Boot Camp: Robbye II and III

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Once I had a base built via Hollywood (the GP schoolmaster) and some fun installed via Tonka (the retired pro barrel racer), it was time to meet back up with Robbye and show each other what we learned! Here are some notes from the first two full lessons I had on her after a month of separate boot camps:

  • Forward forward forward. Now that she actually responds to leg, I can get forward when I want it, and I can insist that it’s the amount of forward I want! Walk is still a bit tougher, but trot and canter – it’s magical. I love Robbye’s trot.
  • No more “wiggling” my hands to ask for roundness. Like I asked on Hollywood, Robbye responds better to a gentle pulling side to side – it’s more like I change the bend in the neck until she gives in her jaw. Once she gives and rounds, I can play a bit smaller to maintain the roundness.
  • THOSE STOPS THOUGH. When I ask for a halt like I’m riding a barrel horse, Robbye really sits on her butt and stops.
  • When we get into an argument – especially about roundness – I need to immediately get on a circle. 20m is okay – 10m is better. This gives me the advantage because she can’t use her favorite weapon – bracing into my hand.
  • Speaking of bracing and hands – I really need to cut that habit. When Robbye feels my bracing arms, she responds (understandably!) by bracing back.
  • I also need to remember my releases. I’m trying to teach self-carriage, and in order to do that I need to let her carry herself.
  • It’s time to start practicing lateral moves! She has baby leg yields and shoulder-ins!
  • She really needs a haircut. We’re playing a fun game of how-high-can-Robbye’s-mane-grow-before-falling-over.
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Boot Camp: Tonka I

Part of my boot camp agreement with my trainer was that I would not be just riding dressage horses. As soon as I felt comfortable with a horse, I’d be moving on to the next one.

When I arrived for my fourth lesson, a saintly big paint horse was giving a very young girl a barrel racing lesson. He walked at the slowest possible pace, and let her steer him with just a touch of his sides. I was very, very impressed by his kindness and patience.

…And then the lesson was over, and I learned I’d be riding him next – a barrel racing lesson of my own!

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Tonka is an older, tall paint horse with navicular. He took my trainer’s daughter to the junior championships when she was a junior, and my trainer showed him competitively in barrels as well. This is a horse who really knows what he’s doing, and used to be able to do it really well. Now, he makes the perfect beginner barrels horse, and seemed perfectly comfortable (and having a lot of fun!) despite his navicular.

First, we warmed up and I got used to the western saddle. I’ve never really ridden seriously in western tack – and definitely never taken a western lesson – so it was great to have some time to really feel how my seat was different in the big saddle. Kim emphasized that I had to really sit on my butt with Tonka, or he’d either run away from me or lurch into a back. A good lesson for me, since I have a horrible habit of perching.

Kim and her daughter insist that their barrel horses have good dressage foundations, so we next moved onto getting Tonka round. This was a perfect exercise for me; Tonka was a little harder to get round than Hollywood, and I learned a few tricks I can use on Robbye. Again, I did more moving of the head and neck than just “playing with the reins”.

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Also, as a western horse Tonka has more of a “set it and forget it” type headset. He doesn’t have to be held constantly like Hollywood. I’d never really experienced this phenomenon – it was neat. I’d tell Tonka where to put his head, then just remind him if he deviated. This let me have the looser, more relaxed frame and reins that you see in western.

For my actual barrel lesson, I started out with some basic theory. Each barrel has a “pocket”, which is even with the rider’s leg. The rider must ride straight into the pocket, not turning or even looking to turn until she’s in it. For the turn, the rider should stay an even distance from the barrel the entire turn around it, and absolutely must NOT look at the barrel! Looking at the barrel pulls the horse into the barrel, risking a knock-down.

So I started my barrel racing career by first walking the pattern, stopping in each pocket. Then I trotted the pattern, stopping in each pocket. Finally I cantered the pattern!

At one point, Tonka got a bit strong and wanted to control the pace (I wanted a slow canter – I was nervous – and he wanted to run). After a few repetitions of making Tonka canter into the pocket and then stopping in the pocket, he started listening to me and cantering at the pace I chose. This was such a great illustration of being the boss and getting an immediate reaction to that dominance.

I learned a lot about Robbye during this lesson – and even a few things about dressage. More than that, I had a sudden realization to what I love about riding. After my barrel lesson, I suddenly wanted to start jumping again. At one point I was “galloping” home from the third barrel and let out a happy whoop.

