. So on Tuesday, February 5th, my husband David came with me to the barn to sign the purchase agreement, write all the checks (Eeeeek!) and take lots of photographs!

As if it wasn’t enough that we’d found this fantastic animal and that my Hubby had earned billions of brownie points by agreeing that we could buy her, there was another bonus. In the two weeks Lena had been at Acorn Farm, Nathalie had managed to line up three (count ’em!) sets of people interested in half-leasing Lena. They were all barn buddies I knew, liked and respected, which was an enormous plus.

And so, my original wish–my ultimate dream of owning a horse at Acorn Farm at The Oaks and sharing the costs with another person to make it financially viable–had actually come true! And not just in a small way with a horse I feel like I’m settling for, but in a huge, OH MY GOD THIS IS AN AMAZING HORSE AND I’M THE LUCKIEST WOMAN ALIVE ! way.

It wasn’t until the day we bought Lena that I discovered she’s a Holsteiner. I knew she had papers, but Holy Moly, I never dreamed that a little kid from a background like mine could ever grow up to be the owner of a fabulous 16.2 hands Argentinian Holsteiner with the most engaging nature imaginable, and who, oh-by-the-way, is capable of jumping 1.20 metres! Somebody pinch me!

Now I feel all the stress and drama of the past two years floating away. Nathalie (and The Rolling Stones!) were right. She is exactly what I need. Every time I ride Lena, building a relationship that I’ve longed for for so long, I simply can’t get the smile off my face. She is my happy place.  As I stroke her warm neck and luxuriously soft velvet muzzle, there’s just the two of us, and I’m loving it.

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“Mr.” Perfecthorse may be a girl!

Wow! What a lot has happened since my last post… and it’s been really, really good!

The change began with my return to riding. For my first lesson of the New Year on Sunday, January 13, my regular trainer, Nathalie, was away at a show that day, so I was with her Assistant Trainer, Florence. I rode Rio, the 15 hand Quarterhorse that I’d shared 5 months of lessons with in 2012.

Rio and me before a lesson, March 2012.

I quickly discovered that “rusty” was a very polite euphemism to describe the state into which my riding skills had devolved while I’d been out of the saddle. The lesson was quite an eye-opener as to how much work was ahead of me.

I had no idea how well I’d do if Nathalie found another sale horse for me to try, but it wasn’t going to be long before I’d find out! My second lesson on Rio was scheduled for Friday January 18. A couple of days before, Nathalie called me to say she’d found and ridden a 13-year-old Argentinian chestnut mare named Lena who is for sale, and she wanted me to give her a try. The mare was stabled in San Marcos, California, at the barn belonging to Michelle Parker, a Grand Prix equestrian friend of Nathalie’s. So we arranged to go try Lena instead of having my scheduled lesson.

I expressed concern about my rustiness to Nathalie. It had been just over three months since I’d tried the spectacular 5-year-old mare Jubilant at Rancho Agradecido. Even though I’d been able to get Jubilant to trot and canter, I wasn’t a good enough rider for her yet. She hadn’t been able to understand what I was asking for.

Lena and me at the canter during my first ride.

Lena and me at the canter during my first ride.

When we arrived at Michelle’s ranch, Lena was all tacked up and ready to go. Nathalie rode her first to warm her up and then it was my turn. Lena is a little over 16 hands; maybe an inch taller than my old lesson horse Kobe. However, having ridden 15-hand horses for the past year, Lena looked really big to me and it seemed like a long way up to the saddle. At first when I got on her and asked her to walk on, she didn’t budge an inch. Oh, oh! I thought… But then one little tap from my heels and off we went.

After that introductory tap, I can honestly say I don’t remember Lena either missing or misinterpreting a single cue I gave her. And I never once had to kick, use spurs, or tap with the crop. Lena trotted immediately when asked; a comfy trot, not jarring. After a couple of short laps of trotting, Nathalie had me immediately ask for the canter. Lena was amazing! She gave me a super-easy transition on the correct lead, to a very comfortable, evenly-paced canter. Every time after that, she gave me what I asked for when asked, and always on the correct lead. She was everything I’ve ever written about wanting a horse to be: willing, cooperative, anxious to please, and a delight to ride. Not to mention, really cute! She seems… perfect!

