Put Up or Shut Up

Can I level with y’all for a minute?

After we got that big fat E in the showjumping phase at the Spring Event at Woodside, my confidence took a huge nosedive. I was upset, I was questioning myself, I felt like I had let my horse down. Anything over 2’3″ looked big, oxers scared the pants off me, and the thought of raising the jumps gave me shortness of breath and made my heart race. Battling those demons was HARD.

We put the jumps back down and focused on those good basics. Oh, and I didn’t touch an oxer for a good month and a half. I lunged him over them a few times at varying heights and widths to see if I could help a brother out (was it the oxers? was it me? maybe I should switch to dressage full time. no no, that’s crazy talk … don’t get carried away – we got this).

Support him to the jump, don’t chase him

Being the one to have started Firefly from the basics and not “sending him off” for training somewhere else means he is a direct mirror to me. Every thing he does is a direct result of something I’ve done – with a good sprinkling of his own personality and opinions in there. His flaws are my flaws.

Firefly is a lot of things but he’s most definitely not push button. You have to earn it. Every time, every day, no excuses, no exceptions.

I had gotten sloppy. I had let my horse down. And he was calling me out on it. “Put up or shut up, girl. Do your part or I won’t do mine.” I was getting away with nonsense when the jumps were little and he was letting me get in his way because the stakes were low. I had held onto bad habits – some new, some less new. Taking a tug too close to the fence, getting ahead of him, giving up on the fence 3 strides out, chasing him to the base of the jump, or just flat out not supporting him. He was being clear that we were beyond the things we did with “BabyFly” – no more “Jesus take the wheel” moments. Ride. Every. Stride.

Taking it a step back and focusing on those good basics really made a difference in improving our relationship in the jump arena and helped me understand where I was making mistakes. I had done a lot of things to give him every reason NOT to trust me. Dude, I wouldn’t trust me either. I had to take the steps to earn that back. I had to start putting pennies back into the Trust Bank that I had greatly depleted over time.

As I got more comfortable and he started to trust me again, we put the jumps back up little by little. And added the oxers back into our courses. We participated in some home schooling shows which helped boost the confidence back up – many large deposits were made into the Trust Bank over the last few months.

In this week’s jump lesson, I mentioned to my coach that I was ready to put the jumps back up to Novice height (2’11”). Cue the gulp, clammy hands, and general anxiety. I focused on keeping the breathing in check and being a good, supportive partner for him. “We got this, buddy.” We went through our course (about 2/3 of the jumps were at Novice height) and jumped the whole thing cleanly – no hesitations from either of us. He has no problem with the height (scope for days, y’all) but if I don’t do my half of the job, he’s not going to do his. I don’t blame him – I wouldn’t either.

Ride the jumps the same, even when they go up. Nothing needs to change.

I have to ride him – like actually ride. It’s amazing how much better things go when I actually do what I’m supposed to do! Ride your line, support with the leg, look where you WANT to go (not where you’ve been!), don’t take a tug 2 strides out, don’t chase him to the bigger jumps, sit up and ride every jump, stay with him. Ride more positively.

He has done it at the lower levels because he enjoys it – but once the jumps go up, he’s unwilling to do it if I’m not going to help. He’s forgiving and he’ll save my butt, but he won’t do it every time. Eventually, he gets tired of putting up with my shenanigans!

I’ve entered a local schooling show Combined Test, scheduled for a couple weeks from now, to help get us prepared for the October Event at Woodside. We will do the Beginner Novice division and run the Novice jump round, for the practice. Maybe we can shake some demons out. In October, we will head back out to Woodside and hopefully finish on a score instead of a letter. 🙂

Every day, I am thankful for a horse who is anything but push-button. He makes me a better rider. And probably a better person … but maybe I’m reading too much into it.

Thanks for letting me your person, Doodle

Eventing Runs on Volunteers!

When I did my first Event at Woodside, I managed to fit in some volunteer shifts. Being my first event, maybe I was a little ambitious to volunteer and ride in the same event but it worked out alright this time around. I have had the opportunity to do a few different sorts of volunteer jobs and I’m here to share my experiences!

Jump Judging

Bring a chair, some water, a hat & sunscreen, and watch horses go by you for a few hours. Sounds like a great way to spend a day to me! Jump judging is really interesting, particularly if you can position yourself to see multiple jumps including the one to which you are assigned. Horses come by about once every 3-5 minutes so you have some time to look ahead to see who is coming or how things go after the horse leaves your question.

