New Eyes = New Rider

On Sunday I had plans to hit up LA to visit my bff, Sabrina, who was visiting for the week. We don’t see each other very often because she lives in Vancouver, so any time she’s within 150 miles of my house I make a point. Of course my barn just happens to be on the way to LA if I choose to take that freeway. Naturally I scheduled another lesson and warned Sabrina I’d be showing up ripe with the smell of horse. Which she deals with because she loves me (but also because she draws cartoon horses for a living and needs to be exposed to the reality behind the unicorn horns and sparkles).

Look at these nerds.

This lesson (Sunday) was fabulous. Aria started on the lunge line with a complete baby brain which kind of bummed P out a little because she said that she had gotten beautiful work on Aria the previous week while I was out and wanted to show it off. Of course, you know how it goes when you want an animal to perform. You end up with a circus. After a few minutes of shenanigans she ended up riding Aria like the baby she is.

I don’t really know what the difference was between Saturday and Sunday but the saddle that I normally hate sitting in felt more comfortable and Aria felt really solid under me. I didn’t ask for much and P didn’t really instruct much. We kept it simple. I did two laps around the arena at a walk in both directions and then I spent a while getting a good rhythm at the trot in both directions. We had some issues staying on the wall which meant our track looked a bit more like that kid on Family Circus (I pray to god you all are old enough to know what I’m referencing) but I kept the ride very low pressure. Then P piped up and asked me to canter.

Dun dun duuuun.

Actually, it went really well. Other than Aria thinking my cue for the canter is utter shit, I had no issues with my seat, no issues with fear.

And this is a bit interesting to me. When I reflect back on the ride I think I can say that the lack of fear was because I’d cantered on Aria before and it went okay…but I also wonder…

I wasn’t worried about running into anything and that’s not normal. Aria was doing her lateral evasion technique and blowing through my outside aid but I was cool with it because I could see when we’d hit the fence. We flailed around a little trying to pick up the left lead  but it wasn’t panic inducing for me like it has been before. We cantered a few laps around the arena and then P called me in. She had a huge smile on her face and told me I looked like a totally different rider out there. She said I was sitting straighter, my seat was infinitely better, and that I had given a far more superior ride than I had ever done before. She said my new eyes were working for me.

What she said kind of makes sense. I can see. For the first time in 20 years I can see everything, everywhere. Not just through the glasses that keep slipping down my nose. When your glasses slip down your line of vision slips down and then your chin follows. It’s been really nerve wracking to pick up speed on a horse when you can’t see where you’re going. It’s really nerve wracking to have a horse not listen when you can’t tell how close to obstacles you are.

And it is amazing that I can just focus on riding and not worry about gathering my reins in one hand so I can push my glasses up with the other every few minutes. Aria never felt more solid under me in the two months I have been riding her like she did yesterday, which makes sense. For the first time we had an uninterrupted conversation. It was amazing!

Warming Up

I had a lesson on Saturday and a lesson on Sunday, which are the first rides since my lasik procedure and it was really great to get back in the saddle. Last week felt like the longest week ever. It didn’t really motivate me to write but then I had a slammed weekend full of horses (many blog posts to come!) and now my world is righted.

Saturday was HOT. We had a wonderful heat wave that made the horses feel miserable. Plus Aria must have ovulated or something because the poor little girl just looked wrecked and agitated. P and I decided to take it easy and just ride Aria like a baby to keep life simple. We spent a long time just warming up. Aria has been waking up stiff lately. We think it’s because she’s not resting well due to being in season and the breeding area being next to her stall. They move her every time they breed now because she was body slamming the stall walls but I think she’s so fixated on the stallions right now that she won’t loosen up until I bring her home this weekend.

It took a while to get anything resembling a decent trot. Even though we were riding Aria like a baby we still want to promote good rhythm. After about 40 minutes she started to loosen up and bend. Then we started the lesson. Which was a lot of fun because I was working with Aria in uber baby mode and I’ve never experienced that before. She’s is so expressive about it. You can almost hear her saying ‘this is hard’.