I love dressage. I think it’s really fun. I’m wondering if the fact that Robbye doesn’t think it’s fun has ruined the fun in it for me, too. And I wonder if her own boot camp will instill that joy for both of us.

I remain optimistic!

Boot Camp: Hollywood III

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WOW. SO BLAZE. MUCH FLASHY.

My first two lessons on Hollywood were at Kim’s barn in her nice little indoor. For my third, Kim brought Hollywood to my home barn, and I got to ride him in our big outdoor.

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He really does have a striking face.

Overall, it was the best of the three lessons. The light bulb moment from my second lesson proved persistent, and my confidence grew once again. Riding in the outdoor also gave us much more room to do some extended gaits and changes – neither of which I’ve had any experience with!

  • When I move my leg, I’m not moving my lower leg. I’m moving my whole leg. If I move just my lower leg, my seat isn’t affected at all! This made the most sense in asking for changes, where the cue comes from both the leg and the seat. If I ask for the change just by bumping with my new outside leg, I’m completely ditching half of the cue.
  • I need to keep more weight in my heels, with my toes up. Ultimately this will both improve my lower leg and allow me to use my whole leg better – not to mention the improvements to my seat!
  • He likes to take my reins away. I need to be more aggressive about keeping them. Really, I need to be more aggressive about everything – downward transitions, staying on the bit, disobedience.
  • I twist my body to the right. Stop it!
  • I’m overthinking the shoulder-in. Surprise, surprise.
  • Kim keeps telling me I need new, stiffer dressage boots. Any recommendations for a budget pair?.
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“I’m pretty sure this small ditch is going to eat me.”

At this point I was getting pretty comfortable with Hollywood, and I was creating some decent work. I should have expected what would greet me at my next lesson..

Boot Camps: Hollywood I and II

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Obviously, this was before my light-bulb moment re: my hands.

In very late July, I decided to put Robbye into training. One of the main factors in that decision was the exciting revelation that I would get two lessons a week on my trainer’s schoolmasters – so Robbye and I would be in separate, simultaneous boot camps!

I’ve now had four of my lessons, and am obviously way behind on journaling about them. I always come home exhausted and overwhelmed, and have only managed to write bullet points of my notes. These recaps are truly for my own reference, though, so I’m trying not to feel bad that they’re super boring 😉

My first mount for boot camp was my trainer’s 20 year old Intermediare 2 thoroughbred, Hollywood. Hollywood is truly a schoolmaster. He has some really great buttons, and is generally a very willing mount. He only refused to work with me when I really truly was asking the wrong question, which I appreciate. There’s definitely value in riding a horse who only gives the correct answer when his rider asks perfectly, but right now I’m way too much of a noob for that horse!

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“Mom, I’m not exactly sure I want to be here…”

So here are my notes from my first lesson on Hollywood. He taught me a ton in that first hour:

  • Need to get my lower leg under control. GAH.
  • Need to start asking for, or maybe installing, big-girl turns on Robbye. Horses can truly turn and make a right angle, using their back ends. Robbye doesn’t need to make baby turns anymore and Hollywood certainly doesn’t need to.
  • Need to sit on my butt more – more weight directly on my seat. This point was really hammered home when I realized how much I could control Hollywood’s pace with my seat!
  • I need to make my dressage seat my “safe” seat. I consistently pop myself into a half seat in the canter, and that’s confusing and weak.
  • I need to be more vigilant about bend. At times I’d just let Hollywood fall out of his bend, or even become counterbent.
  • I need even more of a “slouchy” dressage seat. Less hunter!
  • My hips should remain open – this will directly result in more weight being put into my butt.
  • I need to cut out the tension. It’s not fair.

The second lesson was more of the same, although I started out more confident and ended much more confident. I did have a major aha moment about holding my hands like I’m driving a clown car: all of a sudden, it all made sense and I could keep my hands contained, with my thumbs up and my outer hand lower.

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KITTY BREAK

I also took two mini lessons with Robbye, on the ground. Kim and her daughter are working on instilling constant submission from Rob, and they of course need to teach me how to do the same! Here are my notes from those sessions:

  • Things need to happen quickly. Horses in the field, in their natural groups, don’t move slowly and don’t nag. I should be quick and aggressive.
  • When leading, Robbye should stop when I turn and face her. She should back immediately and quickly when I touch her chest.
  • She should never invade my personal space. My reaction to that invasion is “bites” (grabbing with my thumb and fingers) and aggression, until she submits. Again – quickly respond, then quickly remove the aggression.
  • She needs to give her neck from side to side more – carrot stretches, but more extreme and at any time in her workout. Trot > halt > immediately bend. Her willingness will show both her submission and her softness through the neck and jaw.

