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T’was the Night Before Christmas…

Twas the night before Christmas and all through the ranch,
Nothing was stirring, not a creature nor branch.
I in my midweight-1600-denier-waterproof- breathable-high-wither blanket… snuggily all over,
A great buy on eBay (courtesy of Dover.)

I nestled down deeper and started to dream,
With visions of jumping or so it seemed.
But what to my wondering eyes should appear
But an old man in red with friendly reindeer.


A snowdrift blocked him from making his route,
His team pulled hard but he could not get out.
“HAY!” I exclaimed, from slumber I bound,
“I learned jumping this year in my hunter round!”

Santa rolled his eyes, “Without rider you’re idle,”
“To meet each jump correctly, you haven’t even a bridle.”
But I recalled our lessons, my greenness was waning,
My amateur kept talking while we were training.

So they hitched me up to the front of the pack…
“But I need to school first, I will be right back!”
Jumping some bushes after doing some flat,
Long spot, then short spot and end with a pat.

I waited calmly while they hitched me again,
“A loud voice calls my number, I’ll tell you when.”
One deer turned around, “Good heavens, really Son?”
“Okay, you’re up next , One hundred-and-one.”

We courtesy circled and I steadied my rush,
And cantered the first fence, a well flowered brush.
Then up the next line, an even five-stride,
Have you ever changed leads with some deer by your side?


My mom would be proud, this course would just rock her,
And down to the last, a luminous oxer.
Wheeeee, we were long, I pulled my legs tight,
Keeping Santa and reindeer with sleigh in flight.

We landed quite softly, with sleigh contents of Yule
Remaining in tact thanks to my lovely bascule.
I broke from the sleigh, they continued their cause,
The reindeer and Santa in heavy applause!

“Good boy” my mom patted as I opened one eye,
She was there Christmas morning with treats and I sigh.
Have a wonderful new year whatever your endeavor,
Just do it with carrots and apples forever!


Thanks Giving

New place.
Need my space.
Taking it all in.

The rains.
Refreshing at first.
The stall?
Foreboding, claustrophobic, anxious.

The stall.
Friends with heads out the door,
Soft nickers… dinner coming.
Snuggily shavings,
Sharing carrots.
Giving thanks.

“Engagement” Rings

If I had a dollar for every time someone said “Engage his hind end!” or “He’s not engaged!” or “He needs to work on his engagement” I’d have enough to retire and write a book on the subject.

For me, I get to the barn and I engage with my horse, talking to him, handing him his greeting carrot, asking about his day, running my hands down his leg, picking his stall, refilling his water, all the while caressing his forelock, giving him a pat as I walk by.

Stretching, grooming, saddling… he’s an OTTB so he has something to say about every aspect of preparation… very engaged!

And now mounted, we start by stretching his body in a long and low walk, touring the arena (quite engaged in his surroundings) and starting with some circles and bending.blog_article_engagement

As we both get our kinks out, we start a Conversation, beginning with my Mind to my leg, hand and seat (oh and my voice)… to his Mind, front end and hind end.

Our goal is that in time, my hand and leg control his body in perfect synchronicity, like dancing. I’m leading but he’s a fraction of a second behind, and I let him lead every now and then.

Elasticity in collections, extensions and power with no resistance… only a comfortable pleasant contact in my hand and a supporting, fluid leg.

A trainer once gave me the analogy that my leg should not be jabbing and not completely off. My leg acts like it is filled with water, a squeegee waterbed leg of supporting, pressing
and giving… reacting to his body, his body reacting to mine.

Engagement for us is when we are acting in partnership with another, resulting in the marriage 🙂 of my mind, body and spirit to his. 

Year End Straight Talk

During the last horse show of the season, I start  thinking about goals for next year.  I love the winter… the weather funnels us in the direction of flatwork.  Jumps are cleared out of the arena or in big piles so dragging the arena is easy.  Center lines open up and it’s like a clean canvas, like the snow-covered pastures back East and in the Midwest.  It’s a new beginning point and a fresh take from where we were last spring.

Our barn has horses ranging from unbroke to competing at A shows.  We know that everything in between the fences is flatwork and if those spaces are in a rhythm and balanced, there ‘s a greater chance the fences will be too.