As Nathalie pointed out, if I can ride Lena this well when my skills are forgotten, imagine how well we’ll do when I get them back! What a wonderful contrast to my lesson on Rio! What an amazing confidence boost! With Lena, right off the bat it felt like a partnership; we were working together towards a common goal, and she was happy to do it. It was like my magical time trying Renzo last September, except Nathalie said she thought I sat the canter better on Lena than I had on Renzo… and I never thought I’d find a horse that could improve on that ride!

So, long story short, Lena is now at Acorn Farm for a trial period! She arrived Wednesday, 23rd. Unfortunately, it began to rain on Wednesday night and showers continued to fall intermittently through Saturday evening. Nathalie rode Lena the day she arrived and then managed to squeak in a quick ride Thursday between showers. Since then, however, the footing’s been saturated, and riding’s been impossible.

Lena in her new stall at The Oaks.

Lena in her new stall at The Oaks.

Although the bad weather meant no riding, I think it may have been a blessing in disguise. I had always been wary of riding a horse from another barn too soon after it moved in, for fear of a spook caused by the unfamiliar surroundings. I wanted Lena to have the time to relax and get situated in her new home before adding the stress of riding. The rain gave Lena exactly the adjustment period I’d hoped for.

So as the showers came and Lena was confined to her stall for most of the time, I visited her every day bearing gifts of apples and carrots. After some initial shyness on my part, I was able to halter and walk her around the farm. I slithered along beside her in the mud, and then took her over to the grassy pasture adjacent to the stalls to let her graze. It’s taking me some time to get used to the idea of having a horse-sized (not pony-sized) horse at the end of the rope. Right now, I find it a bit intimidating. Nathalie was so proud of me when she arrived at the barn on Saturday and found me there alone, grazing Lena, that she took the picture below!

Lena grazing.

Lena grazing.

A really nice thing that happened when Lena arrived at Acorn Farm was that several of the other riders recognized her. Three of them had ridden her before, and everyone loves her! One rider had tried Lena as a prospective purchase a couple of years ago, but she’s a very tall young woman and needed a bigger horse because of her long legs. Her loss, my gain! 🙂 This recognition from the others was great validation. I could have brought in an anonymous horse from some barn nobody had heard of, and wouldn’t have gotten this tremendous feedback from my peers.

Lena’s not just a boring, flatting-and-cross-rails-only type horse either. She’s one heck of a jumper. She’s shown at 1.10 meters and Michelle Parker mentioned that she believes Lena is capable of 1.20 meters with the right rider. Needless to say, that won’t be me–don’t know if I’ll ever take up jumping again–but Lena will be in full training to hone her skills. My barn buddy Nancy recognized Lena right away, asking me, “Is that Lena from Argentina? I saw Michelle Parker show her and I LOVED her!”

Tomorrow, Tuesday, I’m going to ride Lena at the Farm for the first time. Remembering how well we did last time, I’m looking forward to it. Despite the stress of the move and then the rain-confinement, Lena has carried herself like a real lady. While she may have been feeling fresh on our walks, she behaved herself perfectly. Nathalie rode her today–first time in four days–and reported that she did just fine.

After all this time, and all these daydreams and computer searches for Mr. Perfecthorse, whom I always imagined would be a boy–a handsome Bay gelding like Kobe or Renzo–along comes pretty little chestnut mare Miss Lena from Argentina, who’s knocked my socks off with her ladylike ways and perfect manners. Yep, “Mr.” Perfecthorse could turn out to be a girl, after all. Go figure! 🙂

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To Everything, A Season: A Time to Try Part II

My last post told the story of trying Rambo Star at Acorn Farm to see if we were a good match for a half-lease while I continue searching for a horse to buy. Right at the end of our time together, we had begun to understand each other. However, I was away from the barn for several days and haven’t been back since then.

Instead, I was offered the opportunity to try another sale horse almost exactly a week later. My trainer, Nathalie Cooper, had shared with a friend of hers–a trainer at Rancho Agradecido in Valley Center, San Diego County–the fact that I was looking for a horse. She told him about my skill level (nervous novice?) and described what sort of horse she thought would be suitable (affordable but gorgeous 16-hand equine saint?). He got back to her with information about a beautiful 5-year-old 16-hand European Warmblood Sporthorse mare named Jubilant that’s available for sale at his barn. He described her as “very sweet.”