I’m excited to tell you about the other lessons I’ve had so far… one of which was… Not dressage!

Lesson Recap: On the Longe

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When Kim arrived for our lesson on Tuesday, I briefly explained the situation that Robbye and I were in. The tl;dr of it is that, upon arriving home from vacation, I found myself with a Very Bratty Horse. Because the longe is such a happy place for both of us, I had been longing in order to reestablish my Non-Bratty Horse, and was hoping Kim could give me a riding lesson on the longe!

She thought it was a good idea, and wow was it fun, educational, and a workout.

I started by warming her up on the longe as I normally do. Kim made a few suggestions, including that I should encourage her more to lift her front end and round aaaaaall the way through her back to her nose. It’s nice that we’re past baby roundness, and moving onto the next level of connection.

I got on and we immediately got to work. Forward, forward, forward. We did a ton of transitions, which were amazing – she absolutely shot into the trot. At this point, Kim emphasized that I needed to strengthen my core and my seat so that I can support Robbye as her movements get bigger. If she feels that she can get me off balance by racing into upward transitions or diving into downward ones, that’s absolutely going to become her “trick of the month”.

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Together, we reviewed what our “working” gaits should feel like right now. Our working trot feels…exquisite. Powerful, smooth, and big but in no way fast. I feel like I could be riding in the Olympics with that trot.

Our canter is a little different. Kim insisted on a very big canter for now – I’m sure so that we can get the power, then reduce the tempo later. It’s a bit scary, especially when I feel we’re “careening” around a 17m circle on the longe. But, on the other hand, it’s a canter I would love to jump out of. I just need to learn that that’s the canter I want!

We worked on trot lengthenings too, which was just a blast. As we rounded on the longe and hit the long side of the area, I cluck twice and massage with my legs. Kim ran alongside us, giving us a straight shot to lengthen. Wow, did it feel awesome! This is another situation where I need a stronger core and seat – when she really took off, I was thrown off balance. I have to be ready for her to actually react, instead of riding defensively.

For each direction, we did a bit of work off of the longe, but with Kim’s support – really, a longe without the line. Robbye remained forward and responsive, and we even got some nice lengthenings on “our own”.

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Kim agreed that if we just need to chill on the longe for a couple of weeks, and gradually get back to riding without a longe whip to chase us, that’s okay. We can accomplish a whole lot on the longe, and it’ll only improve our “regular” work.

My main takeaway from this lesson is just how much more potential Rob has than I give her credit for. I was settling for this crappy dinky trot, when really she has a wonderful, ground-covering trot that’s just a longe whip away. I need to make these big gaits my new normal!

Journal: Keeping At It

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There a lot of things I want to change about myself in these photos… But the progress that Robbye has made is just STAGGERING to me.

Early this winter, when the weather was horrible, I was still trying to get over a horrible fall, Robbye seemed to be stagnating once again, and riding just plain wasn’t any fun, I made an ultimatum: if we weren’t making any progress by spring, I’d put Robbye up for sale.

The thought of doing that now makes me want to cry. The fact of that matter is – six months ago I didn’t like Rob very much. She’s obstinate, dominant, and not very affectionate. She didn’t seem to have any desire at all to work.

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Kim, Newton, and Julie

And then we found Kim. Kim had new words and new ideas for us. She made me throw away the equitation I’d worked so hard for, and forced me to maintain dominance over Robbye.

And it’s funny – now that the mare and I have a more “horsey” relationshipI like her a lot more. I know that I have to kick her ass once a day or so. But that’s okay. The same thing would happen if she and I were both mares in the pasture. I can love her and be her boss. In fact – I’m realizing I need both in order to attain either.

I won’t be selling Robbye this spring. We’re finally making progress, I like her a lot more, and I think she’s starting to enjoy work, too.


After my learning to longe lesson, Robbye was instantly more compliant. That’s one of the great things about longeing – I think – it’s work that directly translates to under-saddle work, but it’s also an inherently dominating exercise, where I can really make Rob work the way I want.

I had one ride where I longed – and made her work – then immediately got on and made her work under saddle. This was a great ride because I made her work past her mental checkout point! She’s not a baby anymore – working for 40 minutes is NOT going to hurt her, as much as she thinks it will. I’d been treating her like a three year old even as she approached six.

