2022 Goals

Nearly every goal I set for 2022 is firmly in “personal” territory instead of “horse-related” territory. None are very exciting! They are very boring:
“exercise four times a week”, “meditate every day”, et cetera. I suspect this is because goal setting (and achieving) is not particularly motivating for me.  Maybe this means I’m a lazy cretin or I subconsciously have a paralyzing fear of inadequacy or I’m setting the wrong kind of goals. I don’t know, and at this point, I am not very interested in finding out. I’ll just accept this as a personal flaw and move on with my boring, safe, mostly-easy-to-achieve goals.

The only real horse-related goal I set is this: qualify for a year end award from my local USDF GMO on Madigan. To do so, I need to accumulate at least 7 scores at a particular level with a overall median score of at least 57% at GMO shows.

Surely he can get a 57% on cuteness alone?

Practically speaking, this means I need to be able to competently pilot Madigan around a Training Level test. I can manage two tests per show, which means I need to plan to attend at least four shows. My GMO has 13 schooling shows on the calendar this year, four of which are reasonably close. (The other nine aren’t terribly far away, but given a choice, I’d rather haul 74 miles round trip than 144.)

His trainer never looks like she’s going to fall off.

The “competently pilot Madigan” part of this equation might be tougher than I think it will. I’ve spent the last four-ish years primarily trail riding and foxhunting on Gina and surviving Candy’s anxiety-fueled meltdowns. Madigan is an easy ride because he’s had a great start and is sensible, but he’s still very green. Half the time I ride him I feel like I’m going to slide off during the canter transitions. Of course, I am not a total beginner, and know (at least in theory) how to ride a horse, so I don’t think this will go too poorly. Weekly lessons ought to help.

The first schooling show in my part of the state is in April, so I have plenty of time to memorize a couple of tests, practice, and locate the can of sticky spray hiding somewhere in my trailer.

Saddle Fitting

On Saturday, I loaded Madigan and four saddles in my trailer, drove forty minutes west, and met with a saddle fitter. While I like and respect my former employer’s fitter, I don’t want to ship saddles if I don’t have to. It’s expensive and inconvenient. The fitter I met is based in Texas but comes to Oklahoma often. She doesn’t sell saddles, is willing to work with whatever you’ve got, and has about twenty years of experience.

I have two dressage saddles (a King’s Sandringham and a Trilogy Amadeo Elite) and two jumping saddles (an Ainsley XC Pro National and a Sommer Platinum). I brought all four, even though I thought the Ainsley was a bad fit and suspected the King’s wasn’t much better.

The fitter started with my jumping saddles and confirmed my beloved Ainsley is the wrong shape. She liked the Sommer well enough and recommended using a half pad with shims to raise the back a little.

The fitter liked both dressage saddles but preferred the King’s. This surprised me- I thought it would be too narrow! It was fitted to Candy a couple of years ago, so maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised. She was a big-shouldered horse, too. The fitter made some adjustments to the flocking and advised me to use a half pad when I rode. She thought Madigan would eventually grow into the Trilogy.

He’s beginning to look like he knows what he’s doing.

For his part, Madigan was a superstar. Saturday was cool and windy, and he unloaded at a new place quietly despite horses zooming around in their pastures. He charmed everyone from the fitter to the farm owner. He mugged shamelessly for treats, was curious but not worried, and stood like a statue while saddles were moved around on his back.

I rode him on Sunday evening in the King’s. He went pretty well. I did not go very well and thought I would slide right off when he sprang from the trot to the canter. The combination of slippery saddle and knee patch tights was not ideal! Time to dig out the sticky spray and full seat breeches, I guess.

His trainer rode him in the dressage saddle this morning and thought he went well. He’s a real, live, almost-adult dressage horse now! I’m excited to start lessons on him and map out a show schedule. And definitely find the can of sticky spray.

Madigan’s 2021

One thing I really enjoy about having a very young horse is that I know exactly what sort of training he’s had. Another thing is that I have scads of photos and videos of that training process!

I don’t always see big changes because I see him at every twice-weekly training ride. And there aren’t a lot of big changes from ride to ride! Occasionally, he looks very balanced and fancy. Most of the time he looks pretty much like he did the last time he was ridden.

There’s a lot of difference from the beginning to the present, though!

This video was taken on March 1, 2021 and was the first time Madigan carried a rider. He’s pretty relaxed about the whole thing thanks to spending the previous year doing preparatory work on the ground.

This video was taken April 26, 2021 and is one of the first times Madigan trotted under saddle. At this point, his training rides consisted of about half an hour of groundwork and about ten minutes of riding at the walk. Early attempts to trot were very awkward- you could practically see him counting the sequence in which his legs were supposed to move. Here, he’s clearly figured out what to do.

Much like the trot, the canter took a while for Madigan to sort out. He especially struggled with picking up the right lead. This video, from July 19, 2021 was one of the first times he picked up the lead and held it for several consecutive strides.

Here, Madigan’s in the outdoor arena for the first time (August 30, 2021). He’s a little distracted by all the things he can see out there: cows next door, pastured horses on either side, construction equipment far away. I love that he’s calm and has one ear on his rider despite the excitement.

We’re back in the outdoor arena on December 8, 2021 and tackling ground poles! This wasn’t the first time Madigan saw them- he went over poles riderless several times over the last year and walked over them a time or two with a rider. I think this was the first time he trotted over some, though. He’s confident and pretty balanced! You can also see he’s wearing a bridle with reins attached to the bit. That was a gradual development with several stages: rope halter with reins attached, bridle with rope halter underneath with reins attached to halter, bridle and rope halter underneath with reins attached to both, and finally bridle with reins.

