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Author: Stephani Hren

Lesson Recap: Recovering After a Fall

Lesson Recap: Recovering After a Fall

Twenty minutes and only a handful of jumps into my very first lesson with LJO as my new teacher, Raglan hopped over the second part of a tiny line, dropped his head between his knees, and proceeded to dolphin buck me into the dirt (while I chanted “you a**hole, you a**hole, you a**hole” as LOUDLY as possible).

“who me? no, i is a v. goo boy remember?”

I was pissed. More than that, though, I was shaken. I told LJO that I didn’t want to do it anymore, but she just gave me The Look (LOL), so we jumped the line again. It went fine.

“You’ve schooled it and it’s done now,” LJO said. “Let it go and move on.”

But even though I was physically unscathed, my confidence plummeted. My mind kept replaying the fall. I felt like I couldn’t trust Raglan not to pull the same move again. Every time we trotted up to a jump I found myself grabbing at his face, just so that I could be 100% sure that his nose didn’t come below his chest.

I knew LJO was right and I needed to let it go and move past it, but my anxiety wouldn’t let me. I held him back as much as possible. I kept half-halting, even when I didn’t need to. Like the saint he is, Raglan went slower and slower until he was barely trotting the jumpsโ€”like they were tiny raised cavaletti.

And then we put the course together and we made it to the oxer.

Halfway over the oxer, I started to wonder what the hell I was doing. Somewhere between the moment his front feet left the ground and the moment his back feet touched down, my thoughts petered out and my grit took over. I landed with my leg on and pushed him forward. We attacked the next fences.

We ended the lesson feeling good about our comeback. I was super happy with what I’d accomplished emotionally! Six months ago I wouldn’t have been able to continue jumping after a fall like that.

Back to jumping our usual 2’3″ fences yesterday!

In the days since, my confidence still hasn’t been quite what it used to beโ€”but that’s okay. I’m not sure my anxiety will ever be entirely gone, but over the past couple of years I’ve made huge progress in learning how to manage and overcome it. I’m proud of myself for overcoming Monday’s setback. ๐Ÿ’—

An IHSA Invasion

An IHSA Invasion

It’s no secret that I love the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association. The past two years I’ve tagged along with TrainerA (who coaches the University of Washington’s western IHSA team) to warm up horses for our local IHSA show in Februaryโ€”I even jumped my first 2’6″ fences during an IHSA warmup round!

Never heard of IHSA before? Here’s what makes IHSA shows unique: the riders compete on horses they’ve never ridden before! They donโ€™t get any time to practice on the horses they draw, they just get to watch the horses being ridden by their owners during warmup. They usually have a few minutes to ask the owner some questions, then they go directly into their classes. They even jump and do reining patterns!

Belle the pony killing it at the IHSA show last February

This year LJO is taking over as coach for the University of Washington’s English IHSA team, and this weekend was TRYOUT WEEKEND. We had a great core group of lesson ponies for the UW riders to jump around on, but guess who else got to participate with a couple of the advanced riders?

“dis not u but whoakay mahm we go ridin nao :D”

The greatest test of an amateur horse’s training is their ability to adapt to new riders. It’s really important to me that Raglan has the tolerance required to be ridden by different riders. Not only that, but watching a stranger ride him is a great way to discover holes in his training that need to be addressed. I love finding opportunities to put other people on him while they ride under the careful guidance of a trainer that I trust!

LJO on Raglanโ€”she’s ridden him several times now, usually to work on his lead changes!

People often ask me whether or not I think Raglan is a particularly difficult horse to ride. It’s a hard question to answer. Raglan is large, strong, and high energy, but he’s also got a good personality. Whether or not he’s an easy horse to ride fluctuates depending on how he’s feeling that particular day.

On Saturday, for example, he was a very pleasant pony. He cantered around happily with his (very tall) IHSA rider on board, hopping over the bitty fences and jumping cleanly around the little course LJO had built for them. His ears were perked up and he thought everything was super easy, but fun.

