Horse Professionals and Customer Service

I read an article a few months ago, Is My Relationship with My Trainer Normal? It annoyed me greatly at the time, and I thought about it again recently as I’ve been searching for a new trainer, and customer service has been on my mind a lot. 

To me, this article basically amounts to a trainer saying, “Stop talking and give me money.” Trainers don’t have to be responsive, they don’t have to give you the attention you are paying for, and you are expected to foot the bill for them to show your horse without complaint. If you don’t think you are improving, well, that’s just because you don’t understand the subtle intricacies of horse training, and aren’t qualified enough to look beyond A+B is still equaling C. 

I may not be “Expert Horseperson, knower of all things equine,” but I am still moderately knowledgeable Courtney, and even if I don’t know everything horses, I know how I’m expected to behave in a professional environment. I know that I can’t push off my boss’s requests, ignore clients for other clients, and charge them for things not previously agreed upon. Why do trainers get away with this behavior? Poor customer service is rampant. People fall into this business because they like horses, and rank people low on the priority list. 

In my years of working with horse professionals, I have been annoyed by many things that I kept my mouth shut about. I showed up for a scheduled lesson, started riding, but when my trainer came in, she started reworking her footing instead of teaching me. 45 minutes went by before my husband took over working with her footing so I could get my lesson. One big name trainer, who I was so excited to work with that I bought 8 lessons up front, ended up being on her cell phone the entire time. I have a video of her staring at her phone while still telling me I was doing a great job. I never finished out the lesson package. There’s the chronic lateness. I show up on time, trainer doesn’t show up until 15 minutes later. Lesson still ends at scheduled time. Or, changing my private lesson to a group lesson without consulting me, and still charging me the same private rate. 

One of my favorite stories is when I paid for a lesson for my mother in law. I was a working student with this trainer, and therefore, I guess she thought I had “sucker” written across my forehead. She gave my MIL a 10-minute lesson, barely did anything, and asked my MIL if she felt sore. My MIL said she did feel a little sore (as expected of a brand new rider taking their first lesson), so my trainer had her get off and tried to charge me for a full half hour. Sorry, that’s not happening. I was so enraged, I fought that one. 

Most recently, I took a trial lesson with a new trainer, and I really liked him. After specifically asking him the best way to reach him, I emailed him to schedule a follow-up lesson. No answer. I messaged on facebook, no answer. He saw the message, I could see that. But still, no answer. 3 weeks later, he finally replies that he just saw the message, so sorry! But nothing else. Do you not want my business then? I find that hard to believe based on your Facebook advertising. So why are you putting so little effort into customer service? 

Customer service can make or break other businesses. Look at Yelp reviews of any random store or cafe. Uber drivers go above and beyond to get a good rating. Social media users are inflamed by anything they think is low-quality customer service. Yet, horse professionals get away with it because “that’s how it is.”

I know good horse people are worth their weight in gold. They help us understand our horse’s brain, they help us achieve our riding goals. But I think the true marker of a professional is someone who has the complementary skills of business sense and customer service. Yes, this is a horse business, but in the end, it’s a people business. The horses don’t pay the bills, the people pay the bills. 

This means, my horse doesn’t care if you’re 15 minutes later. But I, who has a meeting after this lesson, and needs to allow for enough time to get my horse and I cleaned up so I can get there on time, do care. I care a great deal. That meeting is what makes me able to afford this hobby, and it is (sadly) a higher priority than the lesson. 

It means that if I’m paying $60 for a lesson, I want your full (or if a group, divided) attention for the duration of it. Sure, you can take a breather (ideally when I take one too) or if something literally takes only a minute, go for it, but do you really think there is any situation that I would be happy to pay for you to play on your cell phone for the majority of my lesson?

It means communicating with me where you think my riding is going. If you can’t offer up the plan of my riding progression, I will assume you don’t have one. If you can’t tell me why I’m doing something in a lesson, I’ll assume you don’t know. If you don’t know, I certainly don’t know. Teachers and professors are expected to have a syllabus, do you have one? I wouldn’t expect an actual paper, divided up by semester (or lesson, haha) but I know trainers follow a basic formula/progression of the steps of building a rider, and if you can share your plan, I’ll know I’m on the right course with you. 

In that same vein, it means a two-way conversation about our roles training the horse. If you toss out that you should show my horse for me, yeah, I’m going to be a bit annoyed. First off, I pay for lessons so that I can ride my horse. It’s my horse, it’s my dreams, it’s my goals. If my goal to take my horse into a 3’9″ hunter derby, why would I pay you to do it? I don’t care if it’s the first time the horse does it, again, it’s my goal to take my horse into a hunter derby. What have I accomplished by having you show my horse? Yes, I get it, it needs “miles” or whatever. How about, I’ll pay the show fees to ride my own horse for miles, because that’s the point of buying my own horse. For me to ride. If the trainer thinks that I’m not ready for the derby, well, that’s the entire point of being in a training program, isn’t it? For me and horse to prepare for things like that? If I’m not actually ready, why would I go to the show in the first place, let alone pay all the fees for someone else to do it?

I know not all horse professionals rank customer service as a low priority. I’ve talked with some trainers that make my heart sing at how much they do care about providing excellent customer service. In that group, even some of the Big Name Trainers I contacted consider customer service a priority. I reached out to one BNT about lessons, she emailed me back within 10 hours with her cell phone number so we could talk directly. My friend recently reached out to (author of a recent amateur article) about a lesson. She didn’t have the contact information so she just contacted the sales page. It wasn’t her, but they brought the message all the way to her, and then her secretary reached out with information. It was maybe a three days total response time, and they provided updates of where the message was along the way. These are two both highly talented riders and trainers, but they understood the importance of customer service. 

