I’ve wanted two-tone boots for a really long time!
About a year ago I mentioned to my mother in law that I was looking for a new horse. I had actually been looking for a while, and had already gone to see a few horses, but hadn’t been able to commit to anything yet. She immediately suggested we go and look for my next horse in Germany (she is German). I declined — I didn’t have that much to spend on the horse, let alone the import fees, I wasn’t looking for anything super fancy, and I was pretty sure I could find what I needed here. MIL disagreed. If what I wanted was a safe, sane, fun horse to show on, I could find a really nice one in Germany. And as for cost, she would help me out.
The offer floored me. I love my in laws, and we have a great relationship. But I never expected an offer of financial support in the low-five-figures for my hobby. After a few weeks of talking it out, I decided to go for it (duh, otherwise I wouldn’t be writing this). The worst possible thing that could happen is that I wouldn’t find a horse in my budget, and I’d be in the exact same position — horseless and searching. So in January, we booked our flights for late February and started to make plans.
Since we all lived through the last two years, you know what happened next. After postponing the trip twice, each time by about a month, we said fuck it and pushed all the way back to September. That turned out to be a great choice. I was so busy this spring and summer that I didn’t go to the barn once between late May and early August. I was very glad not to have a new horse distracting me from work during the summer. But it also gave us time to get our broker situation sorted out. Since MIL is a dressage rider, her contacts were only somewhat helpful on the event horse front. Through a lucky turn of fate, MIL’s (distant) cousin has very good friend who absolutely loves eventing, and this family friend turned out to be just the human we needed for Projekt Hony.
Now, to talk about money for a minute. I want to write about this amazing experience honestly, but I’m not really ready to just lay out exactly how much it cost for the whole world to see. I’m not wealthy, but this clearly isn’t something you just do without having some serious money behind you. (Though “serious money” probably means different things to different people.) At the same time, a lot of the experience was not because of the money I had to spend; we just got lucky with the people we knew and by having an amazing broker.
I’m going to describe the known costs as well as what I was looking for in a horse, and if you have some familiarity with travel and the horse market right now you’ll have an idea of the numbers. This is not something I could have done on my own, nor is it something I ever would have predicted myself doing if you’d asked me two years ago. It is an incredible privilege to have the family support I do to make this happen, and to be honest it is not something I am sure I will ever be able to afford again.
We set some pretty clear guidelines for my horse search, but outside of the non-negotiable things there was a lot of flexibility. My “ideal horse” was 7-11 years old and smaller than 16.1 hands, but they had to have show experience at 1.0m – 1.10m (training/prelim height), and be super sane and sound. They didn’t need to be a total packer, they didn’t need to have fancy gaits, and I didn’t mind a bit of a weirdo, but they did need to have enough knowledge to make up for my lack thereof as I work toward showing at training level.
Funnily enough, the cost of importing a horse hasn’t really changed much in the last 10 years (from what I’ve heard and read) — it’s still between $7,000 and $10,000 USD depending on things like ground transport distance, quarantine, and waiting time. And thorough pre-purchase exams are expensive everywhere — my broker told me that a very thorough exam with 45 radiographs cost about 3000 euros.
We flew in to Hamburg on Sunday the 19th, and met up with family friend, Karsten, and our broker, Gunda, that evening for dinner. We had an amazing time talking about horses, eventing, dressage, politics, horses, team selection, the Olympics, team coaches… it turns out, horse people are the same everywhere. We just want to talk about horses!!
They had sent us some video ahead of time, but only of a few horses. I asked why, and both Gunda and Karsten said that sometimes horses don’t come across accurately in video. They have found that buyers may skip horses that are worth trying or get attached to horses that aren’t quite right based solely on the video. They want the buyer to sit on a lot of horses and get an idea of what they do and don’t like from each of those rides, which then shapes what horses they see on subsequent days.
