a few more biomechanical snippets

There are still a few things I learned at Mary that I didn’t fit into a bigger post, but were still worth remembering. As if I don’t wish I could remember all of it.

the pelvis as a bowl

I had my pelvis-bowl completely incorrectly oriented. I’ve heard several times that the pelvis is a bowl, and in your neutral pelvis your bowl should be perfectly upright — no spillage of your chilli, gin and tonic, guts, or whatsoever else it pleases you to fill your pelvic bowl with.

I had always envisioned the bowl in the pelvis to be following the angle of the pelvis bones — a bit like I’ve shown in the image below.

And as you can see — with your pelvis like this, precious rice is falling out of the bowl!

To combat that and keep the bowl “upright” I tilted my pelvis back. Resulting in my riding on my ischial tuberosity, or where my ischial callosities would be were I an Old World Monkey. Turns out I had this all wrong. 

This is a great way to shrink your underneath, in case you’re wondering.

Instead, I had to reorient how I thought of the bowl inside the pelvis. The bowl sits upright in the neutral pelvis, even if that means that the sides of the bowl don’t nestle up against the angles of the pelvis quite perfectly.

This gives you a much bigger place to sit in the saddle, since you’re not trying to cram all of your weight back between your seat bones and your tail bone.

I’m still not great at feeling when my pelvis is neutral, but at least I’m not constantly trying to tilt it crazily backwards now!

resistance bands

During our neutral spine and realignments lab, I sat in the EQ Saddle Science saddle that we had out and Kate realigned me on the saddle. One of the experienced biomechanics instructors, Agi, was helping her with the more nuanced aspects of the realignment and exercise. After realigning me in the saddle, Agi grabbed some thin rubber resistance bands and popped them on my torso to test my strength in different parts of my torso.

Knowing how my middle is filled with a layer of shifting bullshit sand, I expected the resistances to just reveal how utterly, terribly weak I was in my upper body. Agi put the first band right under my arms but above my boobs and gentle pulled back, and astonishingly I actually managed to stay quite steady. I also felt my seatbones, especially my left one, go *thunk* into the saddle. When she moved the resistance band below my boobs on my ribs, I struggled not to bend in the middle. When she put the band just below my waistband I could hardly resist the pull at all.


a cute bay horse to break up all these words

Agi said that I should be able to generate and maintain the tone in my torso that I felt with the first resistance band all the time. ALL THE TIME?!?! I’m honestly not even sure I could turn all those muscles on if I wanted to, let alone without having someone pull on me to generate that pressure. I need to figure a way back to that feeling so I can start practicing it more!

physical therapy

During our second day’s rides, the workshop participants were paying special attention to my torso and asymmetry during the rising trot. Mary had me turn down the center away from the students a few times. People had already commented that I can slosh my hips to the left much better than I can to the right in the walk, and in the trot there was some interesting “hmmm, what could be going on here?” discussion of my torso. Anne, workshop host and physical therapist extraordinaire, suggested that people pay close attention to what part of my torso wasn’t moving, instead of what was.

What Anne was seeing was that there was a very still part of my torso right below my right ribs, and it was like the rest of my body was rotating and tilting around that still section. Which was a funny way to describe it, but I’ve often felt that my right hip falls away from me dorsally as much as my right shoulder slips away from me ventrally.

the wildest lean

Anne offered to do some quick and dirty physical therapy on me to see if we could even me out in the saddle afterward. So Flounder and I stepped to the side and Anne poked around my midsection for a bit. I’ve never had physical therapy done, but other than Murray-induced injuries, I’ve never really managed to hurt myself all that badly. (knock on wood!) Anne put pressure on a dorsal and ventral point right under my ribs and explained that she thought I had something like little “spot welds” in my torso that were restricting my movement, potentially from a cranial nerve injury in the past (but it’s unclear). She was going to release the pressure very quickly after a minute or two of holding it there to shock my system into letting go of the welds. While Anne was talking and holding pressure on my body I could feel my right shoulder blade settling downward, and felt a bit of a general “sinking” in the right side of my body. After she release the pressure quickly it was like all my guts were reorganizing themselves down and more into my pelvis.

It was totally weird and totally more woo-woo than I usually prescribe to. But I can’t deny that it felt very interesting. Anne held on to another pressure point for a bit and then dropped it, and I felt that sinking feeling again, though less intensely.

