50 Days Remaining

As of today, we have 50 days left until our first official show. I’m so nervous for it, but for different reasons other then riding in a big rated show.

Bently is doing well, his back isnt dipping as much as it used to as hes getting used to carrying himself and he’s starting to understand that he needs to move forward.

We schooled some extensions and collections on Monday during my lesson with Trainer S, and while the trot looked good, he had very little stamina to do so at the canter. Canter extensions prompty were added to my homework list. The day before I had worked him in the outdoor for the first time ever. While it was fantastic quality for that footing, it was deeper then he was used to, so he worked harder in that footing which I thought was a good change up for him. I also have plans to work him over the small hill we have in back, but it’s still a little slippy and muddy so I’d rather not die trying to help him build more hind muscles.

Thursday’s lesson with Trainer C also went really well, did a lot of walk canter transitions as thats the most common way they ask for them in Arab classes. He did so well, and at the end she looked at me and went, “this has been one of your better lessons yet with him”, which was a major confidence booster as well as her comments of him coming along a lot faster then she had predicted. I’m trying him with spurs for our ride today, a very rounded pair unlike my pokey ones and hope that he won’t try to kill me like last time.

Forgot a birthday hat so a snapchat filter works!

Thursday was also his foal date! Bently is officially 13. However doing a lesson and having your sheath cleaned on your birthday isn’t how I would want to spend mine, but that’s how he spent his! He was really good for the cleaning, despite major snorting and wide eyes at the puddle, ing until we used a syringe to flush out his sheath, and then he had a mini heart attack and tried to jump forward on the cross ties. Apparently he hates puddles. Need to wok on that.

Speaking of working on things, he no longer walks off once you get on! I am so proud of that little achievement. It pissed me off so much that the moment your foot was in the stirrup off he went walking, leaving me struggling to swing over and sit. It’s a bad habit from when he was broke and no one ever fixed it. So take that bad habits! He still does this weird half step back and to the side thing while moving the block and stepping up on the block, but its already a lot better then before, and it doesn’t take me 5 minutes to mount up anymore.

With 50 days to go, it’s not as scary as before, but I am still very nervous for it. Right now I have a dead to my aid horse who we just barely have all our extension and collections on, but there’s always that chance when we hit the showring I’ll have a completely different horse. Fingers crossed I just have a more forward horse.

Rated Bills

Out of all three siblings (including the in-law), I have the most expensive sport. Who knew buying a sheet to cover a four legged animal could cost upwards of $200 dollars? Not little 5 year old me.

This year is the first year I will be riding in rated shows. Like ever. I’m accomplishing little 10 year old Anna’s dreams of showing in a big ring, but in a more cost effective way. Like not doing main ring hunter jumpers down in Ocala for one.

First show, look how tiny!

Before I continue, I want to say I am incredibly lucky to be able to work with horses and afford to ride them. My parents help out with some of my bills, for the past 15 years they have paid for parts of my lessons, my leases, and some of my show fees. I have to give them so much credit for helping me out, and also not handing it to me freely. I had to prove I wanted it badly enough, and if that didn’t cover it, do chores, help out, you get the idea.

I like to say I’m cheap, but I’m cheap with impulse issues. There are some purchases I just say give it a good ole “f*&k it”, and hit place order, like a lot of my riding clothes and saddle pads. Showing in the Arab circuit, I am thankful that some corners get cut. But I still need to get a lot of new versions of items that I already have, because unlike small local shows, my apperance has to be up to a higher standard. AKA I will be judged on my clothing and attire so I need a whole new gear set up to not place last.

Thankfully, Trainer C saved my ass by letting me borrow one of her old jackets. But that really was the only thing I could avoid. Everything else, show shirt, white breeches, stock tie, new boots, etc had to be reinvested in. Also, how do these Grand Prix riders, especially the guys, go about without issues with underwear?! I mean I know they can spend the big bucks, but why is this such a problem? New underwear and a new sports bra prompty got added to my buy list after my white pants came in.

And of course because someone has expensive taste and needs, I needed a new show pad for Bently, which had to be a Back on Track pad, so I bought two brand new black ones. There went another $100, and brought my saddlepad collection up to 10 pads. Still too many, but I have my eyes on the new BoT saddle pads that just came out.

Doesn’t he look so good in all black?