Gunda gave me a very rough run down of what our horse visits would look like. She suggested that we have the trainer ride each horse first (though she gave me the option to get on it before the trainer did) on the flat and jump a bit, then I could ride the horse. If I liked it, we could go out to try it on cross country — either right then, if there was a close gelëndeplatz (cross country field), or on a later day if I wanted. The plan was to try LOTS of horses on Tuesday — “It will be a long day,” they warned me — and then adjust the horses we would try on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday based on what I did and didn’t like of the horses on Tuesday. On Saturday, we would do second auditions of the horses I liked best and then make a decision on which one, if any, to send for a prepurchase exam.
I asked how many horses I would see on Tuesday, Karsten listed a few of the appointments — “The pony, then the Haya horse, the Irish, three with Dorothea….” I was like SIX? SIX HORSES IN ONE DAY? Gunda just shook her head and rolled her eyes at him (they were totally like an old married couple), “Karsten doesn’t even know all of the appointments, you are forgetting them.”
It was eleven. I would meet eleven horses on Tuesday. A fact I would not discover until halfway through Tuesday.
Before I met up with the Projekt Hony team, I was legitimately worried about the trip. Mostly I was worried that I didn’t have a hope of being able to ride these powerful, athletic, forward horses. But I was also worried that I wouldn’t enjoy riding them, or I would only be able to afford something very young and somewhat under-trained, or maybe that I wouldn’t get a chance to look at very many horses and it would be a waste of time. MIL was amazing though; she told me that it was fine if we didn’t pick a horse in Germany and I didn’t have to buy anything I didn’t love or wasn’t comfortable with.
I was also worried because I hadn’t participated in any planning of the trip. After MIL and I settled on what I wanted and what the budget was, I had just left things in her capable hands. My plan was just to show up in Germany on the 19th and do what I was told. It turns out, MIL wasn’t in on the plans much more than I was. Gunda and Karsten arranged everything, from finding the horses to setting up the appointments to driving us around.
I was ALSO worried (wow, apparently I had more worries than I realized) about the potential of getting ripped off. We’ve all heard the stories of people getting sold inappropriate horses, domestically or abroad. We’ve also all heard that Europeans don’t just let their nicest horses go internationally — they send us their criminal and rapist horses. We’ve heard that European trainers/horse sellers see Americans and add tens of thousands of euros to the purchase price, a quick meal ticket and easy solution for a horse they might not be able to sell in-country.
I asked Gunda and Karsten about this on Tuesday. (I felt pretty comfortable with them, because Karsten was a family friend, and after you spend ten hours in a car with people, you get pretty comfy.) They both openly admitted that it happens all the time. Dishonest people exist in the industry, and some are willing to sell inappropriate horses to anyone — German or American or Korean or Australian. It is what it is. Now that I’m 95% of the way through this process, I can wholeheartedly vouch for working with a broker you trust.
Monday we had free. Gunda had a hunting clinic with her GSP and Karsten had to work, so we took the day to sleep in a bit and explore Hamburg. Monday night we met up with MIL’s cousin for dinner and more talk about horses. The girls in their family are also horsey, so they asked about Murray and I tried to explain the…. Murrayness to them. MIL had a great idea to just show them the picture of Murray rolling on cross country.
The stereotype of Germans being straight-laced rule followers isn’t entirely wrong. Our family was somewhat horrified that Murray would do that to me, and I’m not sure they entirely believed me when I said it was hilarious and my saddle was fine. Once they got past the poorly behaved horse, MIL’s cousin proposed a toast — “zu einem aufrechten pferd” — to an upright horse. (MIL thought this was hilarious. Because it was.)
And so the search for Aufrecht began.
Fergus died a week ago.
He colicked acutely and severely in the early hours of the morning. When surgeons opened him up a few hours later, they discovered that most of his small intestine was necrotic and entrapped. They euthanized on the table.
I didn’t write about Fergus as much as I could have. A combination of time and the weirdness of writing about a horse that isn’t your own. Thankfully, that is my only regret.