Making customer service a priority would not be difficult. The trainers themselves need to set a new standard and decide to respond to all messages within a timeframe or at a set time, lessons will be on time, they will not be on their cell phones, and they will give all paying clients the attention they pay for. Basic things. But right now there’s no incentive for them to do this. Amateurs allow customer service to be a low priority because “that’s how it’s always been done,” and articles are published telling them they should just expect this kind of treatment. I think we should set the standard and insist on good customer service. I’ve personally decided I’m sick of putting up with bad customer service, and I will not patronize any barn that makes it a low priority. In the future, I plan to call out bad customer service as I see it. Not publicly, and not in an attempt to embarrass, but to tell them how it affects me personally, and why I need to be at a barn that puts a priority on good customer service. I will give my money to trainers and professionals who view our relationship with professional respect. 

I’m not being difficult, I just want a respectful relationship with my trainer. I will do my part to respect their time, not bother them with unneeded messages, make sure my expectations are clear and pay on time. 

I hope others will join me in insisting upon good customer service, and maybe we can change the industry for the better. 

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New Trainer, New Adventures

This last weekend was as action packed as any horse-obsessed person could want. It had all the excitement of a lesson, baby horses, moving hay, and a horse show! I need an extra day off to recover from this madness. 

Today’s topics – Lesson and hay

I was half-heartedly looking at new trainers. I say half-heartedly because I really like my trainer, both in personality, character, and overall horse knowledge. But, something just seemed off. I was looking for something next level. I was wondering if I was to throw my all into lessons and training, how fast could I improve? Having a good trainer is essential to improvement, and I want one that really pushes me and takes me to the next level.

I happened to see an ad for a trainer just outside of Middleburg, and I did some research. He had a student compete in the Upperville Internation Hunter Derby, and that is literally exactly the level I want to get to. I want to do hunter derbies, and handy hunter, and perhaps International Hunter Derby is a bit far-fetched and expensive to contemplate, but seriously, shoot for the maximum possible. TO THE EXTREME! Why just settle for, “eh, maybe something fun?” Why do I have a job, a farm, several horses, putting my blood sweat and tears into horses if I’m not shooting for the best I can be?

I jazzed myself up just writing that. Kind of makes me feel absurd for when I recap my TEENY TINY jumper show in a few days, but gotta start somewhere!

So, back to the trainer – He was offering a free day of lessons so people could try him out. That is one of the coolest things I’ve ever heard, and I was very interested. Risk free* trial!

*Did end up with physical ailment, but wouldn’t say that was anyone’s fault. 

horse field
I forgot to take pictures, so here I am leading Pony back to his field after he made an unsuccessful, half-hearted attempt for freedom. He made it down the street, and then was too cowardly to actually leave, and he came back.

It was for trailer-ins only, but luckily that’s all I do anyway, so that was fine. I also figured, I have a pony, D’Arcy is a person, she can take a free lesson, too. So we both met there early Saturday morning, full of anticipation for our free lesson.

The farm is gorgeous! It has all the charm of the style of Middleburg farms, and it’s a huge plot of land, perfect for conditioning. They have a big outdoor, and a graded grass Grand Prix field. Unfortunately no indoor, but they do have an agreement to use someone else’s indoor, so that’s almost the same thing to me (actually, literally the same thing, trailering to one place is as easy as trailering to another.)

I pulled up to a nice easy turnaround for trailers (the little things are important to me!) and noticed a pretty little appaloosa in the barn. Everyone who appreciates the wonders of appaloosas is good in my book, so that was a definitely plus. 

We met with the trainer, talked for a bit, and then headed up to the ring. He made us do lots of flatwork, and made me concentrate on getting Berry to use her hindquarters. Berry is built downhill so she doesn’t like to use herself naturally, it’s definitely a struggle. He used analogies that made sense to me (Your horse is like an accordion, and right now, she’s at full extension. You push the ends together more) and I found that this kind of visualization really works for me. 

We did flatwork for half the lesson, which I appreciate. Flat work is the basis of everything, after all. Then, we began the jumping. 

He emphasized pace and footfalls over counting strides. He told us not to count strides, and to instead feel the rhythm of the canter, and let the horse figure out the distance. No searching for distances for us! This suits me perfectly, because I have never counted strides, and just “ride out of hand” so to speak. And I don’t mean that in a classy, top end rider way, I mean that in a I’m too distacted and forget to count way. I have made half-hearted attempts to count my strides, but I guess in the end, I don’t really care enough. I guess I see a distance, and I know when to hold back and ask for another stride at this point, but I basically just go with the flow. So, this is quite interesting to me. 

We did a few simple verticals, and then he had me jump one of the verticals from the opposite direction. This of course greatly upset Berry because there was a coop laying in the grass outside the ring, and she could see it from that angle. She refused the jump! I can’t remember the last time she refused. I was pretty shocked, but I turned around and did it again. Another refusal! He ended up dropping the top rail, which was fine with me, because I want a trainer that’s not afraid to take a step back and make sure everything is great at a lower level before raising it. 

This photo has no relevance to this post, but is a great example of what we look like when I’m talking to someone.

He added in a 2’9″ panel oxer. This would have been the biggest jump Berry and I have jumped. We’ve done 2’9″ verticals, but never an oxer, and never a panel, and it looked HUGE. So yeah, would have been. She refused that. She did it in a new way too… when she usually refuses, I can feel it before the jump. She gets squirrelly, and I know she’s not feeling confident. With this one, she made it all the way to the base, solid distance, and then realized she didn’t feel confident and slammed on the breaks. I guess my legs must be getting stronger because I didn’t come off, I just slid forward and took the entire impact in my chin.

