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She's Not a Baby Anymore!

Early spring saw some immediate changes in how Ellie carried herself and our dressage work started to truly improve.  There had been times last year where flat work felt like a fight and I wondered to myself if she was ever going to just relax and listen to me haha.

Thankfully, as the title suggests, Ellie has suddenly grown up in front of my eyes.  We have had some really stellar lessons lately, where I feel like I am suddenly able to make things click.  We also had an incredibly frustrating dressage lesson a few weeks ago where Ellie was in rip-roaring peeing heat (not normal for her) and we worked through 45 minutes of her refusing to bend right.  So, ya know, as much as she is improving, she is still an opinionated redheaded mare!  ;-)

But, I have to give her credit because she is really working her little butt off for me!  Sadly, I had not been able to schedule in a jump lesson before our first three-phase, which led to me riding her ridiculously backward at a slow trot the entire …

Our First Official Jumping Lesson!

While Ellie and I did enjoy a XC clinic earlier this summer with Daryl Kinney, Wednesday was our first official jumping lesson with Babette Lenna!  It has proven difficult to find a jumping instructor, so I took the chance to officially meet her and give a lesson a try.  I know of Babette from the New England eventing scene and had a feeling she would be a good fit for me, but this was the first time I rode with her.  One of the things I also liked when I checked her website was this: Babette's approach is driven by team spirit, taking part, learning, improving, and having fun.  The B Eventing team is built on camaraderie and supporting one another.  If that is not perfectly in line with everything I believe in, I don't know what is!

Babette comes to a local-ish private farm once a month to give lessons (local as in 50 minutes away #ruralMainelife) and when I realized this, I jumped (haha) at the chance to ride with her.  She is based out of Gathering Farm in MA, so having her come a bit closer to me in Maine is really great. I am hopeful to make Babette an integral part of my journey with Ellie into eventing.


I have ZERO media from this lesson, so here is Ellie from our ride at home on Friday
Our first lesson was this past Wednesday, July 11, and because Babette cannot make it up to during the month of August (sad face), then we are going again on July 25.  I feel as though she will be able to give me enough "homework" to tide us over until September.  Plus, the farm owners' daughter has been a horse friend since we were kids, and she kindly offered to have me down anytime I'd like during August to ride with her.  She has been riding with Babette for eleven years and has evented through Prelim herself, so I know she would be a great help, though she doesn't teach lessons.

Ellie was sooooo good settling in at the new farm.  We arrived and I set about tying her to the trailer and brushing her in order to tack up.  I wanted to see if she could mentally handle just casually doing the thing, instead of me having to take extra minutes to handwalk her and give her time to settle.  I figured I could do the handwalk routine if needed.  But Ellie stood right there and was super relaxed from the get go.  I cannot ask for better than that!  And what a HUGE change from April the first time we ever landed at our dressage lesson barn and she got off the trailer and strutted around passaging in place with her tail over her back and fire coming from her nostrils haha.

Once I got to the ring, Babette and I chatted about Ellie, what we have done so far, and what my short and long term goals are.  I told her about her refusals at the clinic and how I did not want to have a repeat of that. Babette started by just watching us warm up at the WTC in the ring, and she was immediately able to pinpoint our strengths and weaknesses on the flat.  It was really satisfying to know that she and Beth are on the same page.  Because Babette is not just a jump rider but an eventer, all her work is grounded in dressage, and this makes me insanely happy.  

One thing she did recommend that we have not started in dressage lessons nor have I done much on my own is to begin asking for different gaits within the trot, getting her to begin to sit and compress in a more baby collected trot, then making a clear transition to working trot, and then lengthen her stride in trot, then back to a working trot.  She emphasized to make the transitions clear between the three and to not worry about how long we maintain the smaller or larger trot for now, but to aim for correctness.  Ellie cannot hold the more collected or lengthened trot for more than a few strides for now without getting heavy or speeding up, but it is definitely something I can start being more mindful about incorporating into our rides.  I did not feel as effective in my jump saddle as I could have been in my dressage saddle, plus there were several jumps in the ring, so apparently I have become a full fledged dressage queen who prefers empty rings hahahahaha.  But it was really good work and soon she was trotting in that new lovely trot and picked up all her canter leads (!!!).