Of course I still haven’t factored in all the other costs like trailering, hotel, stall fees, and class fees. That’s a whole different ball park that I will most likely be cringing at when it comes down to it. Luckily there are some fees that won’t be as large as they normally would due to me working off a lot of it, but it will still be interesting to see what the final costs will be. Probably incredibly higher then I originally anticipated so we’ll see when May 10th comes (which is only like 52 days left).

The Problematic Dressage Culture

As well as haunting Instagram and Pinterest, I spend a lot of time on Tumblr. Maybe it’s because I’m only 20 and lived in the Tumblr prime, or because it caters to my half milenial and half Gen Z humor. What ever the reason, after hundreds of horrendus updates and changes, I’m still on the hell site. For whatever reason I choose to stay, I spend a lot of time with the “horseblr” or the equestrain side of the site, and big long argument post recently reached my dashboard.

There were so many different arguments throughtout the very long, very confusing, and very infuriating post. They ranged from “you shouldn’t expect Grand Prix results from a horse not bred for dressage or that isn’t a warmblood” to “buying a horse not bred for dressage and trying to be an underdog is wrong!” The original post that started the whole debacle, was a post complaining that she sees people getting bullied and ridiculed for their hard work with horses that aren’t warmbloods. Because of that and other reasons, those people are afraid to post pictures for fear of ridicule, and the OP was encouraging people to post them because progress is progress. Unfortunetely it very quickly got out of hand, and by the time I saw it, it had escalated to the point where I was mad.

One of the biggest points in the whole post was that doing Grand Prix on a downhill 15hh quarter horse was unrealistic and people trying to do so would set themselves up for failure in a highly competive perfectionist sport. A good example of a pair that proved this point wrong, is Patrick Marley and Honey Bright Dream. In 2002, Marley ended up buying a scraggly 7 year old quarter horse mare and fell in love. After 6 years of hard work, in 2008, Honey and him acheived their USDF Gold Medal. The Chronicle of the Horse did an article on their hard work that goes into more detail, but this is proof a quarter horse can get to Grand Prix. Marley even admits that it was incredibly hard work with doubts from some that his horse wasn’t Grand Prix material.

One of his comments about being judged ridng a quarter horse in a warmblood dominated sport in the article stood out to me, ” “I would say that 95 percent of the judges have judged fairly,” he said. “But I have to work three times harder on this horse than any other competitor. My piaffe can’t be just a piaffe. My horse has to put in 120 percent extra to get a 7.”“. He’s saying that he and Honey had to work harder to work around her confirmation to make the movements work to get good scores. You can make high level dressage work on a non traditional dressage horse, you just need to put in extra work.

Patrick Marley and Honey Bright Dream

Another example of a non-warmblood succeeding at a higher level is a little closer to home for me. My trainer and go to horse mom, Trainer S has a 19 year old Cheval Canadien named Logan. He is my favorite cuddle buddy, is terrified of anything that moves which earned him the nickname Captain Courageous, and Trainer S has owned him for 11 years. When she first bought him, she was told he would never get past First Level. I am pleased to write she has schooled and tested at Third Level this past season. Logan is a horse that, like Marley said, needs 120% to get a 7 on a movement. Logan never understood lateral movements, so half passes and turns on the haunches are incredibly difficult for him. There are some days he lives on the forehand, and becomes a “plow horse”.

Getting him to Third Level has surpassed all of Trainer S’s original goals, and her final goal for him is to get her Bronze Medal on him. We spent all last summer trying to make it, and our first attempt was highly unsuccessful, which I blame on the kid they had running test scores that stood in the shadows and wouldn’t stop crackling his water bottle. Our second excursion took us to a two day show in Concord for two chances at a the highly coveted 60%. The first day was a lot better then the first attempt, but no 60. The second day was the worst.

Trainer S and Logan were judged by Mr. Axel Steiner. Trainer S’s trainer already warned her he was going to be tough, and he even gave her a low score for a fantastic freestyle. Logan did ten times better in the ring on Sunday then he did Saturday. We were all so proud of them, and it was probably their best test at the time. And then the results came back. Mr. Steiner gave her an incredibly low score and his final comments were “This horse should not be competing at this level”. I think I was ready to punch him out for that one. The rest of his comments followed the same line and others were just incredibly sexist. These are the comments, whether by a judge or someone online or even someone on the sidelines are what drive people away from this sport.

Dressage in general is dying out. Not because of these non-warmblood people, but because of people who believe those who don’t have the right horses don’t belong and Mr. Steiner. By alienating the newcomers and telling them that they are already set up to fail just because of the horse they ride, will make people not want to continue dressage and move to something they see as more realistic like showjumping or hunters. Of course there will always be the classic trainers and people who will ridicule those who don’t have six figure horses or a four figure tack set. Telling someone they can’t because of their gear, their horse or their budget is so harmful.

