If I Had a Pony….

12891552_10209139223388216_934108867282848448_oThere are a humans of all ages who daydream about “If I had a pony…” Or at least, I hope they do. Now that I actually have one, I find myself wondering something similar… “Why do I have a pony?” I think it’s important, and also natural, to regroup and get your goals in order, the serious ones and the fun ones.  Here’s an excerpt of a conversation with myself from yesterday about this very subject.

Me: Why do I have a pony? As I groom her pretty tail and braid flowers into it…

Me: It was for riding, sure, but I could do that on any equine. I have my own pony so I can do all the other little things that make a close relationship between horse and rider, things like tail braiding, and working on telepathically understanding one another in the sunshine! I got a pony for freedom and to leap over fences and go wherever I please!

Me: Then isn’t it really stupid that you don’t do more stuff like that?

Me: Yeah, actually. This is what I put so much hard work in for. When I bought her– pause to loosen tangle with one hand while giving nice scratches with the other — All my riding, all the grooming, and all the groundwork was to get the foundation I needed to have that kind of close, special relationship with my pony.

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So really why do I feel like I have to be so productive all the time with her in the arena, not telepathically communicating with pony in the sunshine?

I find it’s very true of many riders that we tend to get laser focus. It’s so hard to let go of perfecting that downward transition or moving through that corner better when you feel that your riding time is so limited to begin with. Every practice is precious. Every ride promises progress. I am insanely dedicated, and I know I struggle with feeling like I can find the feeling of progress in just hanging out with my horse. Now once I am doing it, I am on cloud 9, but there’s that nagging voice, sometimes, as I am deciding what to do for the day, that’s like – you could get in just one more ride. And this could be the ride where x,y, or z really clicks! I just want so badly to keep moving forward, to making that relationship even closer with Comfort, sometimes I rush past the stuff that matters the most.

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It’s so worth it to stop and smell the roses. That’s why I got Comfort to begin with! I am so lucky to have her in my life, reminding me to slow down for a while and pushing me to be a better person.

Why do you have a horse or pony, and/or why do you want one? What’s that reason that really motivates you to have an equine in your life?

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It’s Canter Day!

NOT!

Yesterday was supposed to be canter day and I was SO excited. I built up to it for like a week and a half because it was my present to myself for my birthday  – to get some damn gumption and ride like a real rider instead of just walking and trotting like a little b****. It was such a failure and I completely messed up because I forgot the #1 rule of horses ALWAYS STOP ON A GOOD NOTE and the other #1 rule about horses YOU ARE A TEAM.

Sometimes I just get so wrapped up in a ride that I can’t let go until it comes out perfect. If it was perfect the last ride, why can’t it be perfect this ride? Even though Comfort offered a much improved trot rhythm, I was SO frustrated because it was completely impossible to ask her for a walk. I couldn’t do trot to walk transitions to save my life. And I got SO in her face, and I was so demanding and unkind with my hands. I just couldn’t control her. I couldn’t do a half halt at a posting trot, and I couldn’t get her to stop off the reins, and I couldn’t sit the trot to ask for her to slow, and sent her terrible mixed signals. I was inconsistent, I was harsh with my body, I was a BAD BAD BAD rider. I really can’t even forgive myself. I was just so terrible.

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This girl deserves all my love and has my whole heart. She is the best pony there ever was.

And then I gave up on downward transitions from the trot. I held her on contact for ages trying to do walk to canter transitions, because I was so damn determined to canter. What the hell was I thinking? I made her so resistant to my aids, I really should have gotten off 15-30 minutes after I got on. I am so disappointed in myself. I have a very willing pony but at some point she’s just done. She was done three times over by the end of that ride, and I can’t help but want to beat myself up for pushing and pushing.

I hope she forgives me. I apologized 1,000 times once I got off for the day. I gave her a bunch of peppermints and grain and snuggles and kisses and scratches in her favorite places and told her that I was such a bad rider and that she was great and I told her how sorry I was. I hope she knows that in my core, I am not that rider, and I hope she knows that I love her so much and am really sorry.