This has never happened to me, and immediately aftward, I wondered why riders don’t have helmets that protect their chins. It hurt so bad, I thought I broke my jaw, and I was sure I got a concussion. I was in a daze for a few moments while I felt my jaw line, but the pain faded pretty quickly, and I didn’t want to look like a baby in front of two people, so it was time to go at it again. (My jaw now has moments where it hurts, and other times when it feels fine. I think it might have dislocated, but I pushed it around a bit and my teeth mostly line up now. It’ll probably be fine!)

Trainer dropped the back rail of the oxer, and I went at it again. One small thing I am proud of is that I have finally learned to not hold a grudge against things like this. I think a year or two ago I would have been scared to do the jump again. But now I’m either numb to it, or I’m managing to control my mind enough not to let it be an issue. I went at the now just a panel, and it was great. No issues, no hesitation at all. It really felt like a lovely jump.

The trainer kept adding more pieces until it ended up as a tiny course of jumps. I focused on my pace, and he noticed that I softened way too much right before the jump, and I need to stop doing that. I think it was really productive, and it felt like such a good ride.

This is Berry right before she started pawing in this tiny puddle.

Pony was a good boy as well. It seemed like he and D’Arcy were having a good ride, and she jumped him as well. Towards the end, he started getting tired, and he reverted to “little kid pony mode.” He was literally acting like a stubborn little pony deciding he’d had enough of his small child rider, and he could just ignore her. Unfortunately for him, D’Arcy is a full sized adult, so she spanked his behind. This made him quite indignant, which is something I haven’t seen before. 

She was asking for him to go down the line one more time, and he was refusing to walk another step. She whapped him with the crop, and his little temper flared, and apparently decided the best thing to do was hand gallop down the line, flicking his tail in indignation the entire time. 

Since he is just a pony, the effect was comical instead of intimidating. It was essentially what D’Arcy wanted, so perfectly fine. He was allowed to end after that, being a perfect little pony. 

We cleaned up the horses, and with promises of another lesson once the two big shows in my area are over, we headed out. 

We went to visit baby horses after that, but when we returned, I had 6 round bales in my front yard that needed to be moved to the barn.

The delivered hay had been dropped in my front yard due to the uneven hill that goes down to my barn. It just wouldn’t be safe for a giant flatbed to make it’s way down there. That meant we had to push the hay down the hill manually. It sounded way easier than it was.

First, we used the tractor to push the bales. This resulted in the binding of the bales ripping, and we ended up with a lovely snail trail all the way down the hills.

The horses like it though. It’s perfect for eating and sleeping in!

This happened with two of the bales. One exploded near the top of the hill, and the other exploded right by the barn. But to stay positive, four bales did survive the entire journey! Hurray! 

It took an hour and a half to move these six bales, and all of us were sweaty and covered with hay, and scratches from hay. But at least… my horses have hay for the next six months…? Hurray….?….! 

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Ups and Downs

The weekend was off to a great start. I went riding with a friend, and I schooled Berry over some jumps, practicing landing on the correct lead. She got it 75% of the time. Progress! Maybe I can do that instead of those blasted lead changes!

Berry was practicing holding her head at a slant.

Camera 1
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She had actually slipped going around the turn and she was so disappointed in herself, she shook her head back and forth. I think she’s being a bit too hard on herself. It’s okay Berry, we all slip from time to time. 

We went on a nice relaxing trail ride after. Berry was very enthusiastic about that, and showcased her enthusiasm by taking a bounding leap over a ditch so vigorously, that despite being very prepared for such a thing, I nearly fell off. I was lucky my friend was standing on the other side and Berry felt it was fine to stop as soon as she reached her. It’s moments like these that I wonder if she actually is a talented jumper, she only feels like showcasing it when other horses are watching.  

Berry out on an adventure!

She loves trail rides, and I love that about her. 

On Sunday, I took a lesson with my trainer. It’s only my second lesson with her this year, and on the first occasion, Berry and I were so out of shape it hardly counted. Now, I’ve been riding her regularly, and we’re feeling good. So I was expecting a pretty awesome lesson where I wow’d my trainer with my poweress.

“Wow, your amazing practice and results from that 2’6″ course you did at a show are really paying off! Look at you, you are clearly capable of moving up to 2’9″ immediately, and probably 3′ seconds after that.”

Naturally since I assumed it would happen like that, it happened nothing like that. We warmed up while she was finishing her previous lesson, and then we discussed my current issues (namely those damn lead changes!) and we decided to do a simple warm up: canter the long side, and circle around in a teardrop fashion back to the same long side. Basically, canter leg yield. At the rail, I would do a simple change. 

It sounds super simple, and really it should have been. This is an exercise Berry and I have been doing since at least a year ago, many times. So we began.

And it was a disaster. At first, she simply broke the canter, my fault. But then I got after her to do it, and she started getting snippy, so to speak. She started blowing through my aids and rushing down the long side like a freight train, her chin tucked to her chest. So, we were told to half each time in the middle of the long side. That started a whole new range of issues. Blowing through the aids, rushing, and then dragging me down as she halted, and then backing up and popping rears. I only vaguely knew she had it in her.

We decided to take it back a step, and just canter in a circle. And that’s what I literally did, I cantered in a circle, keeping her head up so she didn’t drop it to her knees. I had little t-rex arms to keep her up. 

Artist’s interpretation of the ride.

We got to do lots of half/canter transitions. Berry was so pissed she started pawing the ground at every halt. Completely new behavior.  