I got back to riding to many ooohs and aaaahs from the workshop attendees. I felt very even. And, importantly, like I didn’t have to think about twisting gently to the right, which I have to think about pretty much all the time anyway. Megan said that she suddenly noticed my right shoulderblade. Like she always knew I had one, but it wasn’t until that moment that she realized how solid and present it could be. I could also feel the muscle going up into my neck on the right side in a way I’d never quite felt it before — not painfully, but present-fully, if that makes sense.

It definitely made me want to pursue some more PT with someone of Anne’s caliber and training. Though it will probably get pushed to the backburner with the craziness of my year coming up.

canter Vs


need more back and down!

When we worked on the canter mechanic, I told Mary that it was really huge for me to learn that I could use the knee blocks of the saddle to help get me back and down into the saddle. She interrupted me and suggested that instead I think about the shape of the canter mechanic to be changing the V made by my legs and seat bone in the canter. The V should get longer and skinner in the back-and-down as my seatbones slide over my skin.

Since I’ve been thinking about the mechanic that way, I’ve had much better luck staying in the saddle — and when you stay in the saddle you really can influence the canter much more.

 

on words

The words won’t be forgotten, thought Granny. There’s a power to them. They’re damn good woods, as words go.

– Granny Weatherwax
in Wyrd Sisters, by Terry Pratchett

I still have a few things to write up about what I learned from this year’s Mary Wanless workshop, but I’ve realized through my explorations of the internet that Mary’s methods aren’t the most popular out there. Different people have different objections, but one of the ones I’ve seen is that people don’t seem to understand what she’s saying. That Mary’s words don’t always make sense. And I had some thoughts on that.

Some people might object to Mary because the words she says to higher-level-Mary riders can be pretty inaccessible. During the workshop Mary talked to Tanya about making a board from her 2-pack to the horse’s neck, passing over some cervical vertebrae and then into the neck and through to the poll, pushing the board longer to encourage the horse’s neck to move down and out. Weird, right? I’m happy to admit it. But Tanya is a super high level rider who clearly has abilities well beyond my own. But even to the mid-level demo riders, Mary said some things that might come across as strange if you haven’t been working in her world for a while. “Imagine strings connecting your hip flexors to your horse’s hocks, and draw his legs further under him with every rise as you post.”

What you aren’t seeing, when you just read or hear those words, is all of the reinforcement and awareness that Mary has developed with that rider. One of the parts of Mary’s program that she has emphasized at her workshops is developing greater bodily awareness within each rider. Sometimes it comes in the form of questions: can you feel your frontline all the way up your thighs? How about all the way up to your collarbone? Can you take a deep breath with your left lung? How about your right?

By connecting exercises about body awareness to words about body parts, Mary is creating riders who have a strong understanding of how what specific, discrete parts of their body are doing. Tanya’s awareness of her body is so high that when she thinks of that board from her 2-pack board she turns on a whole suite of muscles, a suite of muscles that are doing things that change the way the horse goes. She’s not just imagining this board. She is doing through imagery.

So yes. Those words are Martian.

When Murray had his amazing session with the cowboy, the cowboy said “I’m going to move his left hind foot by looking at it.” And I looked at the cowboy like he was stupid. But he looked at Murray, and Murray moved his damn left hind foot. And then he moved his right hind when the cowboy looked at that one too.

How. What the fuck?

Pressure, said the cowboy. Energy.

Those words were meaningless to me. About as meaningless as “imagine a board that goes from your 2-pack line into his cervical vertebrae”.

I also watched Kate’s cowboy work with one of her horses. It’s remarkable how all those highly effective cowboys are almost the same. He waved a flag at a horse and the horse did nothing, then he waved it a little differently and the horse yielded to the flag. “So,” said Kate, “you’re practicing changing intention.” “Exactly,” said the cowboy.


refractory to intention

“How do you change your intention?” I asked Kate.

“Well,” she stared at me, “I guess I change what I intend.”

The cowboy gave me the gift of elaborating a bit. It’s about the energy, he said. The energy with which the flag approached the horse, and the energy the flag had when he “released” it from the horse. So we were back to energy.

But what is energy? And how do I change it? When a cowboy hands me a rope, the only other tool I have is flapping my body around and metaphorically, or literally, yelling what I want at the horse. But working with my cowboy, and Kate’s cowboy, you can hone your skills until they are closer to those cowboy tools. Closer to “energy”.

People — including me, it should be noted — also think that natural horsemanship cowboys are speaking nonsense at first.

Think about what you hear some upper level dressage clinicians say.

Ride almost in a shoulder-fore.

Rounder. Flex him.

More. Less.

Half halt.