“yus jompies i luv dose!” (P.S. look at how long her legs are WHOA)

Sunday was a different day entirely. If he had a half halt in him, it hadn’t showed up to work that day. He chomped angrily at the bit, did some wildly extravagant lead changes, and turned a vertical-to-oxer line into an impromtu bend when he pulled hard right mid-ride. He was so fierce.

Both of his riders did an excellent job handling him. The difference between Raglan on Saturday and Raglan on Sunday wasn’t because of rider error, it’s just him. He’s never a “kick ride”โ€”he’s 95% GO TIMEโ€”but some days he uses all of that energy for good and some days he’s an over-sensitive monster. It takes a good amount of instinct and feel to manage his mental state. It’s hard to find the middle ground between setting boundaries and having the soft touch that he needs to keep his brain screwed in.

I would be lying if I said that I’m not looking forward to watching him (hopefully) mellow with age. At the same time, though, I’m so happy with him that I don’t mind dealing with some occasional fire and brimstone. It’s part of the territory of owning a young, athletic Thoroughbred.

Pretty sure all of the fire and brimstone is what makes this possible, too

Despite Raglan’s semi-murderous behavior, all of the IHSA riders made it through tryouts and LJO was able to group them up by skill level so that they can start taking lessons together. I’m excited to have the UW students back at the barn and I can’t wait to see how they do this season! Raglan might even get to participate in this year’s IHSA showโ€”attitude dependent, of course. ๐Ÿ˜‚

The End of an Era

The End of an Era

Last Monday marked a turning point for my life at the barn: it was my last lesson with TrainerM.

I think Raglan and I gave her a really solid final ride!

She’s headed back to her home state for a long vacation, then she intends to pursue real estate in the greater Seattle area. She’ll still be around to cover lessons for TrainerA and throw the occasional clinic, but she’s officially out of the weekly instructor rotation. A big chapter is closing in my lesson program!

TrainerM on Ezhnoโ€”the horse AND the trainer that rebuilt my confidence together ๐Ÿ’—

Watching TrainerM go (even on a not quite 100% basis) is bittersweet. I spent two years, seven months, and three days under TrainerM’s tutelage. She’s been with me for my entire journey as an adult equestrian. She guided me over my first cross rail, my first vertical, my first oxer. She helped me buy my first horse, then gave me the strength and confidence to move onto bigger and better things with Raglan.

TrainerM testing out Raglan before I got on him for the very first time

There’s no one that has had a larger effect on my abilities as an equestrian than TrainerM. I’d go so far as to say that my foundation as a rider is built on the countless hours she’s spent teaching me.

Jumping my very first oxer under TrainerM’s watchful eyeโ€”I def fell off LMAO

As I push forward into a TrainerM-less future, I’ve found myself trying to catalogue all of the skills that she’s taught me. It’s an impossible task. So much of my understanding of timing, theory, and biomechanics is rooted in the lessons that I took with her. It’s more than just “inside leg to outside rein” and “lift his belly, pick up his shoulders” and “feel his inside hind come underneath him”. It would take 946 days for me to properly convey just how much the time TrainerM put into my development as a rider means to me.

TrainerM walking alongside Raglan and I at his very first show

More than anything, I’m so grateful for all the times when TrainerM could have given me a harsh word or given up on me completely, but instead offered me kindness, compassion, and patience. My progress as a rider hasn’t always been an easy road. For a long time, my anxiety made it hard for me to function. There were days when I couldn’t even without succumbing to a state of panic, let alone jump.

Raglan and I jumping our first 2’3″ oxer while TrainerM held the camera and encouraged us

Throughout it all, TrainerM has pushed me to do better, without breaking me.

TrainerM jumping Raglan over a 2’9″ vertical

Yesterday I started the next leg of my journey with LJO, who’s taking over TrainerM’s lesson duties. I am beyond excited to continue learning under a new teacher, but I’ll never forget everything that TrainerM has taught me and I wish her all the happiness on her new path! ๐Ÿ’•

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