I spent some time walking because of the heat but that gave me ample opportunity to ask for shoulder in/shoulder out and work her on a loose rein. Which is something we’ll tackle more of because right now loose rein is a foreign concept to her. I also spent a lot of time trotting on a loose rein and finding a comfortable idle speed while navigating the arena with a youth on a pony. My focus was sitting up and syncing with Aria; keeping it simple and sticking to the basics. Especially important because her fried and hormonal baby brain wasn’t giving us anything good to work with when pressure to perform was applied.

Overall my lesson took over 2 hours, which meant I spent my one-on-one time on the ground lunging and my time in the saddle as a secondary thought to the other person taking a lesson at that current time slot but I don’t mind spending the time prepping and stretching Aria, mentally and physically, so that the work we actually do is done right. It did cause me to miss out on hitting up Mary’s Tack sale with Alex though. 😦

For the fellow baby owners, what do you like to do when your baby horse is having an off day under saddle?

A Colorful Visitor

While my eyes have been healing I haven’t had a lot of horse activity to report but that all changes tomorrow because it will be the end of the required week of healing. I cannot wait!

Hippo Watch 2017 lets me see all kinds of crazy things I would never see my horses do. Like that time Ben got into the foaling stall, or the amount of fighting all 3 horses do in their bid for Lead Horse (including Catalina!). Then there’s the picture below: There is a trash can not far from Valeria’s stall that I thought was out of reach. I thought wrong. She pulled an empty shavings bag out of it and gave it to Catalina to play with. Must have been the best toy every because Catalina snuggled up with it for her afternoon nap after she was done trying to destroy it.

I love lamp.

Very exciting. Something that was kind of exciting: Over the weekend we had a very fancy visitor on the property.


He really caused a stir with the horses. No clue where he came from. There is a house several blocks away that has a ton of peacocks but he wasn’t heading in that direction and dusk was coming.

My sister’s BLM mustangs were both curious & terrified.

Valeria was in beast mode and wanted everyone to know that peafowl are descendants of dinosaurs, most possibly the T-Rex, and should not be trusted. When it jumped on our roof I had to let her out because there was a very real threat of Catalina getting run over in their stall.


I finally got to see that knee action trot on Catalina. Unfortunately, only from the front and back but I love that paddling! Makes my Iberian heart go pitter-patter.

I wondered briefly what would have happened if it had decided to present its tail but I’m actually glad my dummy prey animals didn’t witness that because it might have killed them from fear.

At least they had our brave barn kitten, Rocket, to save the day. He was pretty sold on the idea of peacock for dinner. If that peacock had actually stood to fight their tiny savior it would have been a shocking blow to the morale of all our animals. Haha.



My Eyes, They Burn

I’m writing this from a very dim computer screen, so I apologize if there are typos or other format craziness. Lasik went well and my new vision is amazing but my eyes are pretty unhappy about the whole process and will randomly decide to not focus from time to time. I’m told this is totally normal for at least the first seven days but for that reason I’m going to keep this post short.

I don’t have a lot of horse updates because I’ve been banished from dusty environments while my eyes heal. Ask me how well that’s going. Haha.

Catalina has been using her poop to graffiti the stall walls. Which has put her on a regiment of Bio Sponge and Probios until she starts pooping normal again. Shouldn’t take more than a couple days. She takes the medication well, which is surprising because it doesn’t smell great. I guess that’s the benefits of introducing treats. She’s very keen to at least try anything we hand her.

She’s starting to clear the 3rd rail!

I got some advice from R to help Catalina become a polite terrorist equine citizen. As soon as my eyes are healed I’ll be tackling that because she’s turned into a bossy little baby and it’s not cute (it is cute. It’s really, really cute). He reminded me that you have to teach a horse how to go away before you bring it in close, otherwise you can create some really dangerous situations. And he’s right. We were so busy making sure C would come to us we forgot that once she was on top of us and chewing us to death we were screwed. There will be a whole blog post about that after it happens.

I bought her this rubbery dog toy that’s a deer antler since she’s so orally fixated. It went over really well. I put just a dot of honey on a few of the prongs and couldn’t keep C or Valeria off the toy. At one point V practically had the whole toy in her mouth. V is weird and she’s probably going to make C weird too.