Nathalie had the opportunity to ride Jubilant prior to my ranch visit.  Although she knew my first preference was for a gelding, not a mare, she suggested I should give this horse a try. As I mentioned in my last post, I have enormous respect for Nathalie’s skill in matching horses and riders, so I was excited at this novel prospect, not only of trying a mare, but also of trying what would be the youngest horse I’d ever ridden. If Nathalie thought I should try her, then I was going to make it happen.


Wanting to know as much about Jubilant as I could find out before meeting her in person, I searched the internet and came up with this page about her at Susie Hutchison’s site where I found a photograph and a video of her showing at Thermal last year. Obviously, Jubilant lived up to her billing as a beautiful horse and I was very excited to meet her. I even loved her name, knowing how “Jubilant” I would feel to bring home an amazing horse like this!

Rancho Agradecido is a drop-dead gorgeous place, nestled in a little valley. The barn building is very attractive and the arena in front beautifully maintained. I couldn’t have asked for a nicer place to try a new horse. This is the front view of the ranch:

Rancho Agradecido, Valley Center, CA

I met the owner, Jenny McLaughlin, who soon introduced me to Jubilant, a spectacularly pretty mare who’s the perfect size for me and glows with health from her lovely face to her gleaming hoofs. After the horse was tacked up and taken down to the arena, Nathalie got on to warm her up for me. Here’s a short video of Nathalie on Jubilant at the trot and canter, then me on board at the walk and trot…

While I watched Nathalie riding the mare with such grace and ease, I found myself thinking: Somebody pinch me! Do I really have a chance to call this fabulous horse my own? You’re kidding me! How on earth did this happen? But soon it was my turn to ride and I focussed in on what I needed to do. Jenny kindly offered to use my video camera to record the ride for me.

As you saw in the video, the first time I asked Jubilant to lift into the trot from the walk, there was a slight hesitation on her part, but then off she went. I didn’t have to kick, just gave her a prolonged tight squeeze with both legs. Although she trotted okay around the ring, some part of my consciousness was registering resistance on her part. I don’t know what it was, but she didn’t feel loose; it felt like she was holding back. It was probably because I was stiff and nervous too.

We trotted around a few times, changing direction occasionally, and Nathalie had me trot a couple of circles at the end of the ring. Then it was time to try for the canter from the walk. Nathalie had asked Jubilant for this during the warm-up, and the mare had responded handily, rising without objection into smooth, even canter strides.

During my trot work on Jubilant, I’d noticed her becoming reluctant to pick the trot back up each time after we stopped. I was having to work quite hard. Now, trying to get her to canter from the walk with the good old “outside leg, inside rein” was getting me nowhere. All I succeeded in doing was ticking her off as I became more insistent.

Jenny gave us some helpful information, explaining that Jubilant’s regular rider asks for the canter from the trot simply with a good hard squeeze of both legs and by kissing at her. On the straightaway in front of the barn, I persuaded Jubilant up to the trot. She rounded the end, and as she approached the straightaway at the far side, she hit her stride. I felt her body suddenly loosen. It was as if she’d forgotten who was on her back. She gave herself unconsciously to the trot and the tension left her.

The minute I felt her relax, I realized this was my best shot to slip through her defenses and get her to repond exactly as she’d been trained to. Without changing my hold on the reins or altering anything else, I squeezed hard with both legs and gave her a long, loud kissing noise… and off she went! I truly think she momentarily forgot who I was. She lifted her head and pushed off nicely into the canter. Nathalie and Jenny shouted out their encouragement from the other side of the ring as we smoothly cantered down the long side, around the end and back again in front of the barn, where I transitioned her down to the trot.

Right away, with a smile Nathalie began her usual refrain of:  “You know you don’t get away with only doing it once!” But Jubilant and I were never able to get it together again. After a cool-down walk, and having ridden Jubilant back into the barn, I returned to the group of trainers outside. The general consensus was that the young mare and I were not a good fit. I felt badly about it; I’d so wanted it to work out. Jubilant is simply gorgeous. We just didn’t “get” each other.