Have you ever had a day where you just feel like you were a terrible rider and hope to god your horse forgives you? I hate it when my agenda gets in the way of my relationship with my pony. What do you do when you identify that this has happened? How do you stop yourself, reset, and finish strong?

 

Beautiful Naughty Pony!

 

Catching a pony from the pasture, a life long struggle, really. But I did find hope!

This morning and yesterday have been reallllllly good days with Comfort, and I am excited to tell you why!

So Comfort and I have a solid relationship, but she needs to learn that we don’t take breaks from me being the one in charge. I never have an “uncatchable” pony, but I think some people would give up before catching her on one of her I-don’t-want-to-work days. Me, I know she’ll come around, but I also recognize that this behavior comes from her being under the impression that there are times she gets to be in charge, which is something I obviously have to fix.

I don’t really like the word “respect” as much as “leadership” when it comes to horses and their owners or person. I know my pony loves me or she wouldn’t let me do half the stuff I do, and she wouldn’t offer behavior like following me around unhaltered, running up to greet me in the pasture, or putting up with my dumb riding mistakes. However, while this behavior is awesome, it’s really inconsistent. Therefore, it’s clearly obvious to me that Comfort believes that offering this behavior is optional. That’s not due to a lack of respect as much as it is a lack of education. I’m not going to get mad at my pony’s uncatchable behavior, when I’m the one that has told her it’s ok by doing nothing to correct it.

I recently went hunting through the annals of the equestrian deep web (not a real thing but good god I wish it were) and came across this excellent, short, simple article about how to halter your horse in the pasture on trailridermag.com. In two days, I have managed to peel back the sassy layers to reveal a pony that follows me, checks in with me first, and well generally acts like the good kid I knew she always was! Best of all she’s relaxed, because she doesn’t feel the need to try to be in charge of anything! I really think everyone should read this article if they struggle with catching their horse or pony from the field. It is SO ON POINT. Just every nuance of it is perfect.

Anyway, during our process of learning cooperation, I took some really cool photos, and I am really excited to share them on All American Pony!! So this post is short on the writing side, and we are just going to sit back and stare at how pretty ponies can be! 🙂 Enjoy!!

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Should I Use Side Reins for Lunging?

imageThere are a few equipment related things in the equestrian world that feel reaaaaaaaally mysterious to me. Probably because I have never used them! So instead of spooking at them like a pony, I will face them head on with my thumbs, tools, and human brain.

Side reins! Draw reins! German Martingales! Oh My!

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Made this gif from the Official Pessoa Training Aid video found on youtube. Pretty horse!

Today, we are going to mostly focus on side reins and save the rest for another post, because I have no plans at all to use draw reins or German martingales or anything like that any time soon or possibly ever. But, it’s good to know about stuff! There’s nothing about horses that I don’t want to know about. I want to know all the things!!!!!!! (every time I say that, a potential friendship with a normal person probably dies….)

I  have been told that side reins are kind of “the next step,” and I am considering trying them out. However! “The next step” is the worst reason I’ve ever heard to do something. Naturally, I’ve been weighing my options (obsessively), and have sought approval from trainer-bestie. I would really love some feedback on how they’ve worked for other people. Basically everyone I respect says they’re great, but to not go overboard. I think I can handle that. I am kind of the world’s most conservative pony trainer. <— not an official title, just my hobby. 

This is probably going to end up being a before and after post, and I am really excited to let you know what I decide and/or how it goes!

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And here’s the weird chicken gif from horsetalk.co.nz

Some people seem really desperate to express to others how side reins are the devil. Horse talk.co.nz in their “Why we don’t use side reins on horses” article even went as far as to use this (sort of creepy, sterile looking?) gif of chickens bobbing to deter horse people from using side reins.

The positive literature out there explains that side reins are used for building and warming up the topline, getting them to accept contact, and basically riding from the ground. That seems incredibly useful to me.