I jump judged at Training, toward the end of the course, at a fairly friendly jump for the level. One single jump, set to be a bit like a stacked oxer. Every horse that made it to my jump sailed over it like it was a speed bump! But I could see a tricky combination – downbank, 2 strides to a skinny cabin, 4 strides to a skinny cabin. Some riders rode this more conservatively – particularly those on less experienced horses – and came in at compressed canter. Some horses sucked way back and came in a trot. Some came in full-bore, pedal to the metal, and negotiated the combo with some baubles.

Pretty straight forward jump for training level

Leaving my jump, they headed for the water. It was a jump into the water and then a gallop out toward the final fence and finish. By this point, many of the horses were tired and some had honestly just had enough! The ones that were set up well seemed to head straight in while poor lines or poor impulsion left horses skidding to a stop in front of the log with their rider caught off balance.

The cart runner would come around on a golf cart to get my score sheet about every 30 min or so. She would usually have snacks and water as well. I understand that if you were out there all day, there was lunch too!

Seeing the same jump for 2 1/2 hours may seem boring to some but I could see how riders negotiated about 4 jumps near mine as well as my own. A good educational experience if you knew what you were watching for. Plus you get to admire dozens of event horses and their riders!

Show Jump In- Gate

The following day, I worked the show jumping gate – letting riders in and out before and after their round and trying to keep everyone running on time! This was probably the most stressful job! Be nice to your volunteers please. Again, I was watching the Training division go – which meant I could recognize some of the horses who I saw fly past me the day prior and see how they negotiated the show jumping course.

Show jumping, while less exciting than cross country, was no less educational. Once I saw more riders go, I could see a stop coming from 6 or 8 strides away – which reminded me where my timing needed to be coming to spooky fences. There was one with big, light colored fillers that caught a lot of horses out – the ones with looky horses that rode with conviction to it (not chasing their horse to it) had the most success.

Cart Runner

I have only one word to describe this job: “WHEEEEEEEEEE!”

My ride for the day

I was responsible for running jump judges out to their jumps if they were a long way from their previous jump or if they had just arrived and the division would be starting soon. The cart runner also collects and delivers score sheets to the show office to keep scoring running on time. No one wants to wait long to know where they stand! Once lunch time rolled around, I delivered lunches, snacks, and drinks to all of the hard working volunteers.

Having the cart meant I could be more mobile and see more of the course. We had 2 carts so split the course in half – each person covering half of the course. Between runs to the show office, I would find a good place to wait and watch, while being mindful of radio communication in case I was needed.

On this day, I got to watch Modified, Prelim, Training, and Intermediate go around the course.

What did I learn?

Watching these higher level riders go around, it really affirmed a few things to me.

  • Basics never stop mattering. Don’t drop your horse in front of a fence without helping him out. Don’t lose sight of having your horse between your aids. Consider your turns, your impulsion, your line.
  • The value of a compressed, springy canter. Got a spooky fence? Compress that canter. Got a downbank or tricky turn? Compress that canter. How about some terrain? Compress that canter.
  • There is no wrong way to approach a fence (I mean, to a point). But there is a wrong way for you and your horse. Help your horse out and learn how he thinks. Watching some of the run outs or stops, it was clear which riders could reapproach with their horse’s thoughts in mind. What works for your horse may not work for another and vice versa.
  • Water sucks every.single.ounce of impulsion out of your horse if you don’t come in with anything (that compressed canter is pretty helpful here too!). And if you have a jump in the water after coming in with zero impulsion, you’re probably going for an unplanned swim.
  • Intermediate gets a big fat NOPE from me! (Ok, I probably already knew this but still)

I guess this is my pitch to any and all levels of eventer to volunteer. These events don’t run without volunteers! And you may even learn something in the process. I earned myself a fair bit of credit toward my entry for the October event!

Thank a volunteer next time you’re out. It means more than you ever would expect.

Show Recap: The Spring Event at Woodside, May 2019

Or, alternative title: Making Lemonade when you REALLY don’t want to

Over Memorial Day weekend, Firefly and I headed off to our first recognized 3 Day Event. We’ve done a few horse trials at the schooling level and a bunch of schooling shows (dressage, jumper, etc) but I made it a goal this year to head out to the Spring Event at Woodside, hoping for a good showing at Novice.

Thursday afternoon, we loaded the horses and all our gear up for the short jaunt from home to the Horse Park at Woodside. HPW is our home turf – the spot for many a field trip – so I was feeling fairly confident about the whole endeavor. After getting the boys settled in, we met up for a cross country course walk with our coach for the weekend. Discussing the ins and outs of the course, terrain, pace, etc got me very excited. As a competitor in the Novice division, we’d have to wait until Sunday to run our course. There were a couple fences and questions on our course that I was really excited about, including a gallop section with steeplechase fences!