I asked Jenny if I could hang around the barn for a while and take some pictures, because it’s such a lovely place. She said that would be fine, and mentioned that she’d be happy to get some shots of the barn’s newest resident, the sweet colt Jackson, just one month old. I was delighted to oblige. Below are my favorite shots of the day:

Meet Jackson, the One-Month-Old Cutie.

Jackson says hello.

Jackson: Look at me, Mommy, I’m a big wild Stallion!

Hi, I’m Jackson. Who are you?

Jackson kickin’ it Agradecido style…

Trainer rides a gorgeous Rancho Agradecido horse past the beautiful main building.

Nathalie rides another Rancho Agradecido horse, Joie de Vivre.

I know Jubilant will make a fabulous horse for some lucky person. She and Nathalie looked great together. As for me, well it’s all in the name: Rancho Agradecido. I looked it up: “Agradecido” means “Thankful” –and believe me I am. I had a wonderful adventure, and I’m very thankful to Nathalie, Jenny and Jubilant for such a memorable day! Can’t wait to see what Nathalie comes up with next!! 🙂

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To Everything, A Season: A Time to Try Part I

The past three weeks have been a very novel and exciting time as I search for a new horse to ride. Since returning to Acorn Farm and having such a fabulous ride on Renzo on September 21, with the help of trainer Nathalie Cooper, I’ve had the opportunity to try another two horses: Rambo Star and Jubilant. I have a lot to share, so I’m splitting this into two separate posts. This one talks about my ride on Rambo.

Nathalie has an outstanding track record of matching horses with riders to create winning teams in the arena. Her expertise lies in understanding the magic that happens when human and animal meet and click into a deeply rewarding relationship. When complimented on this talent, she modestly responds that that’s her job–but not everyone is as good at their job as she is. She’s a human/equine matchmaker par excellence. She seems almost to have a sixth sense. Yes, Nathalie knows what her clients want and need and which horse shows promise of delivering with interlocking capabilities, but she also comprehends a deeper, intangible je ne sais quoi, the magic ingredient that cements the horse’s and rider’s connection and trust into a lasting bond.

Nathalie was true-to-form the day I rode her first pick for me, Renzo. With that choice, she hit the nail on the head so hard it made me dizzy. I loved him. I was flying so high after my ride, Cloud Nine was a distant speck below me. I really wanted to own Renzo and was terribly disappointed when I was outbid and lost him. He’s my One-That-Got-Away. Yet even as Nathalie was giving me the news on the phone that I’d lost the chance to own Mr. Perfect, she was making arrangements for me to try another horse.

The second horse-date I was invited to took place on Wednesday October 3rd. It was with a very handsome gelding boarder at Acorn Farm: Rambo Star. This time, it wasn’t a purchase situation, it was a half-lease, where owner and lessee each get to ride half of the time and contribute half of the board and training costs.

This is Rambo and his owner Tyler competing beautifully in their first show together in April, 2012:

Rambo is a big boy, probably about 16.2/16.3h. He’s muscular and beautiful… and has the biggest feet I’ve ever seen on a horse! 🙂 Nathalie says he’s like the “body-builder” horse of the barn. His size and strength were a little intimidating to me. Rambo wasn’t in an energetic mood on the morning I arrived to try him. I’ve often watched Tyler ride Rambo at the walk, trot and canter, both in schooling sessions and at the shows, and I began to realize how much better a rider Tyler is than me!

Rambo and I were finally able to get going at the trot, but he needed lots of encouragement. After that, it was time for the canter. As I tried to get the canter depart from the walk, I gave Nathalie a few giggles. Rambo misinterpreted the pressure from my outside heel and we ended up doing a very nice side-pass across the ring! “We’re doing dressage!” she laughed.

Tyler and Rambo schooling in the Derby Field at The Oaks.

So next we tried transitioning to the canter from the trot. I was squeezing and kicking like my life depended on it, and not getting anywhere until, at Nathalie’s direction, I added a tap with the crop at the same time.

This seemed to be the magic combination. Rambo lifted up into a nice, big, smooth canter. Again he needed lots of encouragement but we got in a couple of laps cantering around the ring in each direction.

Rambo (Super) Star!

Nathalie suggested that, now I’d learned the knack of getting Rambo going, I should come back the following morning and try him again. I was non-committal because it had taken an awful lot of energy for me to get him going and I didn’t know if I could do that again so soon!