I start to list my flatwork goals for the winter.  For my horse, perfect his transitions, smooth out his lead changes, introduce counter canter, continue to supple him through shoulder-in haunches-in.  For me, it’s all about posture  – correct my shoulder slump, push my heels down, become more consistent in my eye.

Most of my goals haveto do with StraightnessStraightness is the thesis word for the winter.blog_article_straightness

Straightness first requires an awareness of when my horse and I are not straight.  And then Straightness requires the discipline to work on it every ride.

Walking by the last show’s schooling ring, I can hear trainers’ comments:

“Keep him straight to the fence, not jumping left.”

“Look up and straight ahead, not down.”

“You missed the change because he bulged his shoulder in, he wasn’t straight.”

“Keep a straight line in the diagonal.”

“Ride straight toward the rail after the first jump.”

“Sit up straight.”

Straight line from hip to heel.”

“He ran out because he didn’t get straight soon enough.”


Straightness has a BIG impact on many of my outcomes.

As I start to focus on Straightness down the center line of the arena, I am realizing how frequent my horse is not straight, and how much my posture contributes to that.  How can he be balanced if I am not?  Or is he not straight because he is compensating for my un-straightness?  Good grief.   Keeping tabs on straightness at all times requires a whole lot of something I didn’t expect this winter… discipline.  

So that’s me out there gritting my teeth, feeling as unnatural as a pretzel in my straight and tall position, focusing on the steps my horse takes and where he has habitually become un-straight, because I allowed it.

Straightness is significant because it make my horse more symmetrical and balanced.   It makes me more balanced.  Straightness  impacts my courses, everything in between the fences, and the jumps – takeoff, arc and landing.  Only all that.

I forget who said champions are made when no one is looking but I know it was someone riding with a great posture and a straight horse.

~ kw

Spooking and the Halloween Horse Show

It was time for the local Halloween show… and the culmination of the year for my OTTB Mulligan.  This was his final exam of Season 1, Learning to be a Hunter 101.  Gracious thanks to the staff of the Let’s Show Halloween Show and the Murieta Equestrian Center.  Mulligan had lots to say about this adventure.

“Upon entering we encounter another horse pulling something I have never seen…”



“…and creatures ready to pounce…”



“…these aren’t my Grandmother’s insects!”



“The largest warmblood on earth!”



“A rider who didn’t tighten the girth?”



“You want me go to by THIS?”



“Once my eyeballs popped back into my head, I could focus on the jumps.  I came home with a good experience under my girth, but there’s no place like home.”



An OTTB’s Playlist

Last weekend we went to a show and Mulligan went from calm to nervous, from beginning hunter to race horse in under two minutes. Mulligan is an OTTB – off the track thoroughbred – whose first career was a bust and he’s on his second, thus his name. He has a wonderful attitude, is a gentleman and friend, but he sometimes has flashbacks from his past at the racetrack.

In a short time Mulligan has ceased attempts to get to the finish line ahead of everyone in the under saddle class, and he is less nervous when horses pass him. But his most persistent heart pounding reaction is the announcer and the show’s PA system. He has bravely accepted the main ring announcer, but it’s from the schooling ring, the barn calls that send him quaking in his horse shoes. Specific triggers to Mulligan’s PTSD are announcers who are men, faraway speakers like in the stable area, and multiple speaker PA systems. He hears that twenty-minute barn call and he’s sure they’re saddling up in the paddock for Race 3.

The first time Mulligan heard a handheld mic static, he was sure the electrifying sizzle was a wasp buzzing around him. In the hunter ring, Mulligan’s focus turns to the speakers in the adjacent jumper arena, with its time clock and continual announcements of faults and time penalties.