Eventually my trainer sent us back to the long side for the canter leg yield exercise. It still sucks, and I had the added bonus of feeling like I was about to collapse in exhaustion. Before this, I’ve never really been sternly talked to by my trainer. But I got a stern talking to today. I was floppy and all over the place and not backing up my aids, and letting her get away with everything. I will admit this is all correct. It was a pretty awful ride.

Eventually, as the horse and I were drenched in sweat, we called it a day. She didn’t do it acceptability, she just stopped being somewhat pissy. She was only sort of pissy. A slight improvement I guess. 

It was rough. I suppose I took for granted that my horse would always be mostly good. I needed a reminder of what it’s like to ride a green horse…or to ride a not so green horse, just one that’s in a pretty pissed off mood. Horses keep you humble…

Now my homework is super basic – “Canter your horse in a circle. Next week, we try again.” Big difference from the 2’9″ I thought we’d be doing. 

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Berry Returns to her Homeland

Last weekend, I took Berry on a trip down to the barn where I had purchased her from, so many years ago. I even dragged Dave along, and he was willing to take photos for me. But, after he’d already been positioning himself for great photos and snapping away, we discovered I forgot to put the SD card in. Seriously, the worst.

But, he did get a few winners on my cell phone.

Whee, the long spot!

I took a lesson with Berry’s brief, former owner, who also trained Pony Man last year. She’s a pretty amazing person overall, but does not usually give lessons. I felt quite special getting one from her. 

The long spot in all its glory.

As with many equestrians, my main problem is confidence. I start to get scared, and then I lean forward, and then she jumps long. I must learn to stay tall and proud! Or something cheesy like that. Also, start actually trying to get lead changes. I basically give no effort, therefore, Berry gives no effort, and we go without. But that didn’t stop me from deciding to take her to a hunter show on Saturday! You know, one of those shows where if you can’t do the changes, there’s basically no point! Unless I can get her to land on the right lead each time. Sure, I haven’t practiced it at all, but maybe I will pull a miracle.

Why do jumps look monstrously huge in person, and then so tiny in pictures?

I’ll be showing her at 2’6″, which will be the highest I’ve ever showed her. I alternately feel great about it, or wonder what kind of horrible mistake I’m making. I’ve been slightly concerned that Berry doesn’t quite grasp the concept of jumping, which is why she has been failing to actually jump the jump, and instead just cantering/tripping over them. Trainer Sarah said I need to take her over some more solid jumps, so she had me take her over this very heavy and solid pole.

It felt like she was going to completely face plant, but she recovered quickly for the oxer that was next in the line. After that solid wack, she put in so much effort that she let out a grunt. It was kind of adorable. Her legs probably didn’t feel that great though.

I did feel really confident throughout the lesson, and it’s a really good feeling to just point at a jump, and know you can do it. I just need that feeling to stick with me on Saturday, and for good measure, forever. 

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Berry is Out of Shape

You know, just to state the obvious…but so am I, so at least we are a matching pair of out of shape individuals. Our shape is more round, ball-like, and uncoordinated.


I had my first lesson of the year last weekend. Berry was blowing pretty easily, which meant our lesson included lots walking breaks. We learning nothing new, and although it was intended to be a refresher, Berry didn’t actually need refreshing. She remembered how to do everything she could do before, including exerting no effort into jumping, and basically just making a slightly bigger canter stride.

Her eyes are closed here. Awwwww…

Unfortunately it felt like a waste of money, and if there’s one thing I hate, it’s wasting money. Berry needs to be able to get through a 1 hour lesson without needing stop breaks. Lacking that, she definitely needs to be able to canter around a ring for mere minutes without her sides heaving.

It was a nice ride, though. It was great to see my trainer again, and it was great to just ride in general. I need riding for my mental well being. All horse people know this – We all turn into different people when we don’t regularly ride.

Poffins kindly demonstrating how akward and uncomfortable I feel when I’m not riding.

Once I made an effort to start riding, suddenly it seemed like I can fit riding into my schedule. It helps that the days are getting longer, but it riding regularly seems doable again. I sometimes lose a little heart when I think about how I have three of them to ride…and wonder why I thought it was a good idea to get three of them**…but my positivity means I will ignore that, and hope for the best.

**When we were kids, didn’t we always wish we had a full stable of horses to fit our discipline whim? HA! What a silly idea that is! (Sidenote – stop collecting horses…just don’t do it. Just because you could, doesn’t mean you should. Just keep thinking of the vaccination bills, my absolute, very least favorite thing to spend money on.)

But...the longing for just one more...
But…the longing for just one more…a lovely jumper foal…Vintage is getting old, WHAT WILL I RIDE WHEN SHE’S GONE?! (Besides, you know, the other ones…)

So, I have a plan, and although I wish I could reveal some devious, brilliant plan, it’s basically just that I’m going to ride more and not take another lesson until Berry is in shape.

Step 1: Just ride. Ride around the neighborhood, ride through your next door neighbor’s vacant lot he’s trying to sell, but he doesn’t live around here anymore, he’ll never notice a thing. Trailer to some trails, use vague promises friends once said about going riding to guilt them into being my trail buddy. YOU SAID IT, YOU CAN’T UN-SAY IT.

Step whatever-number: Drag my arena next time it rains so I can school in the arena again. In case you didn’t know, if stone dust arenas are rained on and not dragged within 2-3 days, they become as hard as cement. They require soooooo much dragging. I look forward to the day when I can get sand …. and a million other amenities, so I’m not really holding my breath. I just try to drag the arena as much as possible. It likes it, I can tell, except for those days when it tries to choke me out with clouds of dust. Then I am holding my breath.

But, despite what I said in the previous paragraph, I actually did not keep up with dragging my arena this winter – it is currently a block of cement. Luckily, this can be fixed, but I have to wait until it rains again. The rain will make it soft enough to drag. If I tried to drag it without rain, it would be like dragging a paved parking lot. The drag would do nothing. It cannot penetrate the solid block of rock.

