The Basics

Last night was one of *those* lessons. The ones you don’t want to have. One of those we’re you’re frustrated, the horse is frustrated, and even your unflappable trainer is frustrated.

We were working on turn on the forehand to the left and nothing felt right. Nothing felt good. I was flustered. Gus was threatening to cause problems. And even LT didn’t know what to do for me anymore. I think we had all reached a point where none of us wanted to be in that lesson anymore.

I don’t blame LT for being fed up with me. Dressage lessons have been hard recently. I used to enjoy dressage even if it was not quite as entertaining as my jumping lesson but lately they have felt like a chore. It felt like we had stalled out. LT felt it too and eventually last night she let me have it (in a totally deserved way of course). That brought me over the brink too and I felt the tears come as I tried to explain why I was frustrated.

All I could think of was “I don’t know how to do this.”

“Well of course you don’t know how to do this, that’s why I’m teaching you.”

But I realized that it wasn’t this exercise that I had meant. It wasn’t that I didn’t know how to do a turn on the forehand. It’s that I don’t know how to do dressage. I don’t have enough natural talent to feel when I’m doing something correct but have just enough to fake it through the lower levels. I’m a fraud.

For years I’ve been in dressage lessons and trainers will tell me to do this or do that, open the inside rein, move the shoulder out, spiral in, put his haunches on the inside track and I will shift my aids until they say “good!” And I will leave my lesson happy thinking how cool it is that we’re working on trot lengthening or some other fun thing. But then I will climb into the saddle to practice this and I can’t repeat the feeling. I can’t figure out when I’ve got my horse forward versus fast or if we’re riding a little shoulder in versus his shoulders just falling in. I don’t know what I did to get it the first time and, with no eyes on the ground to tell me I’m doing it correctly, I can’t feel it.

And even as LT was trying to not let her frustration with me show, I realized that I didn’t know how to even explain all of this to her. I didn’t know how to explain that no one ever taught me the basics of dressage. Yes I grew up riding the hunters but put me in the sandbox and everything feels very different. I almost never have a problem getting my correct lead in the jump field but ask me to do it on a 20 meter circle at B and it’s a 50/50 shot I’ll get the wrong one.

So when LT put me back on a 20 meter circle and asked me to spiral in, I swallowed my pride and said told her I didn’t know how. That seemed to surprise her.

Oh, I know what spiral ins and outs are. I know what they accomplish. And, I guess, I’ve been doing them (sort of) for years. But until last night, I never knew how to do them correctly. Meaning, I never knew what the right aids were. I didn’t know where to put my legs or how much pressure I needed on the inside versus the out. I didn’t know what to do with my reins or how to use my seat. Maybe I was doing some of the corrections naturally but I couldn’t have told you what I was doing.

We walked through the aids one by one and, as it turns out, I did know more about doing a spiral in than I thought. But there were also pieces that I was not doing or even knew to do, like bringing my outside hip to my outside rein  just as I was bringing my outside rein to my outside hip to form a wall around the outside shoulder. And when I put all of those aids together, they were the best spiral ins I’ve ever done. I was actually spiraling instead of feeling like I was dragging Gus into a smaller and smaller circle.

LT has always been great at explaining how to accomplish things but she didn’t know that I was missing some of the basic dressage fundamentals and she can’t fix what she doesn’t know is a problem. To be honest, I’m not even sure if I knew it was a problem myself. All I knew was that dressage was becoming more and more frustrating as LT was expecting more. It wasn’t fun. I had reached a point in my dressage journey where I could no longer fake it, even if it was happening subconsciously.

Knowing what the problem is now isn’t a magic fix, of course, but I do hope it’s the first step down the right path.

Sporting Days HT April 2017 Stadium

You all know that I deal with confidence issues and you all know that lately those issues have reared their ugly head again. When I first started riding with super trainer, LT, I told her that I had some past issues that I needed to work through. She told me she couldn’t tell. Well, that’s because I was riding tough. I knew I needed to.

And then, something happened at the clinic and I stopped riding tough. I couldn’t tell you what. But finally, LT, saw what I was talking about. I’m not proud of that. I wish I could have kept riding tough and that it would be a lot longer until we got to the whole confidence thing.

But such is life!

As I walked down to the stadium warm-up, passing the ring and watching my team mate almost have a nasty stop at the second fence, my heart started shrinking. Those fences looked big. Bigger by far than the XC fences we’d be doing later. And seeing my team member almost stop at a jump with hay bales under it? A fence I was already worried about? Not confidence building.

From the beginning, warm-up just felt like a disaster and it didn’t get better as we started jumping. We got over every single fence, not one refusal, but they weren’t pretty.