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We had a lesson on April 28, and Kim could not stop gushing about how well we had done our homework (YAY!). Robbye was much more forward (!!), and we spent the lesson learning how to add some nuance her new frame – mainly, by re-installing bend. It was tough for both of us to think past the frame, since that’s all we’ve been working on for so long, but it felt SO good.

I also need to work on a few equitation pieces, now. I need to re-install the toes forward/heels out position that’s so hard for me – I think this is probably something I’ll struggle with my whole life. I need to ride with my thumbs on top – a habit I’m working on establishing now. It’s easier now that I see why we ride with our thumbs on top.

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Not sure what her expression is here, but I like mine!

Saturday, Zeke came to the barn with me and took some great videos. I saw some things I need to change in my position, and am excited to practice them. Robbye was in a great mood, and gave me two canter transitions without inverting herself – something she’s never offered under saddle before. Longeing for the win!

We’ve been working on my new jumping position a bit too. I’ve been jumping a lot – and even jumped a log that was laying outside of the arena, which I was proud of. Then, I did as many laps around the arena as I could in 2-point. (This was an activity Robbye really enjoyed – all I asked of her was that she continue trotting at a nice forward pace.) A few rides after, we ventured out to our largest grass field, where we did trot and canter sets. Robbye loved this activity too – it was a nice change of scenery for her, I think! That ride informed almost all of May; I’ve been doing very little dressage-in-the-sandbox.

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This is the life.

The next week, I move some (very small!) jumps into the same field. Robbye thought it was fairly boring, but it was scary for me, and that’s what I’m trying to get past. By the end we were both bored, so that was a win!

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I’ve been riding less than normal – about four days a week instead of six – but I’ve been proud of the progress I’ve made. I think I’m gaining a bit of my cajones back – I rode down the road one day, the jumps are getting back up to my “normal” height, we dragged Newton across the creek one day (which, by the way, Robbye was great at. She really showed her draft disposition that day – not something I see often). Yesterday, I rode bareback and we “hacked” around the farm – every time she let her attention leave me, I’d ask her to round and work. I’m determined to teach her how to work even when she wants to be distracted.

Kim says it’s time to get back to showing. I’m scared, but I also think she’s right. We’ve worked too hard not to show it off 🙂

Lesson Recap: Longeing

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Our new longe.

So I learned how to longe a few lessons ago.

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Longeing a baby Rob. She was three here!

Like I mentioned in my last journal post, I feel like I’ve been going back to basics recently – learning a bunch of silly little things I feel like I should have learned in Pony Club. I wish I had been in Pony Club!

(For example – at the clinic on Sunday Adriene mentioned that I shouldn’t keep my hand in my crop’s loop, as a safety precaution. Which makes total sense.)

My main takeaway from the longe lesson is that I need to longe as a way to teach her how to move. Longeing is not just for getting the sillies out, or even for building muscle (the two uses I’ve always thought it had). I can do training on the longe!

I feel like an idiot again now – because of course you can train on the longe. But it simply hadn’t occurred to me.

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No reason to keep the side-reins so low! Robbye’s a big girl now – she can learn how to work with them at rein position.

So, my notes:

  • Forward, forward, forward. And then more forward. At the walk, trot, and canter. FORWARD.
  • Forward comes before rhythm. For now, as long as she’s moving her feet she’s good.
  • I need to be insistent about my transitions asks. Like the forward thing, for now I shouldn’t worry about quiet cues. I need her to be submissive before I can perfect cues. If this means pulling her off balance to stop her, so be it. That’s part of the hole in our training.
  • I don’t need to baby her any longer. She’s strong, fit, and grown. The side-reins can be tightened, they can be attached up at her withers, and she can work in them for longer than 15 minutes. I’m treating her like she’s green, but she’s passing that stage now!
  • At all gaits, I need to start asking her to lift her front end and push with her hind. When she dives forward at the walk, I can physically lift the longe to ask her to lift her head, neck, and shoulders. At the trot, I can ask for more forward and then tug upwards to insist that she lift her shoulders. And it actually works! Her poll raises, her shoulder frees, and her weight moves to her hind. Amazing.

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The day after our lesson, I took Robbye out for a short longe just to emphasize what we had learned the day before. Holy cow, did the lesson stick! Robbye was instantly forward, and she began to give to the bit after just a few minutes. She even maintained her new uphill trot for half a circle, which I’m delighted with.

Though it seems silly and I’m embarrassed to admit it, I’m really pleased that I took this lesson. I think it’s going to make a huge difference in our training.

Once we get the submission and attention down, it’ll be time to start working on lifting her front end under saddle. I can’t wait!