However, very soon afterwards, Nathalie quickly came up with another alternative: Tuesday October 9, let’s try a gorgeous 16h European Warmblood sporthorse mare that’s for sale at Rancho Agradecido in Valley Center, San Diego County!

I was a bit torn. I know that Nathalie has seen something in Rambo that she feels would help me learn, and knowing her aptitude for matching horse and rider, I wasn’t going to dismiss that lightly. By the end of the session, Rambo was starting to understand what I was asking for, so we had that to build on.

Having seen him perform, I know that Rambo has a lot to offer. He’s a wonderful mover and jumper with classic good looks. We’d need to work hard on our communication skills and get used to each other to we can figure out if we’re could be good fit. So Rambo’s still a definite maybe.

Right now, I’m keeping my options open because Nathalie keeps coming up with such terrific choices. I’m like a kid in a candy store… even though it’s a little scary, I want to try them all! 🙂

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Video: To Fly

Here’s a new video that I created and posted on YouTube today. I heard this song on the radio, and was immediately inspired to put together a little movie starring all of the Acorn Farm riders who have participated in shows this season. The girls have worked so hard, and have been rewarded with a rainbow of ribbons including lots of first place blue ones.

Videotaping, processing and editing the shows and creating this was a labor of love. I hope you, and they, like it:

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An exciting new goal!

Had two wonderful riding lessons this past weekend. I’ve put together a video of some of the things we worked on. Surprisingly, the temperature shot up on Saturday and even further on Sunday. It was time for T-shirts and tank tops again in place of the turtlenecks and down vests of a couple of weeks ago. Weird!

It had been two weeks since I’d ridden and before my last lesson, I’d had two weeks off because of rain. With those gaps, my trainer Nathalie thought it would be best to go back over basic steering, speed and control issues and not rush into jumping. To that end, on Saturday we worked on the basic gaits, practiced the jumping position at the trot and canter, and practiced riding a ground pole course. That went pretty well, and I had fun as always.

So on Sunday, Nathalie had me warm up and then practice a couple of jumps and stopping in a straight line right after the jump. That was followed by jumping a crossrail with a turn to a pole on the ground, necessitating good steering and speed control, not to mention a flying lead change. I wasn’t getting a good line between the crossrail and the pole. We remedied that by temporarily replacing the jump with another ground pole in the center of the ring, and getting the right track from there. Then it was back to the jump and pole to execute the track I’d just learned. It worked! All good stuff! Here’s a video of some of those exercises:

The Flip video software I use permits me to watch the videos I’ve recorded frame by frame, and to create snapshots from individual frames. I find this very useful to slow down the action and get an idea of what needs immediate work and what things generally I need to improve. I was pleased to see that my jumping position is starting to look better. My heels are still not down properly–especially my left, always higher than my right–but overall it’s nice to see there’s been some improvement.

After this great lesson on Sunday, I finally got up the courage to ask Nathalie a question that’s been on my mind for a couple of months now, but was afraid to ask. Since I’m such a newcomer to the world of riding, I had no idea how long it takes to get a novice to the point where they’re ready to take part in a local horse show. I had no check-off list of must-have skills; no yardstick against which to assess my performance to date.

All I had to go on was the fact that all the other students at the barn who were there before I arrived (except for a couple of very young girls) had been riding far longer than me, and they all participated in shows last spring and summer. What I didn’t know was what level of competence they had achieved at the point where they began.

I wanted to let Nathalie know I’m interested in taking part in the shows, because it’s a natural progression from the work we’ve been doing together. At the same time, I don’t want to enter shows until she’s completely satisfied that I’m ready for it. In asking the question, I didn’t want to put Nathalie in the uncomfortable position of having to politely tell me I need to shelve my ambitions because I’m nowhere near good enough at this point.

Hence my shyness in bringing up the subject. I honestly didn’t know what to expect. How would she respond? Do I need to hold off for another horse show season until I’ve honed and consolidated my skills further? Might I be ready by Spring, Summer or Fall of 2011? 2012? By the time I opened my mouth to ask Nathalie the question, I’d gotten quite emotional about it. It’s a huge deal for me.