I like doing in person research the best. I inquired with a former fourth level dressage rider friend and asked for a lesson in side reins. She graciously offered to let me watch her horses be lunged in side reins and taught as she demonstrated. So wonderful of her!!! She explained to me how and why we use them and best of all described what I’m supposed to be looking for. Her horse looked soft, responsive, round, and mentally relaxed. She sent them over ground poles and asked for all gaits. She gave me some useful tips like how loose the side reins should be when you first put them on your horse, and what setting she uses for her horses that have been doing this for years. She also said some horses warm up their muscles better at he canter, and that sometimes she even lets her horses pick their own speed for the first 5-7 minutes of the lunge before she starts asking them for anything. I found that letting the horse stretch at the canter can be really helpful, actually! Although I’m sure it depends on the equine.

 

As a last precaution, I decided to call up my local tack store to get the scoop from a dedicated horse trainer who uses side reins all the time.

Here’s what she explained, and I don’t know this person, so I won’t quote them directly, but I will summarize for you, here:

Draw reins are lousy unless you use them with normal reins. Otherwise they just pull and pull and pull.

There’s a bunch of options out there like taking extra long reins and running them between your horse’s legs and over his back. Whoa!

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Here’s what a pretty pony err, German Martingale looks like from sstack.com

There’s a german martingale, which I honestly had sort of forgotten existed. And I am still confused about that one. She apparently uses hers a lot.

This lady lunges her horses in side reins every time before she gets on. sometimes 5 minutes, other times 30 minutes.

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This is my super helpful drawing for you about different types of side reins. Enjoy! 😉

It doesn’t really matter if you use elastic, no elastic, or rubber donuts. You really can’t mess up side reins, according to her – SOCRE! One point for Gryffindor!

You never graduate a horse out of side reins. It’s just what you will use forever.

She did confirm that side reins help the horse keep its head low (she’s a western rider) and lift up its back. She said you really don’t want your horse running around all hollow – of course. And that it will help the horse with self carriage and contact.

And she also said that some horses are smarter than others so they’ll learn at different paces.

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I forgot how cute this halter looked on Comfort! 

So all in all, I think it’s very safe for me to at least try out side reins and see what Comofrt and I think! I look forward to trying them out at least once and updating this post with my thoughts and findings!

 

 

 

 

I’m Clearing out the Arena!…

Why am I clearing out the arena you might ask? Because now jumps are out and the flat work is in! As you may know, team All American Pony is relatively early on in the training process. While Comfort and I have know each other for a while, this year is a lot more focused than last. It is now April of 2016, and my birthday is on Monday (YAY!!). I have always considered my birthday to be far more of a new year’s celebration than Jan.1, so, as a sort of personal new year’s resolution, I am going to finish this week strong focusing on the trot, and we are going to kick off the canter for my 25th birthday, next week! Whoop whoop!! (I may get an early start over the weekend, though)!

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A little grazing ride yesterday afternoon! 

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Before I get into the canter plan, though, I need to take a second to explain why I persevere so hard with massive quantities of optimism: my family and my boyfriend. These guys. Oh man!! I am so grateful for these amazing forces of happiness in my life! I call them or text them almost every single day about how my ride went or to unload all my latest ideas about equestrianism. Even my boyfriend’s mother will let me ramble her ear off! And my sister is amazing. I can send her 10,000 photos of my pony and every time she replies with three times that many exclamation points. I am so lucky and so thankful for their support!! To anyone reading this who is a horsey girl, let me tell you, it is so worth it to find someone who loves you and loves your passion.  Now back to cantering!

Let’s Talk about the “Everything Canter” Plan

Trainer-bestie had already cantered Comfort about 20 times before I got her, but since that time, I have cantered Comfort maybe 6 times on purpose (not really sure, but the number is small), and have had a few extra canters on accident.

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So… why are we ready, now?

(Because I have had lots of super-obsessive texting conversation with trainer-bestie to reassure me exactly how me asking for the canter is going to play out)

I am feeling really good about digging into the canter, because Comfort has good strength, we have a great foundation at the walk and trot, and we have developed nice ground manners and trust.

Since Comfort’s been getting the free pass regarding cantering under saddle, this may be an awkward, bumpy start, but it’s nothing we can’t handle! So diving right in, here. I need to make a short term and long term plan. I don’t know about other people, but personally, I can’t make a detailed long term plan until I execute the smaller manageable plan and see how it goes. That will inform what I need my focus/es to be.