Mulligan needed to be desensitized to the sounds of the horse shows. He needed an iPod or CD with a Playlist of horse show sounds. So we created one that he now listens to constantly at home.

blog_article_playlist3Here’s what’s on his playlist:

  • Posting order, announcing an entrant, plane in background
  • Light static, microphone clicking on and off, music in background
  • Under saddle class call (“trot please,” etc.), horse snorting
  • Loud announcing calling numbers
  • Static off and on, wind blowing against a microphone
  • Crowd noise
  • Horse cantering in adjacent arena
  • Spectator chatting, more wind
  • Talking, “good boy”
  • Announcers in two different rings talking over each other
  • Announcer calling placings for under saddle class
  • Jump rail knocking down
  • Spectator chatter, coughing
  • Loud announcer calling posted order
  • Jumper announcer – “clear round and a time of…”
  • Baby crying
  • Spectators cheers – “Woo hoo” – as results are announced
  • Whinny from horse [at home, Mulligan always answers it when he hears it!]
  • Announcer in equitation class – posting, sitting, extended trot
  • Water and drag noises in arena
  • Spectators laughing
  • Audio of Secratariat’s Belmont, announcer and crowd noise
  • USHJA hunter classic announcing hunter derby Jersey Boy [subliminal imagery]
  • Bugle call before horse race
  • Horse race commentator of a small local track
  • Explosion of clapping at horse show, whistles and cheers
  • A peaceful song (to reward him for getting through it)

I expect this won’t prevent all of Mulligan’s nervousness but I do think the sounds will be more familiar to him at our next horse show.

~ kw


Pull Up the Big Girl Pants

I’m brimming with confidence. blog_article_big-girl-pants1My rides are non-eventful steps up the learning curve ladder. Remember the game Chutes and Ladders? Each leg yield like on a square in the board game progresses up the ladder to, let’s say a lovely bend in a corner. The sky is the limit, largely because of Mulligan’s wonderful attitude and enthusiasm for everything labeled Learning. I am believing I can raise his jumping level by year end. I’ve mastered our partnership and we can dance with the stars.

And suddenly we land on a square that sends us spiraling down a winding chute. Mulligan and I had an argument and I feared the honeymoon was over.

Key words in that last sentence. . . I feared. Interesting how fear can change a person from an insightful horsewoman to a 50-something amateur old bitty with brittle bones, a neophyte whose horse doesn’t love her anymore. I was certain I couldn’t train a plant to grow.

My fall from grace started around lead changes, Mulligan rejected my leg after a jump and moved into it rather than away from it. I increased the pressure and he bucked. HUH? What happened to the meticulous groundwork, the sensitization exercises, the flatwork building blocks of leg yielding and turns on the forehand, the strong foundation I thought were in place?

Now my supple well-prepared thoroughbred was grinding his teeth and we weren’t best friends in La-La land anymore. Furthering the proof of my launch from the pedestal I envisioned he had me on, he started rushing his fences, defiantly throwing his shoulder inward in the corners. Like a puppy whose tail I had accidently stepped on, I wasn’t his cool mommy anymore.


Here’s where the Voice of Reason rolls his eyes, and steps in with what I need to do:

Step One: STOP IT RIGHT NOW! Take a breath and let him take a breath. Collect your thoughts.

Step Two: OMG, GET REAL! Get your head out of your you-know-what and Pull Up the Big Girl Pants!  Making a career out of beating yourself up is utterly useless. No one got murdered, no need for a lifetime sentence of guilt. In an era where journalists are getting beheaded by terrorists, no need to cut your own off because your ride is not going as planned. Get a perspective, Sistah!

Step Three: Resume training, taking each component separately. He’s a different horse right now, and an angry, confused horse cannot learn, so bring him back slowly to the point where he can. In this case, that’s a quiet halt after a fence or a simple change at the end of the line.

Good grief, it’s one thing to have humility, listen to your horse, have a sense of justice. It’s another thing entirely to self-deprecate yourself to worthless-human-being-ness.

Horses have taught me that every challenge, problem, weakness throws a magnifying glass on what I need to work on – that could be physical – like posture and conditioning;  it could be mental – focus or knowledge; or it could be emotional – containment, praise, etc.  That’s the beauty of the process, there are no failures because each challenge leads to an Aha moment, which leads to future success. Cool huh?

The Person who makes no mistakes is unlikely to make ANYTHING.

We all hear the cowboys say “reward the try” when training horses something new.  How about rewarding your own try?

~ kw

The Perfect Golf Swing… the Perfect Jump

Top 12 reasons they are similar:
12. Learning the basics is the first step.  Practice until the basics are automatic reflexes.