Babette had us start by jumping two crossrails set six strides apart.  At first we trotted in and she had me maintain trot throughout.  The first time through, Ellie jumped them both super slowly and like they were three feet tall.  It was the funniest thing and I assured Babette she normally never jumped like that, even when we jumped over new jumps at the clinic hahaha.  But then Ellie decided to jump like her normal self, so we cruised over the related distance in both directions at trot and then she had use trot in and canter the second one.  

Then, Babette raised the second fence to a small 2' vertical.  We came through and Ellie got a little wiggly, so our path to the second jump was extended and we ended up compressing our canter when I corrected her drift to make it a seven stride haha.  We did it again and made the six.  Then she placed a little flower box underneath the top pole, and again we did it fine.  Then she took off the top pole so it was just the flower box.  Ellie decided to look down at it the very last minute and chipped in.  LOL weirdo horse.  We did it again in six without a problem.  I liked how Babette coached me throughout and then periodically checked in with me to ask me how it went.  I like that she pushed me to examine my riding rather than just coach me the entire time, because I ride on my own most of the time and obviously can only lesson with her once a month.  So having her ask "So how did that go?" really helps me analyze both what went well and what we need to change because I need to do that between lessons.  I have taken so many more dressage lessons in my life than jumping lessons that I need to start thinking for myself about my jumping as much as I think about dressage work (if that even makes any sense).


that face 😍
My biggest take away in that small exercise was when she said, Ride the canter, not the distance. Like, oh right, if the canter is a good canter, the distance will be there.  And when we had mistakes in our canter, that is when we added a stride or had a chip.  Huh.  It made sense, because one of the things Denny Emerson drilled into me during my time riding there several summers ago is that getting the right canter is everything.  I love when something I already know meshes with something new and it all clicks.

After this, we moved out to the XC field, where she had me walk through the water to see how Ellie reacted (she marched right in and had no issue).  We did a little trot and then bigger canter out around in a large circle, with me up off her back and going over the rolling terrain.  We did a little tiny log tucked in and shaded by trees and bushes, which at first Ellie was like ohhh no, this is a scary spot.  So instead of letting her refuse, I just made her walk over it.  Yay for tiny logs LOL!  We immediately reapproached and she hopped right over it.  We also did a second tiny log with no issue.  Babette then had us string together the shaded log, then looped a turn to trot through the water, cantered up over a knoll over a small vertical stadium fence that was out there, then through the water again, and then over the second log.  I loved her emphasis on good dressage basics when jumping, asking for things like an organized trot and canter.  I really liked how she phrased this because it helped me think and prepare her for each jump as well as the in between.  

We moved a little further back in the field to two small connected jumps made out of stacked poles, one that was super teeny and one that was 2' right next to it.  No problems with the tiny fence but we had the same stop as we did in the clinic at the higher one.  Ellie just drops to the walk and moves over to the left when she does this.  It is literally the most calm refusal ever.  It is not a huge deal where she is refusing out of fear, I just totally drop her at the last moment.  This happened twice before Babette offered to get on.  She was so straightforward and kind about this whole thing because she immediately realized what I was doing and why I was doing it.  She hopped Ellie over both fences a few times and gave me a huge pep talk, which I really needed to hear.  

She reminded me that I am a great rider and have all the details to make things happen, but I need to trust in myself to give Ellie that confidence she needs.  I am getting to the base of the fence, then jumping ahead and throwing her away, like ohhh noooo bigger jump, here horse, you figure it out.  And that is NOT what I do with smaller jumps at all or with the same size (and larger!) stadium fences which is the weird part!  It is almost as though I am afraid to get in her way and therefore I give her all this "room" to do it herself, but I can't do that. And I don't know why I do LOL!  I have jumped 4' brush fences at a dead gallop while foxhunting, so a stupid 2' vertical fence made of natural poles stacked on top of one another isn't exactly scary to me.  I need to remember that the slightly larger 2' solid fence is TOTALLY within our wheelhouse and that instead of having that small doubt in the back of my mind, I need to ride her right to the fence like I did with every single other fence we had done so far.  Ellie figured, welp, if she is going to drop me, then I must save us and not jump it because if she's in doubt, I am in doubt too.  Babette reminded me that it is OK if things get a little messy in training and that it doesn't have to be perfect, but I have to keep riding her the same way no matter what, because I have the tools to do that.  She said something like, "You don't like it when things get a little chaotic, do you? You are just like me and I can see it."  Like, how do you already know my inner self already?!  I have just started to get to know and understand myself well over the past five years or so hahaha.  She told me I was a great rider three times and that I have done a fabulous job training my horse, which was really nice to hear as a reminder that I am capable.