Step 3: Obviously profit. Although I would then go to a lesson…so not really profit. More like deficit.

This makes me laugh.
Maybe stop bouncing so much next time. I won’t even charge myself for that bit of advice. 

I’m already looking forward to a weekend of riding. What I need to do is get that smug little pony in the rotation. He hasn’t even been ridden yet this year, but he did play tag with me in the pasture, so that was cute enough to get him off the hook. It is annoying that I’m always “it,” I feel like it would be much more fair if he took a turn…

Unless this is the start of him running away from me when I actually want to catch him… In which case, now I’m just annoyed. Damn that wily, conniving pony.

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The Most Painful Lesson

Holy mackerel! A post actually about riding! I don’t think I’ve done one of these in months! Because I haven’t ridden in months!

Yes, what I said in the previous sentence is true. I haven’t ridden since I started my new job, because I don’t have lights at home, and it’s dark all the time. On the weekends, it seems unfair to work the horses when they are so clearly unfit. Although I still would, except I lost my motivation. I’m not even sure when I’ll be able to ride regularly again, and it’s de-motivating.

The best thing to motivate my riding is getting into regular lessons. Lessons inspire me. Since I haven’t taken a lesson since early summer, D’Arcy suggested I come try out her trainer. Why not! I thought. Also D’Arcy made all the arrangements, and that appeals to my lazy side that hates planning anything.

As a side note – I don’t believe trainers own students. Even though I usually take lessons with my beloved trainer, she doesn’t have issues if I take lessons somewhere else, because she doesn’t see it as a personal slight. Because it’s not. This might be different if I was literally keeping my horse at her barn, but since my horses are with me, I like my freedom.


Anyway, so D’Arcy set it all up, and I showed up. For the true lesson experience, Dave dropped me off at the barn, and then my mom showed up later to pick me up, just like a real lesson kid. D’Arcy brought me my tack, and introduced me to Duke.

I am Duke.
I am Duke.

Duke is a super honest but green horse. I liked him a lot. If I had lots of money, and didn’t already have too many horses, I’d seriously consider buying him because I liked him. He reminds me of a giant Pony Man.

We all headed to the indoor, and mounted up.


This is the thought progress of my lesson:

  • Alright, back in the saddle! This will be fun!
  • These stirrups seem really short. Man, I hate having to adjust stirrups, but I can’t ride with them this short.
  • Ahhh, much better. Okay, back to riding.
  • Trotting is kind of painful. It’ll probably go away soon.
  • Omg, cantering is super painful. I should just drop my stirrups.
  • Ahhhh, no stirrups is better. Maybe I should do the rest of the lesson this way.
  • What a stupid idea, I can’t normally do an entire lesson with no stirrups, why would I be able to do it now after two months of not riding?!
  • Okay, I’m putting my stirrups down again. I’m just going to go for the dressage look.
lawl - "Dressage length". Strange things happen to the rider's mind after 2 months of not riding.
“Dressage length”. Strange things happen to the rider’s mind after 2 months of not riding.
  • Instructor says I’m putting too much weight in my seat. This is a serious accusation, I must explain myself several times that my legs hurt. Okay, definitely overdid it, now I just sound like a whiner.
  • My tall boots are also too big, they keep sliding down my leg. I think this is contributing to the “broken ankle” feeling I’m getting.
  • Ankles have now become useless in ride.
  • Okay, warm up jump! Show them you aren’t a moron. It’s only a few seconds of pain, struggle through!
Incorporating what I learned from my defensive driving class into my riding.
Incorporating what I learned from my defensive driving class into my riding.
  • Okay, now a full course. Resisting urge to break down and cry. Mumble that ankles hurt, quietly enough so they hear, but doesn’t seem like I’m trying to complain.
I think the entire course was focused on keeping weight off my ankles. It's a radical new riding technique.
I think the entire course was focused on keeping weight off my ankles. It’s a radical new riding technique.
  • The messiest course ever. Luckily riding a gem of a horse who continues to carry me. Wondering slightly why they allow me to keep riding when I’m clearly broken and pathetic, but also grateful they let me keep riding.
  • Stopping to watch other students do the course is the best. It means I can rest my trembling, broken ankles. They basically can’t hold any weight at this point, I’m trying to compensate by clinging with my legs like a monkey, but not only are my legs too weak, the instructor is on to me.
This is where we learn to absorb the jump in our hands, an essential skill!
This is where we learn to absorb the jump completely in our hands, an essential skill!
  • Watch D’Arcy and other student on their speed demon horses, and makes me feel slightly better that at least I don’t have that to deal with, too. I just have to learn how to steer, a basic, rudimentary skill that I should have learned at some point in my riding career.
I look like a plane putting down their landing gear.
I look like a plane putting down their landing gear.
  • Steering is much better, this time I manage to accomplish putting Duke to nearly all bad distances. But he goes over them, and I followed a basic path, so success. The lesson ends, and I make plans to ice my ankles.
It’s funny because I think I did permanent damage to my ankles!
  • Dismount, nearly crumple to the ground. Thank goodness Duke is good for grabbing onto.

Due to the extreme amount of pain, several times I wanted to just give up and stop riding. But I knew I’d be really pissed at myself later, so I forced myself to do it. It really was so much fun, with the exception of horrible pain. I think my boots constantly sliding down my legs were the culprit, so my plan is to never wear them again. Unless I can get them altered. Not even sure if that’s possible, we’ll see.