The One Where I Canter Aria

I had a great lesson yesterday!! It only took me 2 hours with traffic to get there, which was really great for afternoon commuting traffic. When I arrived I saw R hobbling around, he just had back surgery done and won’t be riding or training for at least a month. P cut me off before I could go park my car, so I rolled down the window. I knew something was up but I wasn’t sure what, because she always waits until after I’ve parked and changed clothes to exchange pleasantries. Once R was out of ear shot she told me I was going to be helping her breed a mare but not until R went inside because she didn’t want him to know about it and get stressed out.

This is the beginning of their morning ritual to destroy each other.

Hans is a big ass stallion, and the mare was big too. I understand the dangers involved in breeding, so I guess I kind of get why R would get worked up about petite P and I (a whopping 5’3”) tackling this job alone. Not that it was a big deal. Hans is a gentleman and the mare was very quiet. The whole thing was drama free. It did kind of feel like we were a couple of kids hiding behind the football bleachers to smoke a joint after school though. Lol

After that was done we saddled up Aria and I lunged her to get her hormones under control because she’s in full blown Season. With a capital ‘S’. She’s got some incredible stretching at the walk and trot. Once I finesse my cue for the stretch and get her to reliably hold it with contact it’s going to get some nice scores in the show ring. I’m really proud of her because I know the stretch can be tough.

Sharing dinner.

P hopped up and put Aria through her paces. We always start the lesson with P riding because Aria doesn’t always start her lesson off willing and sweet and we want to promote positive experiences. She did really well though. It didn’t take long for Aria to ease into work mode. It’s been really fun to watch her improve over the last month. Obviously when R was riding her she was performing at her top level but knowing that he would be having surgery P took over his workload and the baby horses have had to learn how to respond to a new rider. It took a while for Aria and P to click together but the warmups that I see now versus a month ago are night and day.

I’m hoping next week Aria is at a spot where I can start riding her right away during lessons. I think we’re headed in that direction. We worked really well together yesterday. I was able to keep her on the contact better and we worked in a frame a lot more than we have previously. We worked a lot on our geometry and by worked on I mean we made shapes. None of which I would classify as a circle even though I was trying. Trying and doing. Not the same thing.

Apparently mom tastes better. Eyeball chomp.

Towards the end of the lesson we were getting an oval and it was a consistent oval, which I guess is better than no oval. Then when I least expect it, because when I’m riding well I go into a zen mode where you can give me instruction and I simply do it without thinking about it, P cued me to pick up the canter. I’ve never cantered on Aria before. I started to give the cue with no hesitation and then I guess I realized what she asked me to do because I tensed up and my form unraveled.

I don’t know why. I feel like there’s a disconnect in my brain. My logical side knows I’ll be 100% okay because P knows my abilities and Aria is a good baby horse but my emotional side immediately goes into DEFCON 1. It’s really frustrating. P coached me through 3 more attempts but I couldn’t seem to get it together and Aria was unsure about picking up speed because she could feel how tense I was. Then P said we would canter on the lunge line.

The cutest and most deadly of muzzles.

I feel like those moments when you’re given the option to take the easy route are suicide for self-improvement. I didn’t want to canter on the lunge line. I wanted to get my shit together and canter on my horse. That’s why I’m taking lessons. I told P I wanted one more chance. I know it’s counterproductive to ask a baby horse to do something continuously and not have it go well. I kept that in the forefront of my mind as motivation. I needed to nail this cue and I needed it to go well.

It wasn’t pretty but on the final try I did get a canter and I cantered for 3 horrifying laps. Haha. I say horrifying because it turns out Aria is a wiggleworm. She does not keep a steady pace or hold herself in any way. Keeping her on track is 100% the rider’s job. She would dive in and then straighten out and then dive in and then try to track right when we were going left. Sometimes I would get a solid curve through the corner and sometimes it would be a sudden 90 degree turn. My seat was everywhere. My hands where everywhere. My leg cues were not refined enough or quick enough to support her like P or R. Totally terrifying.

V loves standing on the rope or picking it up & pulling on C.