Fergus made it easy to love him. He was so genuine and honest, there wasn’t a deceitful bone in his body. You had treats? He wanted treats! You could be his new best friend.
He was just particular enough to make it feel special when it was apparent that he really liked you. TrJ topped the list, then me, then his real mommy, A. And I only came before A because I was a much more plentiful treat dispenser, and she was the Evil Needle Poker of Adequan Times.
But he was just fussy and zippy enough under saddle that it was really apparent when he was working with you or was doing his own thing, and you could tell from the rail who he appreciated riding him.
Fergus was the first horse I’ve known who really did enjoy a good cuddle. He wasn’t much of one for wither scratches — I only found a good itchy spot on him once — but he would happily stand there, resting his head on your shoulder, even taking a little nap if you’d allow it.
He was always tolerant of stupid human games. Go for a walk in the early morning with a coffee mug? Into it. Play unmounted games and fling yourself off his body? Into it. Canter bareback on the track and nearly fall off the side? Confused, but into it.
He was fun, and talented, and an excellent teacher. I could have enjoyed learning from Fergus for years to come.
I am so grateful that this little horse let me be his person. That he made me laugh and groan and smile and sigh exasperatedly and think and wonder and dream.
The horse search marches on. I’ve sat on five horses now, and am setting up trials to see four-ish more in California later this month (if they don’t, you know, sell before I get down there), and have some excellent leads on a few horses up here too. I’m not too stressed out about it just yet. Why? I’ve been insanely busy, and hardly even made my riding days on Fergus in the last few weeks. So while I can wish and hope for a horse of my own all I want, I have to face the harsh reality that I wouldn’t be spending all that much time with said horse anyway.
I wrote a few weeks ago about what I started out looking for, but to recap:
- something to go Training on in the next 2ish years
- a horse who wants to work with his rider, not somebody who has to be convinced to play every day
- has to pass a comprehensive PPE (this is what I get for having a sports medicine vet as one of my best friends)
- age/sex/breed not important — but small is great, love me something under 16 hands
- please not grey
In accordance with #1, I’ve tried a couple of lovely schoolmaster types. Different from one another, but both sweet, kind, and fun to ride. Both horses that I could come out at Novice on next year and actively work toward Training level. And at the end of the day, I can’t commit to the frequency of riding, work, and training that either those horses needs to be their best. Sure, I could take on either of them and ride them 3-5 days a week and maybe 6 days on good weeks, and make intermittent progress forward and back and hammer away at Novice for a while next year. But I’m not sure that’s something I’d enjoy, and it sounds like it’s not something those horses would love either. Even sweet, kind, forgiving horses have limits.
When I was complaining to L about this, she (annoyingly accurately) asked “Do you have the time to keep any horse Training fit?”
L and I have talked a lot about what it takes to move horses up the levels. Even though we compete in different disciplines, the big move up gaps are pretty similar. And it takes time to keep up a horse’s confidence and a rider’s skills, not to mention the time it takes to prep for shows and go to shows and recover from shows. I’ve spent plenty of time looking over the Area VII calendar, and there aren’t a lot of weekends that I can give up for events. I could give a weekend by weekend accounting, but it’s not worth the characters — in short, there’s 3-4 weekends in Area VII that I could show. Am I going to try to move up from Novice to Training on four show weekends?
Is that even realistic?
So. We re-evaluate.
What do I love about riding and what horse will make it so that I have more of that in my life?
I love learning. I LOVE LEARNING. And I also love teaching. So I’m going to need a horse I can learn on, and something that enjoys learning from me. I’m going to throw all different types of teaching at Horse (clicker training, horsemanship, cowboys, pressure/release training), so they have to be game to learn.
A huge part of the learning/teaching relationship is the bond and the process. I am hesitant to say “I LOVE THE BOND” because it’s not just about having a Precious Ponii who I can pet upon and fawn over and love on. I want to do those things too. But part of what I value is the teacher/student bond, where both me and Horse are teacher and student at different times.