None of this is new to dressage world. It is a huge stigma and sterotype that I fight every day. It is sad to me that such a lovely sport is looked down upon because of these people that believe that any of the above arguments are true. It’s sad I’m the only one of my horsey friends that does dressage, and the most cited reason I get for why none of them do it, is because they feel they can’t because they don’t have the right horse, or the right tack or even are made to feel they aren’t good enough for dressage. Which is complete horse shit.

These elitest and classicalists that boast that dressage is only for the elite, the wealthy and the 6 figure horses, it ruins the chances of the sport expanding. Dressage isn’t a secret either, and not something that takes years of learning to master. Trainer C uses dressage techniques on her former saddle seat horse Hank all the time, and uses dressage fundamentals on all her training horses. She doesn’t compete in it, but she uses it all the time. Dressage helps horses move correctly, use themselves and be better athletes, and by teaching a horse dressage you can extend their riding ability to a further age. Dressage is for every horse, but not every horse is for dressage.

I think one of the biggest things people need to remember in dressage is to set realistic goals. Will you and your downhill QH make it to Grand Prix? It’s possible, but you’re going to have to work for it like Marley and Honey did. Trainer S’s realistic goal is to get her Bronze on Logan. Could she keep going? Sure, does she want to? Maybe. But she knows her own limits and she knows her horse’s limits. You are what you make of it. Be realistic. You can’t blame your low scores all on the horse, and you can’t expect buying a six figure horse to automatically get a 70%. You get what you put into it. Another saying that I tend to reference alot, “Those who matter, don’t mind, and those who mind, don’t matter”. If someone has a problem with you taking your 24 year old paint horse to a dressage show and showing second level because it isn’t a warmblood, then they shouldn’t matter. It’s what you decide to do with your horse, your gear, and where you end up is what should matter.

“Aha!” Moments

This week I think a lightbulb finally went off in Bently’s head. I’m really not sure how, but I can’t complain. Despite a good 8 inches of snow falling Monday morning that cancelled all other activities for the day, I made it to the barn in the afternoon for my lesson. Which I was more excited that for the first Monday in almost 3 weeks I was going to be able to have my normal lesson schedule. Something clicked, either in my brain or his, but we had some beautiful trot and canter work. He was taking a longer slower stride as well as actually bending! The one thing that bothers me the most about Bently and how he travels is the whole ass to the middle and shoulders to the wall. Its so crooked and I pretty much have to take the inside rein away every 5 minutes with reinforcement with my whip to make sure he doesn’t do that.

When you used to live in Upstate NY, Snow is very unimpressive

He was sooooo good that day, and I was so proud of him. Tuesday, I ended up not riding, just because my mental state wasn’t 100% and I didn’t want to get on. I’d rather get on in a mood thats more condusive to working with him, then fight him on things I shouldn’t just because I’m not in a mood. Mindset is so important to me when it comes to riding, and I don’t want to make something worse just because I told myself to get on when I wasn’t in the right mindset and accidentally make a mistake that might take me weeks to fix, especially that we’re on a time crunch to fully convert him from saddleseat to sport horse.

Wednesday was another fantastic day. I fought him a lot more in the beginning for a more correct headset and making him go in the corners. He has this thing against the back left corner where the Ranger is parked, which makes no sense, as his home barn in upstate NY had tractors, horses, jumps and all sorts of loud and constantly moving things in their indoor. After he warmed up a lot more, he kept the headset but the whole traveling sideways thing happened again, so I spent a lot of time taking the inside rein away. Finally I was kind of done with fighting him and doing donuts and contantly hitting him with the whip to get him to bend, so I went to the Yoyo Game.

The terrifying Ranger corner

The Yoyo Game is when you pick up and drop contact with your horse. So I usually let him plod around on a long loose rein while pushing to get him to go long and low for a side of the ring, then pick contact back up and put him in a looser working frame for another side, then repeat. Bently loves the Yoyo Game, he’s so happy on a loose long rein, and he’s finally at the point where he enjoys it and actually moves long and low. I started playing with contact, and I got a full lap with a loose rein, so I decided to see how far I could push it. I dropped him to the buckle, and he left his head down, trotting along merrily. I think my face was about to split with the dopey grin I had going around the ring. I even dropped the reins completely at one point, and he kept going unchanged. He got extra peppermints for that.