I was smiling, more than likely from embarrassment, after we stopped. Aria’s choice. Probably because her baby brain couldn’t deal with my flailing anymore. I felt really silly and really proud at the same time. My heartrate was way up but at least I accomplished this one tiny, but huge to me, task. Then we changed directions and I asked for the canter again. It was a lot nicer this time around. I knew what to expect. My emotional side didn’t think I was going to totally die and we ended the lesson on that note.

I may never feel comfortable at the canter but I’m always going to push myself to live in that uncomfortable space anyway. I do hope one day I have enough good experiences at the canter that the bad ones are diluted into near non-existence. I couldn’t have hoped for a better ride to ruminate over before I take a week off to recover from LASIK surgery. It will be the last time I push my glasses up my nose so I can see where I’m going and maybe not worrying about visibility will improve my confidence. That or I could develop mutant powers. I’d take either.

To The Left, To The Left

I had another lesson on Aria yesterday (that makes 6!) and have another today. I’m really trying to cram them in before she comes home at the end of the month. The more often I can ride her in front of my trainer(s) the more he/she can fix or adjust anything I might be doing wrong before I have to recreate my lessons on my own. We’ve made big improvements. I still ride her like a hot mess (lol) but at least we look better doing it.

I’ve really been focusing on sitting up straight while I’m riding and sitting back when asking for an upward transition. It’s not easy but I’m starting to feel pretty confident while riding her. Which is great because I hopped up on Ben’s back late last week for a trail ride and got my confidence rocked pretty hard. It’s really obvious he doesn’t trust in me and my ability to lead. I can’t blame him. I was just a scared passenger for over a decade. My confidence levels are only just starting to rise and I’m not solid enough in my skills to tackle his antics when he starts blocking me out due to whatever is setting him off.

Omg please ignore the halter-bridle and just focus on how pale my right arm is.

I talked to P about it and she said that for now I shouldn’t ride him outside the arena because it wasn’t worth the backwards progress. I totally agree with her. I find it funny that I feel safer on a baby horse than on an old man horse. I’m sure it’s because Ben and I have a history of bad experiences and Aria is a clean slate.

In addition to working on keeping my back straight I’ve also been trying to work on my seat. I tend to use my hands to get the bulk of my work done and my natural reaction is to use my reins. I’ve been trying to stay aware of it because it’s not really proper riding. Things like focusing on engaging my seat more to get deeper corners and upward/downward transitions. I spent my lesson yesterday weaving cones just using my seat (at least I hope I was using my seat and not subconsciously using my hands!). I am definitely more adept at it going left and seemed to have a harder time engaging my seat while going right. I’m right dominant, so maybe someone can tell me if this is normal or unusual.

My view Friday morning.

Admittedly, I kind of feel my issue is the saddle. I don’t want to try and make an excuse for my crappy riding but I think it’s exacerbating an existing problem. As I’ve said before it’s really not comfortable, although I’ve grown used to it, and it seems to always slide to the left on me. Which might be from uneven stirrups. I’ve tried changing stirrup length and putting more weight in my right leg to see if I would get a more even ride but I got no love. My left leg and knee usually hurt after the ride too. Ultimately I think the saddle and I are just not compatible. P rides in it fine, so either she has uneven legs or I have uneven legs. Lol

Have any of you experienced this problem, where you know that your skills might not be great but the equipment you’re using isn’t doing any favors either?

Diamond Jubilee & Meeting Bloggers

The Carl Hester clinic didn’t happen for me this weekend, which I was kind of bummed about (serious frowny face). I got the hefty vet bill from Valeria’s illness after foaling and couldn’t in good faith spend more money. I did hit up the Diamond Jubilee Horse Show with L from Viva Carlos and Alex from thehorsedream. It was fun to meet up with local bloggers and chat about horses. They were both really cool (no lies) and I enjoyed the steady stream of conversation that went on the whole day. There wasn’t a single Iberian horse at the show (all the Iberian classes were canceled) which was a shame. I should have entered Aria. We could have been swimming in blue satin. Haha.

Morning yoga.

We did spend a lot of time towards the second half of the show picking the line-up and without boasting too much, the 3 of us should get paid to judge Morgan/Saddlebred shows. Our track record for correctly picking 1st and 2nd place means we’re basically experts now.