I love horsie adventures. I’m a kid at heart and since I didn’t get to have horses as a kid, I want to make up for lost time here. Trails (there will be trails ON MY PROPERTY soon it’s going to be magical), beach rides, XC schooling, bareback rides, games, fox hunting maybe? I need a horse game for adventures and some shenanigans.
I love a personality. I’M JUST GONNA SAY IT OKAY. I love a horse who has a sense of humor, who is independent, who can take a joke, who can make a joke. I LOVE WEIRDOS OKAY.
I enjoy showing. I want a horse I can get out to a couple of shows on and have a good time — no need to be perfect (standards are low thanks to showing a Murray for five years), but Horse can’t need weeks of prep just to get out and show. I already have to pay for a veritable shitton of active, full memberships for show management (USEA, USEF, USDF), so heading to one rated show is pretty affordable to me.
I love not sharing. I have a weird schedule, I need flexibility. Leasing has been great, and I would absolutely consider a full-time care lease. But I don’t want to be beholden to anyone else’s schedule any longer.
I love not cleaning up other peoples’ messes. Let me put this the real way: I don’t want to have to clean up other peoples’ training messes.
Maybe I’m overly judgmental, but there are a lot of horses out there who don’t have great learning skills and I think a big part of it is how they were trained early on. I don’t want or need to spend time fixing that.
I love a horse who “matches” my mechanics. This is part a horse-intrinsic thing (I think) and part a training thing. But when you can get on a horse and steer it and move it around, it’s more than just “well trained”. Maybe it’s that “feels right” thing people often talk about. I’ve felt it a few times in horsey trials, and I like it.
That’s a few things, and a good place to narrow down my search. It’s stupid for me to pay Training-packer money for a horse I’m going to ride Beginner-Novice-level often. I don’t need that much horse. But I do need to figure out what I want in a horse and how I can maximize my chances of getting that.
Well, it’s happening. I’m horse shopping. I’ve already been to see two horses, and with any luck will see two more this week. It’s insane. Now that I’ve started arranging to try horses, I can’t seem to stop.
I wish I’d written more about my journey with Fergus this year, but it turns out that farm life — even in the quarantimes — is demanding. Luckily, I invested in a cute little Moleskine notebook (but, in classic Nicole fashion I somehow bought a 2019 one so had to start changing days/dates after Feb 29 this year, which is when I noticed) so a lot of what I learned and discovered is preserved. I’ve spent plenty of time poring over the blog archives and comparing them to my journal and headdesking repeatedly.
If you’d asked me even ten days ago what I am shopping for, you would have gotten some version of the following bullet points:
- something to go Training on in the next 2ish years
- a horse who wants to work with his rider, not somebody who has to be convinced to play every day
- has to pass a comprehensive PPE (this is what I get for having a sports medicine vet as one of my best friends)
- age/sex/breed not important — but small is great, love me something under 16 hands
- please not grey
What have I tried so far?
A green 6yo and a track broke 7yo.
And now we’ll skip around in time for a second — I promise it’s relevant — to talk about the last monthish in Oregon.
We had fires. I grew up in Australia (it’s flammable) and California (also flammable) and I have never experienced fires like these fires. The fires started overnight on September 6th in Oregon with a huge wind storm. On September 7th I worked in the orchard and felt the smoke come in throughout the afternoon. September 8th, I met with a fellow farmer in the morning and he showed me some apocalyptic pictures of smoke-darkened skies in Jefferson. September 9th, I woke up to this.
On September 10th we moved the horses from TrJ’s barn to a lovely barn in Washington (really just over the border). It was a precaution and not needed, but it was very much a “better safe than sorry” situation since there is one road that services 3 large barns, many private homes, and an entire golf course subdivision. Imagining the traffic if we had all tried to evacuate at the same time is the stuff of nightmares.