Rides like these make me feel a lot better about our time crunch. Within a month and a half he’s progressed leaps and bounds. He still needs to gain weight, he’s a little underweight but not too much , but he has more muscling in his neck in the right places. Today our second lesson of the week with Trainer C, so I already know my legs will be burning, and I hope we get some more “Aha!” moments.

Back on Track!

You know how they say when it rains it pours? The last three weeks have been bad weather city here in New England, so it’s been pretty low key on the horse part of my life.

With mixes of snow, rain, sleet, slight flooding and ridiculous amounts of wind, I’m surprised I’ve kept a semi-steady riding schedule. Monday, the wind was so bad, we decided it would be easier and safer to cancel lessons and throw in the towel about riding. By Tuesday we all thought the wind wouldn’t be as bad, but we were wrong. I took my lesson on a different horse to switch it up on Tuesday, and the horse was so freaked out by the coverall barely moving, she spooked dumped me hard on my ass. So Bently got three days off.

“Wait you mean I actually have to work today???”

In other news, I signed the lease for Bently! I’m more excited about that because its a really good deal for what I’m getting. 6 rides a week as well as no farrier or vet payments. Which I got saddled with on my other lease with fewer rides then this one. Either way, I’m very excited for that to start.

If anyone was curious, Bently is doing a lot better! After two lessons in a row, we got our butts kicked and he is traveling a lot better. He’s starting to understand the idea of not sticking his head up in the sky and being a saddle seat horse, but he still has some moments. We even get some tracking up and a very relaxed walk towards the end. He’s been going so well, and I’ve sat two big spooks already this past week, because of snow sliding. The first one I thought I was gonna fall but managed to save it last second. The second, I didn’t have my feet in the stirrups like an idiot but still managed to save it and not fall off. To be fair, almost all the snow had fallen before that point and none had fallen all day.

Also, I invested in pair of new stirrup irons and polo wraps! Or at least new to me in the case of the stirrup irons. Trainer C keeps Herm Sprengers on all her saddles, and I had honestly fallen in love with them. My knees don’t ache in them and I just love the feel of them. My only issue was they cost $250 brand new, around $230 at their current sale price. So off on the internet, I went scouring to find a used pair at a reasonable price. I ended finding a pair on eBay for around $88 USD, that was in really good condition, aside from a decent amount of scratching here and there. So for 16$ shipping, my own set of Herm Sprengers arrived Monday from Poland. Only took two weeks but they are here. Despite their long trip here, they are so worth it.

I also finally bit the bullet and bought a four-set of Back on Track polos. I had been toying with the idea and had been a little nervous with the reviews I had seen online with how long they were and how thick they could be, as well as the fact that they run for about $65. Trainer C did point out that any kind of Back on Track product would help with circulation and be benefical to Bently, so I said “what the heck why not?”. They shipped rather fast, and I will definitely agree with the reviews, they are a little bulky and thick. It’s from one side being fleece, and the other a more stretchy soft fabric with the ceramic fibers woven in. They are a little hard to wrap because you have to go a little tighter then I would like to wrap to make sure they don’t slip. If I went any looser they would fall right off, but I can still get a finger or two between the wraps and his leg.

April is creeping up on me very quickly. I am still kinda behind on my massage classes but I finally decided to skip the one giving me trouble and just move on to the next one. Maybe I’ll go faster now, but I still have some time in March to work on it all. Show season is coming faster as well, so I’ve decided March is the time to get all my show clothes together so I don’t have to worry about it in April.

April will be a shit storm of events. We’re running a schooling show on April 7th, which I think I’m doing a few classes instead of helping run it, I spend the week after in Missouri to visit my sister, one weekend in Worcester, and that’s pretty much all of April. And then May 10th is my first show so I need all my clothes and possible tack by March.

I’ve already kinda planned not to get my hopes up on winning much just with Bently’s current progress and we really only have a month and a half. Any kind of experience will be amazing in my opinion, but again, I don’t want to get my hopes up too high, we’re pretty much starting back at square one with him and trying to retrain everything. I’m still incredibly excited to get out and do more rated shows.

Model status achieved

In other news, I’ve decided to give this blog a different name. After some accidental Instagram stalking, I discovered someone else had the same name as Saddles and Studies. Reining it Back means a little more to me then Saddles and Studies, partially because a rein back is a dressage movement, and I’m trying to slow my life down and manage multiple things at once, like college, becoming a certified massage therapist, anxieties, and work on my dressage skills.