 

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Awesome gif from Huffington Post

So, cheers to the short term plan! Here we go:

My mounted mission this week (trotting week) is to tune into her back legs as best as I can. I am trying to do all I can to get completely in tune, so that I can be as helpful as possible with letting Comfort strike off with that hind leg and begin the canter successfully.

My mission when at home is to study slow motion videos of horses cantering and crossfiring. That way *hopefully* I will be able to identify if she’s crossfiring while I am riding.

Comfort will rush into a canter if you let her, so trainer-bestie and I agreed that it would be best to try to ask for the canter from a walk. I’ve also been watching a ton of people doing canter departures from the walk, and I really hope it all pans out for me!

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Selfie leaning on Comfort’s booty 🙂

My ride today was less than ideal, but sometimes you and your pony simply aren’t having a good day for riding. It took one looooong phone call with my boyfriend to decide we were having an off day, and it wasn’t the end of the world after all. Sometimes when you love something so much, it’s just crushing to feel a regression, and in my case, it’s really important to have a buddy on the outside who can help you talk through it all. Here’s some conclusions I came to.

#1 I think clearing out the arena actually terrified Comfort!

#2 Not to mention there was a massive tractor working behind her

#3 Four wheelers driving in front of her

#4 A herd of very nervous horses cantering around across the street from her.

#5 And, honestly, I think that I was a little bit nervous today. I am not sure why, though.

The ride wasn’t that bad, but I lost a stirrup, which hasn’t happened in a really long time, and I felt like every time I tried to turn Comfort, she wasn’t listening to me. I could feel her trying to separate from my seat, and in turn I wasn’t as balanced. I tried EVERYTHING to get us back on track, I can’t even get into it, here. It was pretty depressing, but I know that we just weren’t having the best day, and there were quite a few distractions.

I know our next ride will be better, and at the end of the day, once I turned out Comfort, she still came up to me in the pasture and let me love all over her – relationship not destroyed, after all!! I tend to always assume our relationship is obliterated after the smallest issue. I think I have too much love to handle!

 

 

Manure on Your Cute Flats – Boot Review

imageThe other day I was in a meeting at work and looked down at my little black leather flats with the bows on top. They are my favorite pair, and I wear them everywhere! Oh, and did I mention that they are NIKEAIR?

Anyway, upon inspection, the bows had a little dust on them. I tried not to call too much attention to them by staring, but did discretely turn my foot to the side to reassure myself they were just a little dusty on the toes. Well, to my surprise, they had a fine coating of dust all over and were coated in an even layer of mud and manure. Was I mortified? No, more like disappointed. Because I can’t even count how many times this has happened to me.

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Unrealistically clean fashion equestrian! This does not happen in real life! Photo courtesy of Ralph Lauren via google images. Saddle bag fanny pack coin purse thing??…

I love visiting the barn before work, but I have very little time to do so, so I usually just go in my work clothes and practice haltering my pony and doing fun stuff instead of riding. So I thought that I had a good thing going, kind of an equestrian chic style like the lady, above. But I was really just going to work looking like a complete mess.

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Ariat Paragon boots! I got this photo from buckle.com, but I bought the boots from Western Ways in Lynchburg, VA. You can learn more about Western Ways, my absolute favorite local tack shop, here

This is why I invested in my AMAZING Ariat Paragon boots, November 2015, and have now had them for 5 months! They go with dresses or pants, you can dress them up or down, and they work for most seasons. Best of all they are BROWN! So I can pretend like there’s not dust and … well… other things… on them. You can get the up close and personal look on Ariat’s website. Don’t worry, it will open up in a new tab. To be honest, I don’t think this picture does them justice. The darker brown part is much richer, and the leather looks much nicer. You can see a more accurate photo if you go the Ariat website.

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Me at the tack store! I can’t take credit for the meme, but it was just so very accurate.