Anyway, as with all of us affected by significant smoke, Ferda took some time off after the fires. We got lucky and a nice rainstorm cleared out the smoke on September 18thish. So since then we’ve been walking. And ground poles-ing. And playing with the stability pads. And stretching. And calisthenics-ing. And walking.
Yesterday I finally popped on for a bit of a trot. I didn’t like it.
I have enjoyed Ferda for months now. He’s sweet. He’s fun. He’s small. He’s relatively easy to influence with my seat and biomechanics. But it took all of one ride on a horse that matched my biomechanics a bit better to realize that I don’t like it that much.
So I mulled over it for some days and talked to my people. Horses with training typically come with training and musculoskeletal patterns that are hard to break them out of. Maybe those are patterns I’m totally down with. Maybe the aren’t. I’ve been working on overriding mediocre action patterns with better action patterns in Fergus for nine months now and it feels like hitting my head against a wall. The second he got a month off he popped right back in to the old patterns — hard. And those patterns are…. not patterns I chose or love.
So now I’m questioning everything — EVERYTHING — about what I’m looking for in a horse. And honestly, it’s made me think deeply about what I really want in my next horse. Here, in this area, for me, it seems like finding a horse who can bop me around training in the next 2ish years might be a stepping-stone horse. Those horses are great. They are worth their weight in gold. Do I want that horse? DO I want the quirks that comes with that horse in my budget?
I’m not sure.
Do I want to deal with movement patterns I didn’t create? What is it worth for me to jump around 3’3″ cross country? Am I willing to play by that horse’s rules (and maybe that trainer’s?) just to do that?
So. Bizarrely. After saying I was looking for and wanted something for months, I find myself thinking I maybe want something else. I’m not sure. Maybe one of the more educated horses I try will be the right biomechanical and body fit for me. But I just don’t know.
For now, I’m keeping an open mind and being probably the world’s most annoying horse shopper. TrJ has for sure given up on me, though — bless her — she still shares videos of promising creatures with me despite the fact that I veto 70% of them on sight. And I’m just… messaging sellers who have horses that interest me that I think I might get along with.
Amanda kindly pointed out that it’s poetry month, and suggested we share our favourite poem about a horse, or one that brings us joy. As an Australian I’d be utterly remiss to skip this poem. But more importantly, I LOVE this piece. It always gives me chills.
The Man From Snowy River
A.B. “Banjo” Paterson
There was movement at the station, for the word had passed around
That the colt from old Regret had got away,
And had joined the wild bush horses – he was worth a thousand pound,
So all the cracks had gathered to the fray.
All the tried and noted riders from the stations near and far
Had mustered at the homestead overnight,
For the bushmen love hard riding where the wild bush horses are,
And the stockhorse snuffs the battle with delight.
There was Harrison, who made his pile when Pardon won the cup,
The old man with his hair as white as snow;
But few could ride beside him when his blood was fairly up –
He would go wherever horse and man could go.
And Clancy of the Overflow came down to lend a hand,
No better horseman ever held the reins;
For never horse could throw him while the saddle girths would stand,
He learnt to ride while droving on the plains.
And one was there, a stripling on a small and weedy beast,
He was something like a racehorse undersized,
With a touch of Timor pony – three parts thoroughbred at least –
And such as are by mountain horsemen prized.
He was hard and tough and wiry – just the sort that won’t say die –
There was courage in his quick impatient tread;
And he bore the badge of gameness in his bright and fiery eye,
And the proud and lofty carriage of his head.
But still so slight and weedy, one would doubt his power to stay,
And the old man said, “That horse will never do
For a long a tiring gallop – lad, you’d better stop away,
Those hills are far too rough for such as you.”
So he waited sad and wistful – only Clancy stood his friend –
“I think we ought to let him come,” he said;
“I warrant he’ll be with us when he’s wanted at the end,
For both his horse and he are mountain bred.
“He hails from Snowy River, up by Kosciusko’s side,
Where the hills are twice as steep and twice as rough,
Where a horse’s hoofs strike firelight from the flint stones every stride,
The man that holds his own is good enough.