Exhibit One:

Not pretty. Not pleasant.

Exhibit Two:

LT pulled me aside at that point and told me to ride tough. I told her I didn’t want to do it. Not that I couldn’t ride the course, but that I didn’t want to.

“Do you want to scratch?” she asked. I didn’t say anything for a minute. “You can if you want. I won’t push you in there if you don’t think you’re ready. I do think you are though. I wouldn’t let you be here if you weren’t.”

But I didn’t want to scratch. I’m not a quitter. And I still wanted to ride XC (don’t ask me the logic behind that, I could not tell you). So she set me up to the fence again and told me to sit back, heels down and kick on and do whatever I needed to to get Gus over the fence. So I did. I pony club kicked, sat my butt down, and told him to “GIT UP THERE.” I think I scared a few trainers but we went over beautifully.

Then it was my turn to go in with these words of wisdom in my brain: ride forward but not crazy, heels down and leg on, and don’t get in front. Got it.

It wasn’t a perfect round but it was pretty darn close. Or at least as close as I can ride it right now. I rode hard to the first two fences, which also happened to be the ones with the most filler. I didn’t give myself time to think about stopping, hoping that it would keep Gus from stopping too.

It seemed to work!

Fence three was beautiful but at fence four I started getting ahead.

This led to me riding a little bit crazy to fence five… a big mistake as it was already on a tight turn and had been coming down all day. We brought it down too. The hesitation from Gus wasn’t so much from nerves but because we got a really really bad distance. And still, with legs on, Gus went for it.

We went for it on fence six as well. And this one the hesitation came because it was a scary fence. I felt him back off as we came around the turn but I pushed on and we got over.

Fence seven and fence eight both rode okay.

Then we came around to the last two stride. It was PERFECTION. Gus and I got our stride and rode through it like no big deal. I was so happy with the big guy.

Even though we had a rail down I was beaming from ear to ear. Maybe not the stadium round I really wanted but I couldn’t be happier with Gus continuing to try and with myself for riding tough.

Super trainer was right. I can do this.

Thoughts on Show Photographers

Despite the fact that I have the best horse show husband who snaps literally hundreds of photos of me at every single show just so I can find ten I like (true story) I really want to support the good show photographers. They’re a dying breed and the good ones are worth every penny, even at the beginning levels.

Because here’s the thing, Eric is a good photographer but he’s an amateur. The actual show photographers have better equipment, better training, and they are allowed to go anywhere which means they often just have better access to a good shot. And you better believe I will pay for that.

The most recent schooling show at Poplar had a show photographer which doesn’t always happen at schooling shows. I was excited to see what she had gotten! Dressage was just your basics and I already had fabulous shots from Eric so I skipped them and unfortunately in stadium, Gus still looks a bit like a flying unicorn so no go there either. However, there was a great picture from XC! Not only did she have a great angle, Gus was actually jumping cute. I immediately bought a small digital copy for personal use for $25.

I thought that was reasonable and made sure I read over her use fee just so I knew what I could or couldn’t do with the photo but I honestly didn’t look too closely at the size of the photo. I don’t understand those things anyway, Eric just gives me photos and I put them on my blog/Facebook/Instagram and they look fabulous or not depending on how hard Gus and I are derping in a particular shot.

Plus, I’ve bought personal use photos from photographers before. In fact, here’s the one I bought of Dandy’s first run around Rebecca Farms.


It’s a wonderful photo. More artsy than I usually purchase but truthfully Dandy wasn’t really respecting the other novice fences that were photographed and this one was fun. I was pretty sure this photo had cost me the same amount until I actually looked it up for this post and found that it actually only cost me $15. Now to be fair, Shannon Brinkman is a very well known photographer around the big events and she probably gets a lot of orders and is able to price her stuff accordingly but gosh, this is a real deal! And the quality for personal media use is wonderful. I will definitely be willing to support Shannon in the future. I’m half tempted to go buy more photos of Dandy’s Rebecca Farms excursions.

The $25 small digital copy I purchased of Gus? Well, I should have listened when she said small. I’m not expecting to be able to blow it up and print 8x10s with it, I didn’t even want to do that. I just wanted to post that photo here and say “Look how amazing my boy is!” But I was shocked. I can’t even put it on Instagram with how blurry it is. Well I could but I don’t want to put low quality photos on my account.


And this is my problem with show photography. I understand you have to pay the bills. I understand that equipment is expensive and that you are shooting all day under a hot sun with no guarantee that you’re going to make any money at all. But when this is what I get for a $25 digital personal use photo? Well, it leaves a very sour taste in my mouth.