Imagine my shock when she told me she thought I was ready now, certainly for the “Flat” classes (walk, trot, canter) and that maybe I could do a crossrails jumping class! However, there aren’t any local shows held here during the winter, so the soonest I could participate would be March. That’s even sooner than I was thinking! I was beside myself! I’d been hoping to join in the fun by May or June, and it looks like, God willing, I’ll get my wish!

This is UNBELIEVABLE news!! Seven months ago when I started riding, I had no skills. If I begin competing about six months from now, I’ll have almost doubled the riding experience I have! Six months should be plenty of time to get significantly better, and I think I’ll feel ready to take on the challenge of a show then. It was exactly what I was hoping for! What a thrill! What an amazing new goal for me to shoot for! Stand back, world, I’m a-comin’!

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My first jumping mini-course

So much fun today at Acorn Farm! After I’d warmed up on lesson horse Kobe, my trainer Nathalie had me practice the jumping position with Kobe at the trot. I knew that meant I would be doing some jumping today but I had no clue I was going to be jumping my first course–that is, a predetermined sequence of jumps. Until now, I had only ever taken one jump at a time, and was allowed to walk and regroup after it, or to canter in a big circle then take the same jump again.

To start me off, Nathalie had me jump two jumps, one right after the other in a straight line, so I had no steering to think about after landing the first jump. The first was the cross-rails at the end of the arena, and the second was the flower-box jump directly ahead of it. I did that a couple of times and was feeling comfortable with it.

That’s when Nathalie decided to up the ante by pointing out three jumps she wanted me to attempt in sequence–my first jumping mini-course. The difference was that these jumps were facing in different directions, requiring good steering and even a flying lead change before the last jump. Paige, a young student of Nathalie’s (who at 10 years old is an experienced rider and show-jumper with many ribbons to her credit), kindly agreed to video my attempts at the course.

Nathalie wanted me to start off with the flower-box jump, heading away from her, turn left PAST the cross-rails that I’d jumped earlier, then turn left between the cross-rails and the far jump, proceed back towards Nathalie to the next jump near the center of the arena, then circle round to the right to jump the crossrails at the other end of the arena. (This will make sense when you see the video.) Since this is all new to me and I tend to get flustered with new stuff, during my first attempt I made a mistake.

As you’ll see, once I had cleared the flower-box jump and circled towards the left, I looked over and saw that I was perfectly lined up to take the cross-rails jump. I completely forgot about going past it and gaily cantered Kobe over the jump as I had already done a couple times before. When I landed I suddenly realized I’d gone the wrong way, hesitated and Kobe broke stride from the canter to the trot. Nathalie laughed about me throwing in an extra one and waved me on to the next jump in the sequence. After the next jump I was thinking about steering more than speed, and again, Kobe dropped out of the canter to a trot. Luckily, I was able to get him to pick it up again quickly (and on the correct lead!), and finish the course.

We were laughing when I was done because I’d messed up and managed to sneak in an extra jump. Nathalie was surprised but pleased because she didn’t think I’d be able to turn Kobe correctly to make that first cross-rail and that’s why she’d originally asked me to go past it. Once she’d seen that I could make the turn, however, she asked me to include it in my next attempt, making it a four-jump course instead.

The second attempt didn’t go so well. After the first flower-box jump I turned too sharply left and didn’t give myself enough room to swing Kobe around for the second cross-rail jump. So I ended up riding past it, the way Nathalie intended me to go in the first place! Then after the third jump, I turned Kobe too sharply to the right to line him up properly for the fourth and final cross-rail. So I ended up jumping only two jumps of the four-jump course. But those errors showed me clearly what I needed to do.

For the final attempt I managed to get the course and the steering figured out, took all the jumps in the proper order with much better steering and speed, and got my lead change for the last jump. I was delighted!

Anyhooo, here’s the video:

The teeny-tiny size of the jumps is a bit embarrassing, and hopefully, there will be bigger jumps before too long. After every riding lesson, my son asks, “Did you jump higher, Mom?” It’s consolation that Nathalie knows exactly what she’s doing and I have complete trust that when she thinks I’m ready to kick it up a notch, it will happen. It’s so important to get a solid foundation of technique and experience first, and clearly that’s what Nathalie delivers.

As always, the mistakes captured for all time on the video (not just the wrong-jump type) make me cringe. But that’s what practice is all about, and that’s the beauty of it. There will always be something that needs work. Always another excuse to get back on the horse!  🙂

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