Halfway through the lesson, my mom showed up. The other rider’s family had showed up minutes before that, a stream of people coming out of a clown car, so her timing couldn’t have been more perfect. I thought she just came because she loved me and wanted to watch me ride, but turns out she had actually coordinated with Dave, and was there to pick me up. But she still got to watch me ride anyway, so jokes on her! (love you Mom!)

It was convenient when she showed up, because now I had a camera (wo)man. She is responsible for all these photos, including classics like this:

The ultimate bliss of not having to do anything.
My face of agony.
Also, D’Arcy and Addy

Just like when I was a teenager, my mom sat in the car afterward until I had put away the horse and tack. Really brings back memories…

So now I have a brace on my ankle, and I can barely walk. My own horses were pissed at how long it took me to walk from the house to the barn. Bucking, farting, and snorting, running to the barn, looking back at me, taking another lap around the field, running back to the barn, staring at me… They could care less if I’m riding some other horse, but if they have to wait several extra minutes before they get their breakfast, there will be hell to pay.

But I do want to ride more… so success? I can just ride without stirrups unless my ankle is no longer painful! (you know, for probably like 5 minutes, but gotta start somewhere!)

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Playing Polo for the First Time

I have discovered the most amazing riding discipline. I am shocked that I never attempted this before, because it is so amazing, I am now obsessed. Clearly since I wrote it in the title of this post, we all know that I’m talking about Polo. Next time I’ll try to make it more suspenseful and dramatic.

Polo is underrated. Prior to this lesson, I knew that it existed, but I hardly thought about it. It was just there, and I knew that some British royals played it, and the pictures I had seem made it seem as thought they were all over the place on top of their horses. Now I realize this is on purpose, but before, I thought it was just because they didn’t know how to ride.

Incidentially, or maybe not, this is the first year I’ve ever seen live polo. I saw it first on the Farm Tour, and then I saw it a few weeks ago at Great Meadow, which is really how this all got started. D’Arcy knows people, and one of them is a polo player with a string of ponies. She introduced Shelby and me to him, and we talked with him about polo, and he offered to give us a lesson. We all clearly thought this was an excellent idea, so a date was set.

Polo Ponies waiting for the action.
Polo Ponies waiting for the action.

Just a few miles from Great Meadow is a another Polo arena, and we all gathered there for our lesson. As I always am, I was super jealous of this huge arena. I could have easily had a nice 80 meter galloping circle in there, but alas, the arena is only for members of the polo club, of which I am not. Maybe one day, when I end up being so good at this I have my own made for television movie about turning an unlikely string of horses into champion polo ponies.

The lesson started out in the polo cage, with a wooden horse, and a slanted floor. We each took turns getting up on the wooden horse, “Bucky”, and practicing the strange contortions of playing polo. It goes against everything that I’ve ever learned to adjust into this strange position.

Toes out, other leg sticks out with thigh pressing against saddle. Meant to anchor the rider in while they flail their upper body out to hit the ball.

After form, we learned the how to hold the mallet, and how swing. I hadn’t been looking forward to carrying around the mallet, as it seemed like it would be exhausting, but it turns out, when it is properly held straight up, it is actually is weightless and very easy to keep up. We were warned against “hobo’ing” the mallet, but some of us had some issues following this direction.


Once we all had a turn, it was back to the horses, to tack up, and wrap up those tails. All the leather straps are plain and flat. This is not bad, but it sticks out to me because it’s so very different from the raised, fancy stitched tack I’m used to. The stirrup bars are twice the size of normal stirrup bars, and I really do not understand why this is. Although we were shown the proper way to tie it up tails, I did the rush way – I just folded it back on itself and then used electric tape to stick it up there. Not beautiful, but it’ll work. I’ll just add tail wrapping to the list of things I need to learn.

As soon as we were mounted, we had a few minutes to adjust to the horses. All of the horses are ridden by neck reining. It felt different, but wasn’t hard to adapt to. My horse, Doc, ended up being so cool! While I puttered around getting used to everything, he was very calm and docile, but when I started moving out later, it was like driving a sports car. He could turn, stop, whip around, and/or take off on a dime. And even when he was revved up, he didn’t get crazy, just happily did his job. He is a smart guy, and he knew how this all worked.

Once we were acclimated, we practiced situational awareness and twisting around in the saddle. Our instructor rode behind us, and gave hand gestures to which way he wanted us to go. While following his instructions, we also had to remain perfectly lined up with each other.


After our drill team exercises, we each got time to practice hitting a ball and took turns getting individual instruction. I’d say that overall, I had a pretty high miss rate.

It's hard to time the moving horse with when I need to swing to hit the ball.
It’s hard to time the moving horse with when I need to swing the mallet.

I did get a few hits, but nothing that sent the ball a satisfactory distance away.

Just a few hundred more little wacks, I should get to the other side.
Just a few hundred more little wacks, I should get to the other side.

I also don’t think I’m getting my shoulders lined up right for the swing. The action of the hit is supposed to come from the movement of the shoulders, whereas I’m just moving my arm.

Another solid tap!

Once we each had some instruction, it was time for a scrimmage, the Red Team, vs. The Team That Didn’t Coordinate Shirts. We were told to just go at a walk.

Slow motion polo.

That lasted about one play.


The rules are a bit confusing. You have to fall into the lanes of play, which sounds okay, until you are ahead of the ball, it’s coming right for you, and you can’t go after it because you aren’t in the line of play. I ended up fouling my team by going right for the ball. Whoops. It is a safety issue though, because you don’t want players heading for you to smash right into you, and you also don’t want to be smashed into by group of horses.

But, hooking other player’s mallets, blocking their shots, and physically ramming their horse with your horse are all okay!

Trying to do a backwards hit.
Trying to do a backwards hit.