I love the two-tone leather! Interestingly, it was the one thing I didn’t like about the boots when I first saw them. I thought that the two-tone was kind of dumb, and the weird “shin protection” arc at the top was extra extra dumb. But when I tried them on, I had a complete change of heart. I actually bought them on the spot five minutes before the store closed! To be honest, I think I weirded out the lady that was helping me with my “I’ll take it!!” style theatrical love-at-first-wear purchasing.

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How they look with literally no polish, newness, cleanness nor conditioner.

I love the cute stitching!

Since that day, I have received constant compliments specifically about the two-tone leather, and I like that it almost gives you that cute equestrian black/brown look but isn’t quite there all the way. I find that I can still wear black things with these boots, and it’s not weird because of the dark brown kind of normalizing the darkness of the black. And I like that they aren’t black/brown boots, because I find those beautiful but also confusing as far as what colors to pair with them. Maybe I am just a little challenged in that department.

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From left: Quasi leather/fabric interior. I don’t know what this material is; The heel, up close and personal; a view from the side: how the leather wears and wrinkles. Keep in mind, these polish up so nicely, this is them at their absolutely worst. 

The darker leather is distressed on the top, which at first I wasn’t sure I liked. Now I really enjoy it, because it makes them a tad more casual, but still completely appropriate for more formal affairs, such as work! the dark leather on the bottom is perfect and lovely – smooth and polishable, just like I want a good boot to be! the dark leather on the heel has an Ariat stamp, which I find very satisfying so that I can feel like even when I am fashionable, I am still secretly just being horsey – because I am a bottomless pit of horseyness. The heel is a brushed composite material, I think. It’s cute, chill, and just out of the way.

The Paragon boot has a good leather foot, but the higher you go, the more it seems like it’s made of really thin leather with a fabric-esque backing. I noticed that the top of the boot has some frays on it, now, but these are easy enough to clean up and are in no way threatening the integrity of the boot. The thinner leather is actually what makes it so easy to break in, I think, and believe me, it still holds up just fine. There’s a cute leather piping around the top that I didn’t even notice until 5 months after I bough them.

I have a nice amount of wiggle room in the leg for tucking in pants, using wooly socks, breathability, and barn isle dancing! Or whatever you like to use your wiggle room for. Beware – wiggle room in your boots is not your friend when you are carrying hay in your arms. Do this at your own risk.

The boots have pull-up straps on either side with little metal buttons to keep them in place. The stitching on this part of the boot is less than ideal, but the pull up part of the boot I never use anyway.

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Bickmore Bick 4 bought from Western Ways. Sorry about the sideways picture. 

The Paragon boot, which is considered a “fashion boot,” cleans up very nicely when you put a little leather conditioner on it! I personally use Bick 4. I love this leather conditioner because it doesn’t darken the leather, really, but gives it just the right amount of hydration to give it a polished look. A big thank you, again, to Western Ways, who told me about this product! Put it on evenly and squirt it out on a rag and then apply the conditioner with the rag to ensure even conditioning all over! I have squirted it directly on the boot, before, and it was totally fine, but that is not best practice. Do not condition these boots without cleaning them, first. I did find that while the foot part absorbed conditioner with ease, the shaft of the boot was more of a struggle. Because the leather is ever so slightly wrinkly, you really have to get in there to make sure you get an even conditioning. Also I get bored with having to be so attentive as I near the top. They take a little more dedication to get through conditioning all the way, but it’s easy, I am just really lazy.

Now if you clean it with a lot of water, you might freak out a little bit, because this will absorb into the leather and darken it, temporarily. I like to use just a damp rag to get the dirt off and then dry it before I put on the conditioner. I wouldn’t describe these boots as temperamental, though, by any means. I would also highly recommend water proofing these boots, because they did get some water damage when I got them pretty wet at the barn, one night, and didn’t bother to take care of them afterward. You can barely see the damage, it’s right where the leather meets the sole, but I am not sure how to fix it, now.