Babette said all of this in a kind and supportive way, so I never felt like she was lecturing me or getting after me.  But she also wasn't being all overly coddling either, which I cannot handle.  It was the perfect thing to say and in the perfect way for me as rider.  It was a loving kick in the pants, and even though I already knew that Babette was going to be a good fit for me before this point, this completely solidified that I am going to try my damndest to ride with her as much as I can for as many years as I can.  In a way, it was almost crazy how easily she could tell what I was feeling, even though I myself wasn't sure I could articulate it.  And as complimentary as she was of how much I want to give Ellie good experiences and take my time to ensure she has no holes in her training, she reminded me I cannot baby her either.  She said she sees so many riders who would just push this mare along because she is so good and so easygoing and willing, so while I am doing the right thing, I also cannot let it hold us back.  


cutest nose
Instead of that tight chest feeling of wanting to cry, I felt uplifted and supported.  We trotted right in and jumped the tiny fence first, and turned and went over the larger fence three times.  OH FUCK YEAH.  Babette pushed me in the exact right way and it worked for me.  I was able to put the mare in front of my leg, KEEP MY LEG ON AND NOT JUMP AHEAD, and just jump the damn thing like every single other fence we have jumped.  Ohhh right, so if I ride her like I actually know how to, she jumps it too.  Huh, funny how that works.  This lesson really was exactly what I needed, and I am excited to see how this partnership with Babette continues.

So needless to say, I am pumped for this new adventure and am really glad we are going back in two weeks.  Now maybe after a few two phases this summer, we can try our first real event this fall.  YAY!

Has anyone else had one of those lessons that just made things totally click?  Maybe connected with an instructor that gave you the confidence you needed to progress in your riding?  Or said the right thing at the right time to help you get over your inner critic and just ride the damn horse already? 

Comments

  1. I was silently sitting here cheering y'all on reading this! I have to remember to ride the canter, not the distance ALL THE TIME. I love those lessons where things click - lightbulb moments! I got lucky and had a bunch this week at camp, it's like an airport runway it's so lit up in here right now.

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    1. It is funny because when we actually ride the canter, the distance is there. I always seem to overthink it at times, though haha!
      That is AWESOME you were able to have so many good lightbulb moments! It is such a good feeling. :-)

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  2. What a great lesson. She sounds like someone I’d like to ride with.

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    1. YES! She was fantastic and so perfect for where both Ellie and I are right now!

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  3. Ellie just sounds like the coolest little mare - and like she’s going to be so much freakin fun to event! Glad it was a good lesson! I love that feeling when the pieces come together ;)

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    1. I do think she is going to be SO FUN once I can get my act together haha. It was a great feeling to have that lesson and know I can move forward from here. So looking forward to our lesson on the 25th!

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  4. She sounds like a fabulous instructor! That's great you found her!

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    1. She really is! I am so happy and she better keep coming to Maine LOL!!!

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  5. Babette sounds fantastic!!! What a great person to add to your team :)

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    1. Yes! I think I made a smart move for sure with her! :-)

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  6. I love that all of her feedback was so uplifting! What an incredible instructor. Makes me wish my rural area had such offerings.

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    1. I was honestly pretty floored at how perfect she responded to me! It is exciting! I hear you, because as much as I love living in the rural part of Maine that I do, it can be super frustrating to be so isolated. I think I have lucked out with two fantastic instructors.

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  7. Teaching young horses to compress is so hard!

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    1. YES! And to lengthen without falling on one's face....! It is all about building strength and that will just take time and patience and....more time haha.

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