Our entire polo lesson was about 2 and a half hours, and it went by in a flash, especially when we actually started the scrimmage. It was insanely fun, and completely different from anything I have ever done on a horse. I have to do it again, there is no question about that!

I’m not quite sure how this is going to work out, but I feel like I need to train my own horses for polo. Hopefully they can do their normal jobs while also being able to do polo. Otherwise, I guess I need to start collecting more horses! (Dave, if you’re reading this, HAHA! It’s a joke, I promise. If not…time to check out CANTER!)

I started with Berry. She’s pretty laid back, but I wasn’t sure how she’d feel about having a mallet swung near her head. Since I don’t have a mallet yet, I got a broom, and swung that around her head. She seemed okay with it, especially when I helped her get some flies off her back legs with it. We’ve only done halt and walk with the broom though, because she is not ready for neck reining. Her turning radius is currently too much like a battleship.

I did work on neck reining with Pony. He’s small and agile, so I have high hopes for him. I’ve only had one session of practice, but he’s sort of getting it.

"What is happening back there..."
Even if he does seem a bit bewildered.

I haven’t done anything with Vintage yet, but I’m sure she’ll be fine. Between the three of them, I’m on my way to having a very inconsistent string of polo ponies. Now I just need to practice, and also learn the rules, because I am still very, very confused. But still – TV Movie fame, here I come!

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Still Talking About Flying Lead Changes

The above picture cracks me up. It just looks so casual, like I’m not even moving, just relaxing – “Oh hey guys, what you are up to? I’m just sitting on this horse here, I’ll probably be finished about noon.”

I feel like I’ll never shut up about these dang lead changes. I still don’t have confirmed changes, although I am getting better. But this time, I have a video of me failing a lead change. My trainer wanted me to fully understand what I was doing wrong, so she took my phone from me, and recorded my sad attempt at a change. My phone takes some very dark images, sorry about the quality.

The exercise was going over a jump, and then change lead over a pole just before the rail.

Just landed off a jump, approaching the pole.
Just landed off a jump, approaching the pole.
Doing some kind of weird hula move.
Doing some kind of weird hula move.

Apparently this is not the way to do a lead change. My trainer showed me, and told me stop leaning in. STOP LEANING IN!! It was repeated a few times.

With that in mind, I stopped leaning in. It was hard to get the body control, but I brought my shoulders back and to the outside. Wouldn’t you know it, Berry did the lead change, both over this pole, and the second jump/pole combo going the other way.

But jeez, I feel like such a jerk asking for the change. It feels like I’m trying to knock her off over. I’m hoping it will be a more subtle movement once we both know what we are doing.

My trainer had me do the little course several times, and I managed to do the changes. Although that really means almost nothing because as of this moment, I feel very unsure of it. I’m kind of hoping this will be one of those times where Berry is way smarter than me, and figures it out so I can just kind of give up. Thanks in advance, Berry, you’re a real team player.

On the very good side of things, all this focus on things other than the jump is making me actually think the jumps really don’t look so big anymore. When my trainer dropped the top pole, I was thinking, well, you didn’t have to do that, I could have jumped it still. So, it’s finally happened. My fear of jumping is just sliding right away. And April 2015 was when I started taking lessons with my trainer, so it took about a year, although I did go a few weeks/months where I skipped out on lessons. I definitely learned I progress much, much faster when I actually stick to my lesson schedule.

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Flying Lead Changes: The Reckoning

It was time for another try at getting Berry’s lead changes. Super skilled rider hopped on her again for another attempt.

I warmed up Berry and we started the lesson, working on lengthening the trot and the canter. Since lengthening the canter sometimes felt like galloping, this was quite fun! It also reminded me of how Berry is the world’s slowest thoroughbred. I bet Pony is even faster than her. Poor, slow, Berry.

Look of intense concentration.

Skilled rider arrived, and since my trainer was about to have me start the lead change exercise, I immediately suggested that skilled rider should do it! Luckily, this generous offer of letting her ride my horse was accepted.

The pattern was similar as last time – two jumps set up along a figure 8 pattern, except this time there was a pole after the jump. Because the jumps had been rearranged, we ended up using the coop backwards, but it worked well.

showing horse the jump
Letting Berry see the jump.
Backwards coop jump.
Asking for the change over the pole.
Asking for the change over the pole.
Asking for the change over the other pole.
Asking for the change over the other pole.
Back to the other jump.
Swinging back around to the coop jump.

She was successful – She had Berry changing her leads. A few times Berry was late to change in back, but she was changing. It was beautiful to behold! (except the late behind ones. That was just awkward )

With Berry seeming to figure it out, it was my turn to get on. And then it turned out that I still couldn’t get the lead changes, because I am kind of awful at it.

CHAAAAANGEEEEE!!! WAAHH, why won’t you change?!

We did the same exercise as skilled rider, but I could not get balance right. When I was supposed to be leaning out, I leaned in. I was a big, floppy mess.

Stop leaning in!!!
Stop leaning in, past self!!

Jumping was still fun though. It seemed pretty easy, since I was obsessing over the pole after the jump.

Concentrating hard on that pole.
Concentrating hard on that pole.

But I just couldn’t get it. Sometimes it felt like she was maybe thinking about changing. But then didn’t.

I want the change!!
I want the change!!
Doing my body contortionist act.
Doing my body contortionist act.

Womp womp. No change. All this fighting for the change is exhausting work though.

Frequent walk breaks are required.
Frequent walk breaks are required.

Even with taking those frequent walk breaks, I still didn’t get them. It was unsuccessful, and once again, I felt like a big, doughy mess. While this got me down for an hour or so, while I cried into Dave’s shoulder (one of a husband’s many responsibilities is to sympathize over failed lead changes), I’m feeling energized again, and I am ready to try again. I know what I’m doing wrong (leaning in, not lifting the inside hand high enough) it just feels so foreign to me that it’s impossible to do in the moment.