These words are all just as much Martian as “imagine you have a board from your 2-pack line” or “change your energy”. But they have a meaning in Dressage, a meaning that the people listening to that clinician might even have 1/3 of an understanding or comprehension of. I have maybe 4% the understanding of what “rounder” means to Charlotte Dujardin. I know that a half halt is a thing, even if I can’t execute one to save my life. More? Less? Those words have total mastery over me.

But that’s the thing. Lots of people watching that clinician won’t really know what those words mean, know their full meaning. If they are just a passing rider or auditor, they certainly won’t understand what those words mean to that clinician. But they think they know. They think they understand how to apply “rounder” and “more” to their own riding, and suddenly that clinician’s words become so much more “accessible” to the rider. And the clinician is therefore deemed worthwhile or a good teacher because the listener’s language comprehension skills approximated 1/12th of what they were saying.

Make no mistake. These high-level instructors are all speaking Martian. Some people think they understand Martian. The best of us are just working hard to understand their words.

Image result for wyrd sistersthis book is 100% worth reading btw

(re)learning how to canter

A special focus on the canter mechanic was one of the selling points of this year’s workshop for me. I mean, I was going regardless, but it was timely. I know my canter mechanic needs work, so getting to workshop it was extra exciting. (The other feature of this year’s workshop, polyvagal theory, was a major hidden gem.)

baseline canter mechanic. lots to like in Murray, but several bad patterns
here, the worst of which is flapping my torso around like one of those air
wobbler creatures — you just can’t see it in the still. also my left thigh is the worst.

I’ve been adding puzzle pieces to my understanding of the canter mechanic for a couple of years now. Megan first introduced me to a new mechanic by telling me to think of grabbing the saddle in the “down” beat of the canter and pulling it back up with my thighs, to decrease the accent of the down beat and increase the air time in the canter. Lots of people try to half-halt in the down beat because that’s when you naturally have a bunch of weight in the reins and it’s the beat that feels the most downhill. But leaning back and pulling on your horse when they can’t do anything about it actually — surprise surprise — isn’t that effective.

I added another puzzle piece with Mary’s video about the canter mechanic through Dressage Training TV. There, they accentuate the hip tuck on the hind leg (beat one). In the video (you can see this in the free preview I think), Mary says “weight the back leg, weight the back leg,” with the words “back leg” falling on beat one. When Megan assigned me homework of pushing Murray out of the ground for most of a circle and then half halting him back to a more controlled canter I would say to me self, “on the back leg, on the back leg” to remind myself of how I wanted that weight to fall. (And when I was pushing him out I would say “over the ground, over the ground, over the ground,” and probably push him back onto the forehand, oh well. I talk to myself a lot when I ride, apparently.)

my not-particularly-effective mechanic on Atlas after the clinic (click to embiggen)
specifically note how far back I get in his moment of suspension – I should be folding in that moment

This year, we discussed the canter mechanic extensively after my first demo ride. During that first ride the clinic host, Anne, filmed me cantering in a circle on Floundy. Now, I know I’ve shit talked Floundy a fair bit here, but he really does have a tremendous canter (double entendre intended*), and Kate really has done a lovely job of training him to go on the bit if you just have the right rein length and some bear down. Horse will fucking tell on you if you’re a twiddler or aren’t really bearing down, though. I’m also starting in not the worst place, in terms of my mechanic. Mary commented that my mechanic wasn’t bad in my first day’s canter. I responded that this isn’t really how I canter at home (it wasn’t — Flounder has a nice canter). Mary asked what was I better at, trot or canter? I had to think for a moment, but I said canter. What did I liked more, trot or canter? Canter. Mary’s point: the rider usually prefers the gait they are good at.

* One mnemonic device Mary uses to help people understand different canter balances is the words “Canada,” “Mozambique,” and “tremendous”. Say each words (in your head or aloud) and hear which syllable is accentuated. A “Canada” canter is most desirable, as the most emphasis is on the first beat (beat one/outside hind). A “Mozambique” canter is much more common, probably the most common, and very not desirable: the emphasis is on the last beat (beat three/inside front). A “tremendous” canter is pretty good, and certainly not terrible. The emphasis is on the middle beat (beat two, diagonal pair). You can do something with any of these canters, and you can definitely watch a horse go from Canada to Mozambique depending on the biomechanics. Harder to go the other way, though!


a surefire way to make a Mozambique canter — way too much extension pattern

In our canter mechanic discussion, Mary brought up the fact that the canter mechanic isn’t just “back” on beat one (the back leg), it’s down. And I was like “down? What? Down where?” Anne said that it took her so long to understand this idea that she literally had to use the visual of falling backwards into an inner tube to get it. I prefer the image of sitting on a fence where your knees are holding you on to the rail and your butt is falling back behind you, because there is an element of “knees up” to this mechanic.