We managed to squeeze in a dressage schooling ride after our course walk, along with everyone else. By this point, the wind was starting to blow a cold breeze, making the horses a little wiggly. Good practice for Friday’s test – we worked on trying to get him to relax and for me to not hold or encourage the tension. Having my coach there really made in a difference in our approach and I’m thankful she had time to help us prior to Friday!

By the time we finished dressage, a properly cold wind had kicked up – very atypical for Northern California over Memorial Day Weekend. A show weekend meant only one thing for Firefly … bath day. The water was quite cold, leaving Mr. Sensitive quite cold by the time I finished up. He definitely had a few words for me by the time I was finally done and threw his fleece cooler on to help warm him up and dry him off. Once he was finally dry, I tucked him in for the night. Our dressage time was early afternoon – plenty of time to braid in the morning so I left his mane loose for the night, under his jammies of course. 🙂

Friday morning was clear and crisp, warming into a reasonable morning. After taking care of chores and letting Firefly out for a walk to stretch his legs, I got to work on my braids. Leaving myself plenty of time was key – I was hoping to do braids that were nice enough and secure enough to last through dressage and into Saturday’s show jumping.

Our dressage test went reasonably well – he was a bit tense but it was a busy show environment with a lot of wind and spun up horses. We walked away with a 38 and change. Not our best test but definitely not our worst either.

Saturday, my jump time was fairly early. To my complete surprise, my braids looked perfect. Hooray! Saturday brought a lot of wind with it. Uhm, hello Mother Nature? Yes, this is California. Can we please cut the crap?

Show jumping did not go to plan and we ended up with a big fat E. For whatever reason – my nerves, his nerves, his lack of rest, underpreparation, overpreparation – we could not get on the same page and had a lot of stops in warm up. I was only encouraged because my coach emphasized that I was doing everything right but, for whatever reason, Firefly just had a stop on him that day. The warm up arena was scary and spooky with a big tent set up and lots of noises and people he couldn’t see but hear. Of course, the first jump on course jumped straight into this terrifying tent.

Lots of frustrations (and, admittedly, a few tears) but this sport is humbling. We will pick ourselves up by our spur straps and try again.

So I did what I could to make lemonade. I supported my friend, I volunteered, and I schooled in the show environment. Because, dammit, I am determined to get something out of the experience! What are you going to do if you can’t learn. I couldn’t do anything for Present Me, but if I can help Future Me, I will do everything I can! It’s all part of the process. Time to grow, learn and move on!

Yes, it did take me almost 3 months to write this. Oops.

We’ve been doing our homework, doing more schooling and more schooling shows and have another schooling show on the calendar before trying again. At Beginner Novice this time in order to attempt to set ourselves up for success.

Horses keep us humble.

Review: Better Dressage Scores

A few friends and followers have asked about my experience with Better Dressage Scores and I’m happy to oblige! I found BDS through Riding Warehouse, I believe. A way to get feedback on a dressage test without having to find and go to a show!? Uh yes please.

As an eventer, it’s hard to find dressage shows that offer eventing dressage tests. And, as an eventer, the dressage is something I need the most judge’s feedback on! Cue BDS! I read through their website and figured out what I needed to do. With the help of my amazing friend Katie, we turned our barn’s 20×60 dressage court into a 20×40 short court – it was a little ghetto … but it worked. She helped me run through both Novice tests a couple times prior to filming for me. I put them on YouTube for an easy repository and simple sharing.

I then went back to the BDS site to pay my “show fees” for April’s show. As I went through the process, I saw a few great options – on top of only having a fee of $19/test, you could pay for them to send your ribbons (uh, obviously) and you can opt for additional feedback/coaching for $9. I went for both extra options and submitted my tests a couple days prior to April show’s closing date. Then, I only had to wait for a week and a half for my scores and comments to come back. I woke up today to my scores and comments in my inbox! The scores were more than fair and comments useful – this month’s tests were good enough for 3rd place each and 8 points toward year end awards! Placing is based on scores, not others in your same class. And there are Year End awards! But what I really valued was that extra $9 I paid for additional feedback/coaching from the judge. Aviva, this month’s judge, was extraordinarily helpful and kind enough to give me lots of really great ideas (in addition to some really nice compliments). I was able to immediately take this into my ride and felt an instant change – Firefly’s response made this all worth it. I will definitely be doing more tests with BDS in the future!

Here’s to #dressagenotstressage!

If you want to give it a try, here’s my link! http://betterdressagescores.com/?wpam_id=28