11. Hands are critical… They should go with the club swing like going with the horse.

10. Visualize your goal. On a perfect jump, you can hardly feel the takeoff and it’s smooth as silk, fluid and effortless, horse and rider are one. The perfect swing is a similar feeling, you can’t even feel the face of the club hit the ball, the human body and the club are moving as one. The less excess movement the better. The best golfers generally have the smoothest swings and the best mechanics.  The best riders have invisible aids, it looks like they’re doing nothing.

9. Variety of distances.  Be able to execute short distances and long distances equally well… practice both. By the way, a short hopper shot is a Chip.

8. The course of nine holes is like a course of nine jumps, there are challenges lying in wait.  Make sure you know where you’re going so you don’t wander off course.

7. The flat work is on the driving range and the putting green.  Putting is a large part of the game and everything between fences is flat work.  It’s the element that is practiced least and screws up most.

6. You have to get out there and play and ride. Yes, you can get pointers from DVDs and web sites, all proclaiming to have “the answer.” The more time in the tack and on the golf course, the quicker you will excel.  Don’t go to a country club “A” show course until you are consistent at the small courses.   Lessons are good, someone with knowledge watching your ride and your swing. Video yourself and compare yourself to the masters.

5. Traditional attire is best. Equipment does not have to be expensive, your riding and your playing outshines your outfit.  Spend money on lessons before the latest fad. Be comfortable, have sound equipment and sun protection.

4. Getting the right rhythm and sticking with it produces the best swings and the best jumps. Break out each component – addressing the ball, back swing, stance as you would working on your riding – hands, leg, posture. Swinging in slow motion is like jumping cavelettis.

3. Being in physical shape means your golf game and your riding will be better. Go to the gym, yoga and pilates, become a runner… they will help your swing and your jumps.

2. Relaxation is key.  Golf and riding are mental activities.  Become a student of the game and the basics, and once you have mastered them, try not to over-think.  Let the gestalt of it all take over. Enjoy being outside and being in nature as you would on the back of a horse.

1. Have a positive attitude, a belief that the ball will go in the hole, that the horse will jump the fence. Negative thinking is counter-productive in both sports. Every rider, golfer and horse can have an off day so shake it off.  If you think negatively and the worst happens, you’ve lived through it twice, haven’t you? On the other hand, be humble; your next swing could be a lost ball.

Love your horses and your game!


Taking a Mulligan – Part 2

< < Part 1 

Our second horse show, Mulligan walked flat footed into the arena for his flat class. Honestly, I could have called it a day right there. I was busting the buttons off my riding coat and I tried to act nonchalant and cool. He stood in his lineup like a statue. Mr. Canon documented the experience and played it back for us a hundred times.

Mulligan was relaxing. He cantered his cross rails in the jumping class like a hunter. When he did his first immaculate lead change in the arena, Dana from the rail was so happy that Mr. Canon trembled. Mulligan handled the flowers, the fences, and the announcer with aplomb. Mulligan appropriately won second place.

To hear our celebration and the applause, the praise and the carrots, you would have thought Mulligan just won a USHJA Hunter Derby.

A trainer would have arrived on the grounds on schooling day, stabled the horse for two days, and had him ready for us and his amateur rider by Sunday. But we would have missed Mulligan’s transition from pawing at the trailer to standing quietly, from nervous wheeling around, to eating hay and drinking water. No one would have told us when his frantic neigh for help became a nicker of hello. I would not have experienced the moment his heart pounding between my legs turned to a sigh of acceptance.

Dana and I watched Mulligan process and learn. We rode every fence right there with him (from the rail and on his back), calmed him through his nervousness, prepped him, fed him, groomed him, schooled him, posted him and showed him. Mulligan made us proud and Mr. Canon was right there with us every minute.

Anyone that has had any experience bringing along a young horse, riding any horse for that matter, accomplishing any endeavor of worthiness, knows that it is rarely an uphill progression. There are pitfalls, disappointments, setbacks. Handsome (he’s Mulligan at the shows but Handsome at home) had pulled a shoe and bruised his sole so he got some time off the next weeks. We soaked him in Epsom salts, poulticed, cold hosed, massaged his muscles, pine-tarred his soft feet and let him mow the edge of the arena. When we started him back, Handsome received his first lunge lesson.