This is the most recent video I took- January 3, 2022. He looked stellar during this ride! This canter is steady, relaxed, and balanced. He’s figured out which legs go where and when, and his balance is improved from where it was even a few weeks ago.

It’s fun to look back at the progress Madigan’s made over the last year-ish, and I’m excited for what he’ll do this year!

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year, everyone! I feel more inspired to blog than I have in a long time. Some combination of the new year and a horse that’s beginning to do interesting and exciting things is pretty motivating, I guess.

I closed out 2021 feeling good despite Candy’s death, Woody’s death, a back injury, and struggling to enjoy a new job that was very much not what I had in mind when I earned a degree in finance. While I can’t change the past, I can adjust my present mindset and strive for future improvement. I focused on the things I really like about my job, exercised more regularly, meditated often, and allowed myself to dream about what Madigan’s future looked like.

Christmas Eve trail ride, December 2021

Gina began to slow down over the summer. She turns 25 this year and is sound and in good health, but she’s a little stiffer and a little creakier than she used to be. I decided not to hunt much, if at all, this season. Gina will probably be comfortable going out with third field, but her first field days are behind her. She is still my go-to trail horse and doesn’t hesitate to get after the geldings when she thinks they deserve it.

An innocent face on a wily and devious old horse.

Moe turns 27 in May and continues to enjoy retirement. He is woolly and willful and shamelessly mugs for treats at every opportunity. He’s sound and healthy and still whinnies when he hears me hooking up the horse trailer. I’m so glad I’m able to give him the retirement home he deserves. (Well, he’d probably prefer a retirement home without a rambunctious youngster pestering him.)

Madigan is the real reason for this post. Part of the reason I didn’t blog much last year is because I felt I didn’t have anything interesting to write.

I rode Gina for half an hour. She was a little stiff at the walk but her trot felt as springy as ever!

Moe keeps leaning over the fence to eat grass from the yard. I really need to fix the hotwire.

Madigan cantered at baby school and didn’t look like he’d fall down!

However, over the last couple of months, the gears in Madigan’s head started turning. He filled out a little and gained some control over his mile-long legs. His trot and canter are balanced and confident. The trot to canter transition is so naturally uphill it’s unreal. I think I truly understand the appeal of purpose-bred dressage horses: when nature is working with you instead of against you, things like pirouettes and piaffes don’t seem completely impossible.

Of course, Madigan isn’t even close to doing those things. He’s 3.5 years old and his twice-weekly training rides focus on foundational stuff like maintaining rhythm and relaxation. He’s beginning to learn about lateral movement via leg yield and turn on the forehand. It’s really fun to watch him learn and improve every week!

Conquering ground poles with his trainer.

He’s a joy for me to ride, even though I often feel like I’m struggling to remember how to really ride. Obviously I remember how to stay on, how to post, how to steer, how to stop and go. I struggle to make my body remember how to feel. How it feels when my legs and hands are quiet or when my body is centered or when my reins are even or when my seat bones are connected.

Madigan and I are still adjusting to one another, which I think is normal and expected! He takes care of me as well as a young horse can and I take care of him as much as I’m capable. We will eventually work well as a team. It will just take time and practice. With that in mind, I’m swapping one of his training rides for a weekly lesson.

We have an appointment with a saddle fitter this weekend. I’m optimistic she can make one of my four saddles work. (Although if she can’t, I imagine my favorite Sommer dressage saddle at my former employer is still on consignment, and I know it can be adjusted appropriately.) When the saddle is squared away, we’ll get lessons underway, and hopefully have a fun and successful 2022!

I Rode My Horse

I rode Madigan for the first time last week! And it was a total non-event.

His trainer was out of town training with her trainer, so he had the week off from baby school. He’s had time off before for lameness, trainer vacation, etc. and always been totally fine, so I didn’t feel like I needed to do anything with him. But the idea of riding him has been in my mind for a bit and I figured last week would be a good time to do it. My back and pinched nerve are healed. No lessons were schedule, so the arena would be open and quiet. Madigan’s going well for his trainer.

I pulled him out of the pasture late Thursday afternoon, groomed him, and put my jumping saddle on him. I feel really secure and comfortable in that saddle, which is an Ainsley XC Pro National. It fits almost everything I put it on (because everything I put it on is basically the same shape) and Madigan’s no exception. I don’t think it’ll fit him as a mature adult, but I’m happy to enjoy it while it does!

Every session of baby school starts with some amount of ground work, so I spent about 20 minutes working with him before clipping reins to his halter and bringing him to the mounting block. He stood quietly while I squashed down minor internal panic. (What if he bucks? What if he spooks? Do I remember how to ride??) I got on. He stood there.

It’s nice to be behind chestnut ears again!

We walked a couple of laps around the arena. Steering was a very macro process- I exaggerated the cue with the reins and he slowly turned like a giant boat. Halt and walk worked pretty well. I tripped when I dismounted and fell on my butt; Madigan was unconcerned, which I guess is good?

I rode him again on Sunday with my friend Holly and her horse Semper Fi. He wore my sidepull instead of a halter, which seemed to help with steering. This ride was also a total non-event.

Sad that I removed the leather reins he likes to chew on.

Madigan feels incredibly narrow right now. This doesn’t bother me too much- after all, Moe is also very narrow! But Madigan’s much taller than Moe and lacks Moe’s fun, agile feel. He feels like a 2 x 4 precariously attached to wobbly stilts. I know this will improve as Madigan gets stronger, more balanced, and wider but it’s still kind of a weird feeling to sit.

I’m relieved and excited that riding him is not a big deal. I’m planning to get on him for easy walks once or twice a week in addition to baby school. Hopefully we can hit the trails when the weather cools off!