I am eager for my next lesson, to try again. I’ve been riding at home, but I’ve mainly been practicing leg yields, rather than the actual change. I just want to be able to push her over really well to prep for those changes. So my next attempt will once again be at my lesson, with skilled rider there and ready to jump in if needed.

Plus, a nice bonus, when I got on after skilled rider, Berry felt like riding butter. Mmmmm, yes, that hits the spot. Nice, soft horse, jumping forward at my aids. That is definitely a nice side perk!

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Handing Over the Reins

We were on what felt like the millionth exercise to teach Berry and I lead changes. We started going down the long side, circling, leg yelding back to the rail, and asking for the change. The leg yeld was easy. The change was not, and wouldn’t happen. I could sense Berry’s annoyance. I ended up asking for yet another simple change.

My trainer set up a figure 8 pattern with a jump. After the jump, I was to set up for the change, and if she was on the wrong lead, I’d ask for the change. the end result was a pissed off, head tossing Berry as she attempted to figure out what on earth I was asking her to do.

I was getting worn out from asking, and after one frustrated circle, I tossed my reins down (Berry knows this is the signal to stop) and burst out, “Can’t (amazing good rider) get on her and teach her?!”

My trainer considered this for a moment, and to my surprise, agreed.


thoroughbred mare trotting

Most of the time, I’m very DIY. I like to work my own horses. I like to train my own horses. I like knowing how to put the buttons on, and how to work the buttons. The horse eventually ends up feeling like a perfectly fitting shoe, a shoe that can read your mind.

Because of this, it was a little hard to accept this – I can’t teach my horse lead changes. I have been trying. I’ve had many lessons working on getting the change. One day at home, I did it on my own, and was so pleased I was planning to write about having accomplished creating lead changes on my horse. Luckily I did not, because I would have been speaking too soon. Berry did not have her lead changes. The day she did it was a fluke.

But there are just some things I can’t do. I’ve only done lead changes on made horses, and when I actually did them, it resulted in my own confusion in having actually accomplished it. None of my horses have ever had a lead change, and thus, I have definitely never taught a lead change.

Berry has been really good in the time she’s been under saddle, and I think we’ve been doing well without a trainer having sat on her. But based on how pissed off Berry was getting, and how frustrated I was feeling, I realized that I really, really just wanted someone to help me with this one.

thoroughbred halt

Thus entered Amazing Skilled Rider Who is Super Talented and Always Wins at Shows. (ASR for short). She most definitely looks better on her than I do. Saying I’m a little jealous is putting it mildly.

She wasn’t there the day I was having issues with the changes, my trainer had to arrange time later for us to meet up. I managed to squeeze into a time between two of her rides. ASR rides several horses a day and doesn’t have unlimited time.

She got on Berry, and they did the exercise that we’d be working on, the figure 8 with the jump in the middle. A lot of the time Berry landed on the correct lead, but the times she didn’t, ASR immediately got after her, getting her to change that lead.

thoroughbred jumping

When I ride Berry, I try to be “kind”. Berry is so gentle and good natured, I feel bad getting after her for anything. When I expressed this to my trainer while watching ASR’s way more assertive ride, she basically told me I’m soft, but not in a good way. I’m soft in the way bread dough is soft. Just a squishy lump that can be molded into different positions, but that offers no support or assistance to the horse. Ouch.

ASR was no squishy lump. It’s both educational and inspiring to watch someone better ride my horse. She was direct with her aids when she needed to be, and other times, she was supportive while letting Berry figure herself out.

One of those times being when Berry decided to canter thru the jump, as opposed to over it.
One of those times being when Berry decided to canter thru the jump, as opposed to over it.

It was interesting to watch how my horse moved and jumped. She puts in basically no effort to jump, and likes to just extend her canter stride to get over it. My trainer said she probably won’t put in an effort below 2’6″.

Even though ASR was riding assertively, Berry looked happy. She didn’t seem annoyed by the lead change corrections, and I noticed she’d halt immediately when ASR asked her to, still looking happy as a clam. I really was inserting emotions in for her that don’t exist. It really was enlightening, and gives me inspiration to be more direct in my aids for my next ride.

The only thing that confused me was when Berry refused.


This was confusing because it seemed like ASR was asking her to halt before the jump, but in the picture it looks like she was preparing to jump, so I don’t know. But I think she has some crazy horse sense, because after the refusal, ASR simply patted her, told her she was a good girl, and then circled and jumped it like it was nothing. No more refusals after that. I wish I’d asked trainer what the heck just happened there, but for whatever reason, I didn’t.

Berry still doesn’t understand lead changes, so we are planning another meeting of ASR and Berry, to get do more schooling. Or, I need to get myself organized and keep working at it. I was successful in getting a flying lead change one time at home, so perhaps I could do it again. I do have some riding inspiration now!

thoroughbred canter

Overall, I do want to be the one riding my horse and have the ability to teach my horse what it needs to know, not just to be able to show Berry, but for any other horse that comes into my life. I want to be become a better horseman, and advance my own skills. But, that means accepting that I can’t innately know how to develop something in a horse without having done it, and getting assistance from someone who really knows what they are doing. Having ASR really is a blessing, and I hope I can learn from her.

Also, that girl is an insanely strong rider. She’s like an ant, tiny with the strength of something 10 times her size. I need to do whatever exercise she’s doing

So I will end this with a picture of me riding Berry, contemplating how in the end, what this all boils down to is I need to just ride more. That’s basically always the answer.

thoroughbred jumping

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