And the Snowy River riders on the mountains make their home,
Where the river runs those giant hills between;
I have seen full many horsemen since I first commenced to roam,
But nowhere yet such horsemen have I seen.”
So he went – they found the horses by the big mimosa clump –
They raced away towards the mountain’s brow,
And the old man gave his orders, “Boys, go at them from the jump,
No use to try for fancy riding now.
And, Clancy, you must wheel them, try and wheel them to the right.
Ride boldly, lad, and never fear the spills,
For never yet was rider that could keep the mob in sight,
If once they gain the shelter of those hills.”
So Clancy rode to wheel them – he was racing on the wing
Where the best and boldest riders take their place,
And he raced his stockhorse past them, and he made the ranges ring
With the stockwhip, as he met them face to face.
Then they halted for a moment, while he swung the dreaded lash,
But they saw their well-loved mountain full in view,
And they charged beneath the stockwhip with a sharp and sudden dash,
And off into the mountain scrub they flew.
Then fast the horsemen followed, where the gorges deep and black
Resounded to the thunder of their tread,
And the stockwhips woke the echoes, and they fiercely answered back
From cliffs and crags that beetled overhead.
And upward, ever upward, the wild horses held their way,
Where mountain ash and kurrajong grew wide;
And the old man muttered fiercely, “We may bid the mob good day,
No man can hold them down the other side.”
When they reached the mountain’s summit, even Clancy took a pull,
It well might make the boldest hold their breath,
The wild hop scrub grew thickly, and the hidden ground was full
Of wombat holes, and any slip was death.
But the man from Snowy River let the pony have his head,
And he swung his stockwhip round and gave a cheer,
And he raced him down the mountain like a torrent down its bed,
While the others stood and watched in very fear.
He sent the flint stones flying, but the pony kept his feet,
He cleared the fallen timber in his stride,
And the man from Snowy River never shifted in his seat –
It was grand to see that mountain horseman ride.
Through the stringybarks and saplings, on the rough and broken ground,
Down the hillside at a racing pace he went;
And he never drew the bridle till he landed safe and sound,
At the bottom of that terrible descent.
He was right among the horses as they climbed the further hill,
And the watchers on the mountain standing mute,
Saw him ply the stockwhip fiercely, he was right among them still,
As he raced across the clearing in pursuit.
Then they lost him for a moment, where two mountain gullies met
In the ranges, but a final glimpse reveals
On a dim and distant hillside the wild horses racing yet,
With the man from Snowy River at their heels.
And he ran them single-handed till their sides were white with foam.
He followed like a bloodhound on their track,
Till they halted cowed and beaten, then he turned their heads for home,
And alone and unassisted brought them back.
But his hardy mountain pony he could scarcely raise a trot,
He was blood from hip to shoulder from the spur;
But his pluck was still undaunted, and his courage fiery hot,
For never yet was mountain horse a cur.
And down by Kosciusko, where the pine-clad ridges raise
Their torn and rugged battlements on high,
Where the air is clear as crystal, and the white stars fairly blaze
At midnight in the cold and frosty sky,
And where around The Overflow the reed beds sweep and sway
To the breezes, and the rolling plains are wide,
The man from Snowy River is a household word today,
And the stockmen tell the story of his ride.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.)
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
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.
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.
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.)
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.
The Woodland Stallion Station Horse Trials wants YOU to come out and help us run our event! We are putting on Northern California’s only one-day event and it is going to be INCREDIBLE!
But to make it incredible, we need volunteers, and since bloggers and blog readers are among the most competent, capable people I know, I really really really really really want you to help. Please.
Things I can offer you: food, a volunteer shirt, and tons of fun at the event. Plus: a place to stay (with me), and time with these incredible creatures:
Comment or email me for details! WE NEED YOU!
(email is confetti [dot] airplane [at] gmail [dot] com)