The toe polishes up really well!! I love how you can get a nice shine, there! Equisatisfaction♥

I have wider feet, and usually boots take me a little while to break in, width-wise. I found that this boot didn’t even need breaking in! It was just ready to go! The height is perfect for fashion use. They don’t look overbearing with a cute dress, but they are not completely perfect for use as “alternative tall boots.” They don’t come all the way up to my knee, but they come close. I am 5’1. If I ride in these boots, I ride bareback, because the soles have absolutely no tread (also they don’t cling to your leg shape so there’s that, too). They do provide a little extra protection over your jeans on a bareback ride, so they’re nice for that “I wanna graze my pony in her halter and just do nothing” kind of afternoon.

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Grazing sweet Comfort with my best friend taking pics!! A big thank you to her!!

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Grazing comfort yesterday afternoon in my Paragon boots and her pretty new halter and lead rope from tractor supply!

All in all I love my Paragon Ariat boots. They are so pretty and go with a million different outfits! I like that they have a simplistic, classy appeal. A really nice alternative to cowgirl boots and “equestrian” boots that aren’t made by equestrian people. I also like that they don’t have really annoying random non-leather materials on them like elastic and plastic etc like the tall boots at department stores. Now are these boots your go-to for mucking or traipsing through the pasture in the rain? Absolutely NOT! But they are perfect for the girl who is driving down the road and has to leap out of the car to go inspect a pony staring adorably at her from over the fence, or the girl that likes to go visit her pony during her lunch break and enjoy a sandwich in the pasture! 🙂

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Comfort under a rainbow after a summer rain! 

 

 

 

 

 

Can’ter, but a Trotting Success!

Ok BIG kisses to my sweet girl, today. What a perfect angel! I am so proud of her! Did we canter? No. But, anyway, here’s how this went:

walk, walk, FAST WALK, don’t-you-even-think-about-trotting-HALF-HALT (I literally said grrrr to tighten my abs enough)

Comfort is, of course, bored so we wind all around the arena – serpentines, circles, squiggles. She gets antsy easily and wants to pick up the pace, but today her walk was a dream! Completely relaxed! That is something we have been working so hard on, and if she gets too bored, she tries to trot. Comfort has a pint or two of wicked smart bloodlines in her.

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I am SO smart, Mommy!! Kisses!

(Once again I look like an idiot, and Comfort looks so cute)

And then, we shorten the reins, and comfort knows what’s next – TROTTING!

Comfort: Mommy I can trot! I am SO great at trotting. I trot so well on the lunge line and out in the pasture and even when you’re sitting on me, for whatever reason you do that.

Me: I reply – half halt, half halt, oh my God, half halt! But then she listened! And I was so proud of her! She waited for me to ask for the trot, and for that I am so excited (and grateful).

And then we trotted…. and she was amazing! She always starts out faster than necessary and I have to reel her in a tad, but today the reeling process was pleasantly minimal!

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Of course the reeling-in process was pleasant, because I am a perfectly peaceful pony! 😉

Comfort has this really annoying corner in the arena where she suddenly thinks she gets to set the pace. I am still confused about where this habit came from, but I am desperate for the phase to come to its final chapter. So today I decided that I wasn’t dealing with that corner. Call it laziness or genius.

Me: Ok how do you feel about no corners? Circle time! — Now, Comfort has a great side and a really bad side, and I have been noticing her sides evening out, recently. In the past, circles on her bad side have been a sort of tippy awkward nightmare, but we have been making steady improvement, and these past two rides, I have actually enjoyed her bad side more than her good! I had to do a double take today to make sure I hadn’t confused which direction I was going because of how smooth and bendy and lovely her trot was!

Today was seriously the best trot that Comfort has ever offered me.

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She tends to speed trot, sometimes, and today I could speak to her so clearly by slowing my post and occasionally employing the outside rein. And best of all, after a little instruction from me, she found her happy place and kept the trot without me holding her there. After years of stubborn lesson horses, I was thrilled to know that horses maintaining their gait without you constantly nagging is not a thing of legends after all!!

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I knew today would be a great ride, so we wore our pretty (I think Lettia) palm tree saddle pad to pre-game the success. 

Anyway, I will wrap this up, mostly because I need to go to bed, but I know that we are on the right track, and I can’t wait for the next time trainer-bestie comes out so I can show her Comfort’s fab progress! Perhaps a video is in order on an upcoming post?