And the final piece of the puzzle came together for me when I had Kate realign me for practice on a saddle stand, with Agi looking on. My struggle with my left seatbone had already been revealed at that point, and after Kate got me lined up and neutral, Agi grabbed a resistance band to show Kate and Megan some resistances. She looped the elastic under my armpits but above my boobs and gently pulled back. I resisted, and as I did my knees came up slightly as my thighs pulled me down into the saddle. Agi then said some stuff about how I should feel like that all the time and how I should be able to replicate the feeling without the resistance band but that’s clearly UTTERLY IMPOSSIBLE, the laws of physics say so. (The laws of physics say no such thing, Agi is correct, I need to work harder and smarter.)


pleasantly surprised with my alignment here
should probably be preparing for the back and down at this point though.

Finally, in our third demo ride, we dug into the canter a bit. Mary gave me three things to think about: 1) the carousel pole behind my spine, that my torso is moving up and down on, 2) back on the hind, 3) down on the hind. So we got to cantering around and Mary would layer on the commands. “Carousel pole,” she would yell. After I had that for a few strides she’d add in, “back! back! back!” on the hind leg. And finally “up down, up down, up down” in the rhythm of the second and first beats of the canter respectively. I only got it twice, and it took multiple got-it-lost-its of the first two instructions before I could even get to “down”. But the second time I got it, Flounder’s canter utterly transformed. Not only did I feel like I was finally sitting with every single moment of the canter, but it felt he was one of those hippity-hoppity ball things, but giant, and we were bouncing along the ground.

I haven’t been able to replicate the canter mechanic at home yet, though fortunately Fergus has a very easy canter. Partially I’ve been trying not to sit down into him too much — he either stops or gets tense and zips away if you fall into the man trap, so I have to be careful — and partially I’ve not quite gotten the timing on my own without Mary yelling at me. But it’s very exciting to have a moment of knowing that feeling, and yet another solid pathway of how to get there.


unrelated, but this pony asked for a flaming hot cheeto (twice) so i fed them to her

exploring my (cereal) box

I’m going to dive right into how the Mary Wanless Workshop last week changed my biomechanics. I rode as a demo rider, not a student, so the “lessons” I got weren’t necessarily focused on major problem solving or making me and the horse improve a great deal. They were focused on demonstrating to the other instructors and riders there how biomechanics can influence the horse and rider both generally (everyone should have a good cereal box) and specifically (Nicole has a funny wobble to the right that isn’t present to the left). But that doesn’t mean I didn’t get a lot of great information about my riding and how to improve myself.

(You can see more on the general structure of the workshop in Megan’s posts, and L’s posts, and a bit more about what it’s like to be a demo rider in Kate’s posts.)


it’s very exciting being a demo rider, that’s what Floundy thinks

After asking the first two big questions (“Is it safe?” and “Who is taking whom?”), the instructors pretty quickly turned their attention to our cereal boxes, known in common parlance as “the torso”. Instantly, my cereal box was identified as lacking. To which I cheerfully responded, “yes, I’ve often lamented that I don’t really have a cereal box, I have one of those big bulk bags of cereal you buy at the hippie store”. (It got a laugh, which you know I live for, and a compliment on my good attitude from Mary.) Alexis said that my torso is a classic “soap in the bathtub problem”, and has been very challenging to organize. Don’t I know it.

When we later discussed what each of our bodies would be stuffed with if our skin were just a bag (as if it isn’t), the teenaged demo rider was given “an excellent tonal quality”, the young adult demo rider was considered a little overstuffed/rigid, and I was deemed bimodal. Someone said it was like my legs were stuffed with putty — an excellent, excellent quality, putty is firm but yielding — but my torso was… squashy. One instructor said “it’s like she has a shifting layer of sand above her pelvis. Mary suggested my torso was full of polystyrene beads: amorphous, shifting against one another, not inclined to hold any one shape.