With prices like this, it’s no wonder that show photographers are a dying breed. Even people like me who are willing to support the good ones eventually get tired of feeling like we’re being cheated. As much as I want these special moment to be captured and as much as I love having the memories, I have no incentive to purchase. Actually, because of Eric I have less incentive than most people so why are show photographers making it even less enticing for people like me to purchase? I’m the kind of person you want to get on to your website because I’m a blog writing adult amateur who loves showing off. I will purchase all the photos if they’re good! Especially now that I have a good job and the money to do so.

I honestly don’t know what the answer is to the problems with show photography. And I’m not surprised that I see an official photographer at my shows less and less these days. As an adult amateur, even one with a good job and money to spend on show photos, I still need to be careful where I spend my money so I guess I just keep supporting the good photographers and stay away from those I’m not happy with. Money talks. But I do wish there was a way for us all to be satisfied with the experience.


I have been doing a lot of thinking recently about what I wanted to get out of this blog. It has changed a bunch from my very first post to now and I’ve gained a wonderful sense of community that I wasn’t expecting back then. What I realized was that I want this blog to really be a reflection of my journey. I want to be able to share the highs and lows of working with OTTBs. I want to be able to commiserate with others struggling with their green horse problems. I want to be able to brag about our shows and share all the pretty pictures with you.


But mostly, I want this blog to be true. I like talking and I have a lot of opinions. Sometimes I’m not the most eloquent speaker (or writer in this case) but that doesn’t mean I don’t have something to say.

Some of you might say that I’ve already been doing all of that, and I suppose you’re pretty much correct. I do tend to put whatever I want to say up here and I’m not afraid to share a bad photo or two (or two hundred… Gus is not the prettiest of jumpers all the time and we all know I make the worst riding faces!). But I also want this blog to be more than just my day to day training regimen. I want you to read this blog and really feel that you know me.

To that end, I’ve decided to rebrand this blog. Dandyism is a thing of the past and you are now reading the very first entry of Gray Horse Problems, complete with our own domain name ( so update any links please!).

I am still in the process of getting everything just right so you’ll continue to see small changes throughout the next few months but I hope you won’t feel like I’ve really changed. I hope you’ll feel like I turned the page and started a whole new chapter, and I really hope you’ll follow along on the ride!

So come visit and like our new Facebook page Gray Horse Problems and follow along on Instagram at @Grayhorseproblemsblog.


And thank you for to everyone who has experienced even a little bit of a journey so far. I can only hope that even more good things are coming our way.


Poplar Place Farm Schooling H.T. 2.11.17 – Part 3

The great thing about this being a schooling show was that we were able to school XC the day before. And not just school XC, but actually school and put together the jumps that were on our course. And it was a weird, windy, and open course. Instead of the 20 minutes it should have taken me to walk the course, it took me an HOUR. Yes, an hour. And, okay, I did walk it without a map since they weren’t out yet but this was BN, it shouldn’t have been that difficult. But it was and I was not a happy camper when I finally realized there were only 12 fences.




I digress.


I successfully schooled every single fence I was going to be expected to go over for the show (including the scary Mushroom fence that Gus had spooked at riding past in our very first show at Poplar) and even got to go over a couple of N questions, the best being a bench into the water and then out over another log thing. I was feeling very successful and Gus was locking onto fences like an old pro.



Unfortunately I was also feeling very very sick. Hacking up a lung, fuzzy brain, weak all over, the works. Apparently this all led to me riding better than my trainer had ever seen before. I think I was just too sick to micromanage my ride. All I could manage was sit back, leg on and once fence at a time.


There really might be some truth to that, however. I didn’t have a single refusal or even real thought of refusal from Gus the entire weekend. There were definitely some bad spots (see the mushroom fence below) but we managed to get though them. I just have to keep riding to the base: keep the leg on and sit back.



The only thing we had a slight issue with was the first water. Knowing that Gus was probably going to be a little bit of an idiot about it and not wanting a refusal over a water crossing, I slowed to a trot before the water so that it wouldn’t sneak up on him. He still hesitated! So for the second water crossing, I gave him a little love tap. That did the trick and we had no issue. To be fair, the entrance was a lot nicer into the second water but this is something he’s going to have to get over.


But remember how in Part 1 I mentioned that “not feeling it” was going to be a recurring theme for this show? Well, I almost decided that I was just not going to XC. I had already schooled everything and I was sick and, dammit, I just didn’t want to do it. No joke, I literally sulked in Gus’ stall for ten minutes before pulling my shit together and getting out to warm up.


In the end, I’m glad I didn’t skip out. XC really is the best part of eventing after all and we had a really great ride. I think Gus and learned a bunch from this weekend and I’m excited to get to our first recognized event. Hopefully we’ll finish on our dressage score again!