A training barn’s groom would have done all that. Would he have told me how Handsome loves the attention? I would have missed how Handsome stoically stood for poulticing, blog_article_mulligan2_smilesand the dexterity with which he pulls carrots out of my back pocket while I painted his hooves.
It is a joy to be Handsome’s teacher, his part-time nurse and his friend. Hearing his whinny lifts my spirits. Handsome is getting more confident at the same time he is building mine.

Once Handsome/Mulligan is healed, and if the stars collide, schedules coincide and we feel he is ready, he will be added to the show calendar amidst the other horses’ schedules. Our adrenalin will get us through our regular work days, evening rides and a tireless summer. We trust our program but remain flexible for the unexpected. Plan B is right around the corner with C waiting in the wings. Mulligans don’t care about plans.

In a world where two country “dumb asses” win the Kentucky Derby, I bet they would say that the deepest rewards come not despite their background but because of it. The “wins” are embedded in the process. Few horses become champions but taking a mulligan can bring out the champion in all of us.

~ kw

< < Part 1 

Taking a Mulligan – Part 1

“Take a mulligan,” instructed my golf teacher after I topped a drive off the tee. Immersing myself in golf lessons seemed like the right distraction after the passing of my 23-year old thoroughbred. And once I turned 50, I was reluctant to go the green horse route again.

But golf wasn’t horses.

Enter Handsome, an appropriately named gray OTTB gelding owned by Dana whom I met through a horse ad online. She had allowed him months of rest after his racing, starting him in his hunter career slowly, with light hacks and cross rails at a schooling show or two.
Through Dana’s generosity, now I ride Handsome as often as possible. Handsome lives on Dana’s ranch along with two other horses that Dana shows, and several more retired horses and ponies, dogs and cats.

We do not have the deep pockets to show the A circuit, the cash flow to pay trainers, the time-off-work to stable all week at horse shows, the extra twenties lying around to tip grooms. We do have our years of expert advice from good trainers, and our own experiences of horse care, training, vetting, shoeing (Dana shoes her own), hauling, braiding, schooling and showing.

At the shows we are known as an “Independent.” Be kind to us Independents, we were up at 4 a.m. While I am not an advocate of riding trainer-less, it just works for us right now. A bevy of good hunter-jumper instructors reside in our area, available to assist at a moment’s notice. Because we are Independents, we appreciate even more the many hats trainers wear.

Our days are marathons. Both of us work full time, have family commitments and juggle our schedules to accommodate the horses.

But the rewards run deep and the lessons are profound.

I soon discovered that Handsome has a forgiving attitude when his amateur (that’s me) misses a distance or makes a mistake. Maybe it has to do with the carrots I bring him, the scratches behind the ears and the conversations we have while grooming. After a few months of trotting over grids and cantering simple lines, Handsome and I were ready for our first horse show together.

Handsome’s second career as a hunter compelled us to come up with the show name Mulligan.

To help us assess our progress, Mr. Canon travels with us to horse shows. blog_article_mulligan1_canonHe is there for every round including the flat classes. He communicates our mistakes so they are obvious and he never dwells on the negative. Only sometimes does Mr. Canon lose his focus, but the big picture is always there. He is accurate, handy, and affordable. We observe our performances against the professional hunter rides that we watch carefully with Mr. Canon at our side.

Mr. Canon mirrors our mistakes and we have instant replays when we need reminders.

So at our first local show together, Handsome now Mulligan asked questions all day long. Why are horses everywhere? Why are horses tied to trailers? Why are we riding then resting, then riding then resting? Why are we not going the same direction? Why is that horse jumping in the arena next door when we are just standing? Why are we lined up but those three horses are leaving, can’t we leave too?

We answered his questions patiently, through continual exposure and quiet rides, words of praise, lots of petting and boatloads of carrots. Mulligan settled down in his cross rails class, jumping every fence the first time. He had a flashback from the race track when he heard the announcer on the loudspeaker but he came through the experience no worse for wear.

Dana and I were exhausted.

~ kw

Part 2 >>