I appear to be stretching up somewhat here, but alltogether not too terrible

All of this is completely true and a problem I’ve been working on ever since my first biomechanics lesson. I’m not sure what my torso felt like before I started thinking about biomechanics (this is an important point — I’ll circle back to this in a later post), but I know that as soon as I started to think about my torso, I’ve felt its weaknesses. It doesn’t want to be a box. It wants to flap back and forth and side to side. Once, Timer pulled on me in a down transition and I felt my seat stay in the saddle and my shoulders go forward and I literally folded in half right above my hip bones. And part of the strategy I was given to combat that is to make my torso shorter and wider; to make it a less-tall rectangle so that it can be a stronger rectangle. And it made perfect sense. I can see in old pictures that I used to stretch up like crazy, so we needed to bring it all back down a bit.


holy stretch up batman

Somewhere along the line I did what everyone does: I made the solution into the problem. Someone told me to bring my ribcage down closer to my pelvis, so I brought it down to my pelvis so good, so good, that I didn’t have any torso left. But it still wasn’t a strong, stable core.

At the end of the first day’s ride, Mary and two other experienced instructors realigned each of the demo riders. Mary worked on me, and focused in on three things right away. 1) I sit too far back on my seat bones, 2) I put those seatbones too far forward in the saddle, and 3) that darn cereal box. The changes for 1 and 2 were pretty simple, but 3 was the real project. Mary first told me to stretch up, “I don’t tell many riders to stretch up,” she said. “You’re one of them. Congratulations.”

I took it as a compliment, obviously.


holy shit look how good i am at squashing my ribs into my pelvis – and this was before i’d even been told to do it!!!!

But simply stretching up wasn’t really satisfactory to Mary. She was standing on a step stool next to me and put her hands on either side of my ribs firmly, with just her thumb and a couple of fingers held together like a little point. She said she wanted to “pull” me up by the ribcage. After wiggling my ribcage up with her hands, Mary said “can you feel like your pelvis is hung in a harness?” I have heard and read that image from Mary several times before, but have never really managed to wrap my head around it. Hung in a harness? From where? With what? I said as much to Mary, “but,” I added, “I do feel like my pelvis is hanging down from my ribs right now.” “That’s good,” she responded. “Keep that.”

Atlas kindly let me volunteer my old position on him on Monday, complete with my inability to carry my own forearms.
note: seatbones pushed forward, no curve to spine (lower back too far back),
sitting too far back on seatbones

Mary pulled my low spine back a little bit — stretching up and moving my seat back had rocked me too far forward on my seatbones — and added a little bit of curve to the top of my spine. She put her fingers on my low back above my pelvis and encouraged me to lengthen my back, between my ribs and my pelvis, without tipping forward — just pulling my front line down a bit, and pushing up my back line. (Almost like how TC wants to go – with his chest plate shoved forward and down.) Mary also had me bear down, on the sides, and in my low down bear down, which was a pretty different feeling after having bear-down-ed through such a crushed torso for so long. She prodded me in the 2-pack and asked me to bear down into those abs specifically, but not to let them fall out beyond my ribs. With a little more poking and prodding and resisting her push, it felt like I had two boards of wood running down my spine, like the two long muscles in my back were finally turned on. (Only about two hundred more to go!)

I practiced “hanging myself” throughout the weekend, poking my fingers into my own ribs and “pulling” up to let my pelvis “hang down” from my abdominal muscles. On day two I walked in with my new seat and torso alignment. One of the participants commented that it looked like I was about 3″ taller. I got to spend the next two days’ rides practicing this feeling, and of all the changes Mary put on me, it’s probably the one with the strongest “memory”. It’s also got a great physical cue and verbal cue, which makes it easier to get back to. By day three I didn’t have to think about hanging myself constantly, I was starting to automate it (probably prematurely, but oh well).

new position. much lighter, much more “meringue”.
could probably use a little less length in the front line and a little more length in the back line.d

I’m not “fixed” by any means, but I now have some much better muscle patterns to build on and improve from.

It’s like I started out with a somewhat crumpled cereal box, and in an attempt to make it stronger and give it some proper edges I was cramming it down as hard as I possibly could. As if pressure would turn my crumpled cereal box into a diamond, since it was clearly never going to be a box. And then Mary came along and was like, well why don’t we stretch this crumpled cardboard out a little bit so its edges can do their jobs and make it like — you know — a box.

a superlative weekend with mary wanless

Last weekend I had the great joy of spending three days at the Mary Wanless workshop held at American Sport Horse. Even better — I got to be a demo rider. This caused a bit of scrambling and panic as I didn’t know I was a demo rider until the Monday before the workshop, so I had to plan to get the hell down to Dodge much earlier than I thought, and Kate had to figure out what horse she was going to sacrifice to three days of torturing me in front of a crowd.

we both love purple we are clearly meant to be soulmates

It was Flounder. Of course it was Flounder.