After seeing all the really cool show clothing I kind of regret how boring my dressage outfit is going to be. I was also really surprised by how many American Saddlebred Horse farms San Diego had. I mean, I knew about Scripps Miramar Saddlebreds but I had no clue we had such a booming ASB community. When I think of San Diego and horses I think of thoroughbreds. Who knew?

Smooch.

I definitely foresee more hangouts in the future with L and Alex. Maybe even a harebrained trail ride with two baby horses and Scarlett. Not sure I’m feeling that lucky…maybe just some arena jaunts first. 🙂

I’m sure you probably want an update on Catalina! She’s turning into more of a moose every day. For comparison, here is a picture taken the morning after she was born.


And here is a picture of her at 3.5 weeks.


And another picture I took on Sunday at a month old.

For real, eating is the only time I can get these shots.

I’ve installed a couple feeders to help her eat since she doesn’t reach the ground well. She doesn’t like bending down and was dropping to her knees to graze but lately she’s found a new system that works way better.

She’s much surer on her feet now but I’m still awaiting the elusive trot that she never seems to want to perform. She has, however, perfected whatever this gait is.

We’re still working on not chewing on humans. She thinks a fun game is seeing if she can sneak in a quick bite and get out before I can react to correct her. Working with her on leading goes well on occasion but often devolves into hold-on-to-the-rope-while-baby-frolics-on-the-end-of-the-lead. She also gets really, really mad if I don’t let her chew on the lead rope. I would really like to attach a lead rope to her and leave it on her for a few days to wear off the novelty but Valeria will sit and chew on the rope until she destroys it. Basically, I need to find a baby boot camp or something because she’s smarter than I am!

Five Rides

I’ve had a total of 5 lessons on Aria at this point! I can’t believe it. We’re starting to understand each other and she’s blowing huge holes into my foundation as a rider. Which is a good thing because obviously I’m not rock solid in certain areas. I want to be a solid structure as a rider.

The first 4 rides were just me feeling her out, riding her like a baby, and not applying too much pressure to perform at the level that trainer R gets out of her. She’s very fancy when R and P ride her. She’s not even in a frame when I ride her. Haha. If you want proof, look at my previous post.

The 5th ride P stepped it up big time. I was required to keep Aria in a working frame and we really pushed my doctor approved ‘20 minutes of trotting and cantering’ by just doing 45 minutes of trot work. Shhhh. Don’t tell anyone. My right leg was killing me after 20 minutes but I pushed through the pain because I was clearly loading on my right and maybe the pain would help me stay even a bit more. Spoiler alert: didn’t happen.

We had a great ride though. I see a lot of potential in Aria. She’s very much a challenge to ride right now because we are both trying to clarify cues, she’s constantly trying to get away with doing what she wants versus what I want, and she can get sticky (read: lazy) but I’m having fun and I get to watch P warm Aria up before each lesson, which is a treat because P rides like this:

Hans – IFSHA 2012 World Champion in the Friesian Dressage Hack Open; IFSHA 2012 National Champion in the Friesian Dressage Sport Horse In Hand Stallions 6-and-over division.

What I’ve really enjoyed most is the transformation that Aria has undergone.

February 2016

March 2017

In 2016 Aria looked like a yak more than an Andalusian. There are aspects of her head that still make me wonder how much Pura Raza Espanol she has…

I think the most obvious difference is she’s kind of grown into her head and neck a bit. Or at least she’s filled out enough that they don’t look nearly as big as before. She doesn’t always photograph well to show muscle tone but the overall impression I get from her in her recent photo is that she looks like an adult. Her lines aren’t so jagged and angular anymore.

Her neck has filled out even though the pictures are taken on her mane side (remind me to either braid or take pictures from the other side) and her crest is muscled closer to her withers now. Her shoulder and chest have filled out. From the front she doesn’t seem too wide anymore. Her barrel connecting to her flank is more filled out and her hindquarters are rounder from muscle.