This was a bit of a cause for trepidation for me, as Flounder has a serious habit of bullying me. He sees me coming, knows I have treats, approximates my weight as not terribly more than that of a 14 year old girl, and pulls out his authenticated LessonHorse™ moves upon me. He loses steering, rushes, balks, throws his head up, throws his head down, and generally behaves as if he’s never even thought about going on the bit before, much less been shown successfully by an actually 14 year old girl. And the worst part? IT WORKS. Fortunately for me, I begged Kate to let me ride a much nicer and smaller pony she has right before I got on Flounder, and in the small-pony ride Kate gave me some tools that I immediately put to use on Captain Flounderpants to prevent him from taking such terrible advantage of me. I cackled the whole time and Flounder, reluctantly, gave up.


yellowhorse in his natural habitat, snoozin in shavings

Torturing myself and learning more about my weaknesses is kinda my jam, so I was very, very excited to be a demo rider. I have some crazy asymmetries and the world’s least box-like torso and I was pumped to have them addressed in front of a crowd. As a demo ride you are not allowed to change what you’re doing until you’re specifically told to, or told to experiment with changing it. So you really get used to the uncomfortable.

Over the course of the weekend, many delightful things were said about me. Things like, “you have a great attitude about this,” and “she has a great tonal quality to her legs, like putty” and “the stuffing doesn’t fade from her legs partway down, I wish I had that” and “you want to see that tendon, which she has in spades”. Those were really awesome things to hear. I’ve been working on the quality of my leg position and tonality all year long, ever since last year’s workshop. So to hear that it’s been paying off was obviously wonderful.


super casual GP rider olympic long list saddle club times

But I also got to hear many other delightful things about me. Things like, “I almost never tell riders to stretch up. You’re one of them. Congratulations.”, and “can you hang yourself in a harness? Good, now hang yourself some more,” and “Nicole’s torso is one of the hardest I’ve worked to align, it’s a total soap in the bathtub.” Also, “she has a layer of shifting sand above her pelvis”, and “have you had a serious head injury at some point in your life?”  and “keep working on hanging yourself over there!” Additionally, “I think Nicole has the squashiest middle I’ve ever seen on a rider. Congratulations! You’ve given me a new challenge!”

To say that I’m pleased I could be one of the few riders Mary has ever told to stretch up and the squashiest middle she’s ever seen would be a vast understatement. I’m fucking delighted.

But my delight isn’t just in Tanya Vik naming me most likely to have organs made out of shifty sand (or Mary’s suggestion – tiny polystyrene balls) or having Anne Howard complimenting the putty-like quality of my leg or Heidi Chote telling me that I did a good job through Floundy’s ridiculous head-swishing or Agi Yother saying my resistance is strong or Joan Bolton telling me my following mechanic is quite good. Yes, obviously I’m happy to brag ad nauseum about those things, because they made my chest puff up. And it wasn’t even getting to watch GP riders heckle one another about their biomechanical flaws. (“You look like the type of people we make fun of. And I don’t want to have to make fun of you!”)

The real delight is the whole environment. Everything taken together. First time learners, second time learners, old-timer-learners, returning learners. All of us working together on a puzzle and trying to put it together into its most whole and accurate form. Some of us have more pieces than others, some of us are the pieces, some pieces disappear after you find them, and some of us don’t even know about the existence of certain pieces yet — we’re just starting to learning that maybe there’s something missing in our puzzle because all the pieces we do have don’t fit together quite right and there’s a kindof puzzle-piece-shaped-hole right in the middle there.

we reviewed footage of the canter. flounder did not approve of canter.

It’s learning. It’s learning and discovery about riding and learning, in an environment full of people who love to learn about riding and learning. And I got to be right in the middle of it. A beginning learner riding okay-ish on a LessonHorse™ listening people to talk about my greatest and most obvious flaws, none of which I knew existed before that moment.

It was awesome.

As Mary always says: rosebud is no worse than a rose.

new found glory

The first time I laid eyes on Fergus I was a little taken aback by the funny little face on this funny little horse coming up to me in the wash rack. This little bay thing had the flattest face I’d ever seen on a horse, but without the refinement that lends elegance to other horses. With his eyes slightly bugged out sideways and a little whale-eye showing, he had a vaguely Anuran look to him. Which is absolutely not to say I didn’t think he was cute — I thought he was adorable! But not, perhaps, handsome.

Fergus is a 13-year-old 15.2 (or 3? or 1?)-ish appendix (TB x paint technically, but all of those paint horses have QH parents). He was picked up by TrJ in Kentucky some years ago when she was there for Rolex. She has a knack for picking up very neat horses — though in reality I think that knack is knowing a lot of people and knowing exactly what she will and won’t compromise on in a horse. When he came home he was slated for one rider, but that didn’t quite work out, and then got passed around like the town barn bicycle for a while: teaching a lesson here, pitching in at a show there, generally being a good guy.


both my boys together – Samwell and Fergus

In late 2018, Fergus sold to someone within the barn who was looking to transition from fun, non-serious riding to still fun, slightly more serious competing in lower level eventing. And that’s when I started to get really familiar with Fergus, because he showed up in the BN jump group with his owner, A, from week to week to week. He was always a good boy; I don’t think I saw him quit on a fence once. But he was prone to getting a little bunchy and zippy, and ducking behind the contact instead of pushing into it.

um that’s an interesting view….

When TrJ first suggested I give Fergus a try I was intrigued, but cautious. I wasn’t sure I wanted to take on such a “project” in the contact, and I was still butthurt that I wouldn’t be getting in some 3′ miles with Harry. I’m so glad I was wrong.

I had a little tester lesson on Ferg before we made the lease official, and in that one ride I was totally smitten. He is a bit of a project in the contact, but TrJ was totally up front about it. We focused on getting Fergus to stretch down and lean into the bridle for much of our lesson. It’s not that he won’t go there, it’s just not his first choice.


I just really love this pole it tastes soooo gooooood

And his canter? It got me like woah. He stepped into it and I was all :heart_eyes_emoji: It’s such a smooth, easy stride. It feels so niiiiiiiice.

Ferg’s been happily cruising around BN for the last few years, stepping in when people needed a catch ride, but I don’t think there’s anything stopping him from running around a novice or two. In the last year A has become a good barn friend (another vet, surprise surprise — I have a type!), and she’s been so kind and accommodating about my desire to show. We’re working on a show schedule together so that she and I both get to go to the shows we want and Fergwyn doesn’t get tired out. (I mean there’s really not much of a risk of that since we’re both so busy.)


he’s the perfect size for me – and also, look! we can do trot poles!

Also, he’s so easy going. Sure, he has opinions. When we go into the arena he immediately knocks over TrJ’s “secret” cookie jar and insists on being rewarded for his cleverness. And yes, one day he riled up every single horse in his pasture in an attempt to avoid being caught. Okay, he also gets a bit tense under saddle — that’s something we can work on. But for the most part he takes a joke well, ground ties, and is a quiet, sensible creature. It’s lovely.

also, we canter! and i, apparently, look at the ground?

So that’s the Fergus. And yes, I’m already low-key planning to steal him and if A suddenly goes mysteriously missing you know it wasn’t me, even though I’d totally take home her two incredibly adorable little dogs as well as her horse. Oh and did I mention that he’s the PERFECT size for me? Oh and that he has a GREAT registered name? New Found Glory. It’s cute AF.

Yeah so for my future horse I need Fergus a small, well-schooled, fun, gelding who will take me on All The Adventures.


also I was wrong, he’s not a butterface at all he’s so fucking cute and he loves food

leasing: the struggle is… medium

The last year of leasing has been an interesting one. And, to be totally honest, when I first started thinking about this post two weeks ago, my outlook was much less positive. So far, things have pretty much worked out for me — but things could absolutely not have swung my way, and I’d almost certainly be a bit more mopey right now.

When I first started leasing, I was just looking for something to sit on. Hence, #reboundpony. I’m not the sort to just kinda plod along, plus I was getting a lot of encouragement about the weißwurst from the sidelines, so of course I immediately started working on transforming the pony into something a little more sport-pony-y. But I also thought I would probably only be leasing in the short-term, and so I wasn’t looking for anything in my lease. If that makes sense. I wasn’t trying to find a horse I could progress with, necessarily, just one to help keep me in shape. Samwell was perfect.


I am very cute, now give me cookies

Then Timer literally fell into my lap. Big, fancy, a ton of fun to ride, and opinionated as shit. After working one another out through many lessons and lots of long, romantic walks where I thought deeply about what I was doing, we really started making progress. For sure, I had to do thing on Timer’s terms, but since he was pretty knowledgeable, it wasn’t always a bad thing. I started to think about showing T  at Novice in 2020, and tentatively leveraging his athletic ability and confidence to move up to Training when we were ready. Then in October, T’s owner told me that she would be taking him back at the end of the year. He’d been going so well that she wanted to think about moving him up to Prelim in 2020, and wanted to have more personal control over his jumping schedule.