Somehow her ears look smaller now. Her tail has grown a lot since it was chewed off. You can also tell more muscle is happening in the back end because her tail head is less visible. We’ve been trying to bulk her up and help her develop more muscle in the past two months but she seems pretty happy at this current weight. She’s not a big eater and I think her limited diet of timothy hay and rice bran may play a factor in her protein intake and muscle building. I plan to ask my vet but if anyone has any suggestions on a way to get protein into a horse that isn’t wheat or alfalfa, I’m all ears.

She’s turning 5 this spring and Andalusians are notorious for growing slowly (which is why I didn’t want anyone to back her until she was 4). I’m sure we wont see her full physique until she’s 10 but this is already a dramatic improvement!

Willpower Over Horsepower

Last week I posted about my first ride on Aria and I even included the only picture that was taken. I was actually surprised that I liked the photo enough to share. Admittedly I’m not thrilled with how I look but as Teresa and P said last week, Aria and I look good together. I’m very flattered to hear that but in the back of my mind I definitely feel there is room for improvement on my end.

When I bought Aria I knew she was around 14.3 and when I sent her off to be trained she was millimetres away from being 15 hands. Knowing that and knowing she was probably never going to clear 15 hands unless I let her feet get really long, I took it upon myself to lose some weight. All the articles and studies I’ve read have recommended that horses not carry more than 20% of their body weight, excluding ponies, mules, and draft breeds. According to these articles that 20% should be a balanced weight that moves with the horse and not against it. One article that I read had research from a group in Cornwall, England that found that a load of 10-15% was ideal to satisfactory, which caused much panic. While an American group in the same article found horses that carried 25-30% of their body weight had more physical problems and showed significant strain along the spine and back muscles. I really do recommend that last article. It was an extremely interesting read.

aria2

Me looking a little heavy but at least my leg doesn’t drop below the girth.

All that information really motivated me. I lost 30lbs after speaking to a couple nutritionists and using the meal plan found here* (because I’m lazy about meal planning). I had successfully kept the weight off for several months using the app My Fitness Pal. I say ‘had’ because I was recently put on prednisone and gain 10lbs almost overnight. Prior to the steroid weight gain I was hovering consistently between 205lbs and 211lbs depending on my water intake. Being able to stay consistent is important for long term weight loss. Not losing the weight too fast is also really important to long term weight loss.

However, even 30lbs lighter isn’t light enough for Aria. While I may look okay on her (personally, I think I look heavy, even if I don’t look ‘omg-get-off-that-horse heavy’) studies show that she’s taking a lot of strain. Because of this, my goal for the next few months—which is also totally motivated by the fact that I suddenly gained 10lbs—is to lose 40lbs. It’s a big goal. I fully expect it to take all year, but hopefully before Thanksgiving because I love me some stuffing.

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Trainer P looking a little tall.

I know weight and rider-to-horse ratios can be a sensitive topic. It does and doesn’t bother me to be open about my weight. I’m proud that I weigh less than I did but I can’t help but wonder if some people know how much I weigh and are too polite to ever say anything about my size when they see Aria and I together. Being overweight comes with enough self-inflicted insecurities without worrying about what others think but sometimes it can’t be helped and that internal monologue has to play out. However, if I thought my weight goal wasn’t achievable I wouldn’t have purchased Aria. I know it won’t be easy to lose the weight and it will never be a linear process, much like riding, but I once heard someone say: losing weight is hard but being overweight is hard too. Pick your hard.

That really resonated with me. Today my hard will be weight loss.

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Trainer R some how looking just right.

And I just want to mention before I wrap up this post. If it wasn’t for Aria, I would be okay with my body. I actually do feel very comfortable when I look in the mirror, excluding the past two weeks were the 10lbs gained was very noticeable. My only concern when it comes to my size is if my blood work comes back saying I’m unhealthy or within margins to become unhealthy. But I love my silly mare with her helicopter ears and that means I’m willing to make changes for her, as I except most of us would.

What do you guys think? Do you agree with the recommended max weight a horse should carry? Would you ever speak up if you thought a rider was too heavy? Do you think there is a way to approach the subject or is it too taboo?

* I am not recommending anyone follow the meal plan I linked without consulting a doctor first.