I was both devastated and completely understood her decision process and needs. If he were my horse, I wouldn’t be sharing him! After taking a minute to wallow and think about impulsively buying something for myself, I put my head to thinking about a solution to my problem. I truly became a schooled-horse convert while riding T. It was the classically simple opportunity to work on myself. And I realized that I’d do a lot more for myself and my riding and my goals to keep riding horses with a higher baseline than I have so I can more easily and effectively level up my skills.

And this is not to minimize or reduce all the lessons that my green horse, and many green horses, have taught me. But I’m not going to get better at coursing 3′-3’3″ by teaching another OTTB how to jump cross rails and trot around the ring with a bit of connection.


this is totally fun, and I want to keep doing it. but I need to develop my own skills, too!

The problem with this plan? I don’t have the money to buy something going, and I don’t have the money to pay for a lease. I was pretty much looking for a care lease of some kind. Even more specifically, a super-flexible-and-or-half-time one — because my schedule is crazy and dumb at times.

Luckily for me, there was another horse at my barn who was almost exactly what I was looking for. Harry: a former Training level horse who didn’t really like jumping Big. So I checked in with the owner and TrJ and we all thought it might work. Harry’s current leaser was backing down to a half lease, so it was a great opportunity for me to slot right in there and pick up the other days in his work week. I took a lesson on him and he was fun! Not super easy on the flat and a bit of a tricker in an oh-I’m-really-quite-poky kind of way, but enthusiastic and happy about jumping. A weird additional perk was that I would be the more knowledgeable of his two leasers, so I felt like I’d be able to really make some progress with his dressage without feeling like I was messing up what his owner had carefully tuned to herself.

speaking of carefully tuned
(now I’m just going back through all my favourite pictures)

When I got back to the barn in January though, things with Harry had changed. His other leaser wanted to up her days on him again, and a teenager moving up from a pony had been taking lessons on him on his other days. And so Harry’s work week was accounted for, and suddenly I found myself up in the air about what I would ride again.

How could I complain? I’m not going to demand that people bend their leases or lessons around my riding desires, especially when I’m not in a position to pay for what I really right now. I’m in the position of begging and being unable to choose, and I’m not the type of person to complain about how unfair that is. I mean, not endlessly anyway. I reserve the right to complain about it once or twice when feeling sorry for myself.

A tiny part of me felt butthurt that TrJ hadn’t prioritized my riding development as much as the teen’s or Harry’s leaser. But I knew logically that TrJ was absolutely not trying to leave me out with her decision. And that’s the rub with leasing, isn’t it? So much of it isn’t your decision as the leaser. You aren’t just negotiating with the horse, you’re negotiating with the owner and any other riders hopping in on the horse. Which, I’ve learned, can totally suck — like if the horse is used to being ridden *just so* by his very talented owner, it’s going to be hard for you to get the same results from him as she does because you aren’t her. Or if the kid wants to take the pony to a show on your lease day and it happens to be the only day that week you can ride and you can’t change your schedule to change that…. what you gonna do? Be a dick and smash the kid’s opportunity to take the pony out? I guess maybe. I’m just not that big of a dick though. *shrug*

remember when I could kinda ride? (wow this fence looks small. how? I’m not jumping bigger than this right now.)

Oh, and the time period before you’ve figured out how to balance and ride the new horse after coming off something you could ride pretty well and you feel like the most incompetent rider in the world? Duuuude I’ve felt it hard this year. On a pony who I totally thought was going to be a breeze to ride. On a horse whose owner makes him look so straightforward. On a horse who has packed his leaser around from her first show to being the 4th placing adult rider in her division for 2019. I couldn’t ride any of those horses satisfactorily when I first got on them.

In short, leasing kinda sucks.

But it’s also amazing! Because as much as I couldn’t ride those horses in the beginning of my lease (or the middle, at times), I gained a ton of skills from them. Both specific skills for that horse, and more generalizable skills that I could bring to other horses. I stopped being so entrained in just one way of going or balancing or weight in the reins, and learned even more about problem solving.

And luckily for me, TrJ pulled through with a fantastic new lease plan for me. So I don’t need to wallow in the frustrating things about leasing and maybe not getting my riding needs-desires met this year. It doesn’t change the fact that leasing can still absolutely be a struggle, it just skews my outlook to the positive.

Enter: Fergus. I already totally adore him.

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Made a sweet new friend this week 😍

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