Training

Meet Nicolai, a 16 year old Dutch Warmblood gelding who was bred for dressage but decided he’s better at jumping. He’s my best friend and a pretty awesome partner in and out of the ring. Our training log is below.

April 17, 2011

I’ve definitely neglected this log, so I’ll try to make this mega-update short and sweet. Nicolai and I had a great summer in San Juan trail riding and relaxing, and then a nice winter back in serious training. We topped the best of my barn’s riders to win the nation’s cup-formatted Oak Park Winter Championship at level five. He jumped three clear rounds and we had an incredible jump-off to score the perpetual trophy. I was so proud of him and myself for riding well and not screwing up!
Nicolai didn’t weather the winter too well, and he’s now back at a healthy weight and halfway to a shiny coat again. He turned 16 last weekend and I’m just so blessed to have such an awesome horse. We’re planning on a little show in Santa Barbara in May, so that should be fun!

June 21, 2010

Saturday (the 19th) was my one year anniversary of owning Nicolai! He’s jumping better than ever and I’m so happy to have him in my life. We have grown so incredibly much over the past year, and I’m lucky that he’s so adaptable. Between switching trainers, trainers moving barns, and moving back and forth from school, he and I have been at 5 different barns! Luckily we found an amazing trainer up at school and will continue to show with them through the summer while he hangs out at a barn closer to home. He’s been out trail riding with cows, in victory gallops, big green pastures and always in the arena! He takes it all in stride, and takes good care of me.

We just wrapped up our first show of the year (after Thermal got nixed thanks to a lingering abscess) and did pretty well. He picked up a third under my trainer, two more thirds with me in classes with 20-40 people, and a third in a 1.15 meter jumper classic. We had a tough few days midway through the show though, as I simply gave him some weak rides and he decided to stop. However, I bounced back after some thinking and hard riding, and managed to get us back in the ribbons. It was a demanding but rewarding learning experience, and I hope that our next year together brings many more opportunities to learn and grow, and hopefully some more ribbons to show for it.

April 8, 2010

Tomorrow, Nicolai will be 15 years old! That’s 5 years since he arrived in America from the Netherlands, and almost a whole year since I bought him. I’m happy to say that he’s still full of vigor and attitude, and seems to be loving his job just as much as ever. Since he was bred and “raised” as a dressage horse, I’m safely assuming that he didn’t start jumping until later in life, and that, I believe, has allowed him to remain competitive well into his teens. His legs are as rock solid as ever, and with any luck, he’ll continue to teach me and carry me for years to come.

The gap in training logs was due to a hectic winter. First, we battled rain and muddy arenas, which left me with an uber-energized horse that I never really could settle down before the next storm rolled in. Then, in late January, I came to the barn as a fluke on a Monday to go for a trail ride. It was a warm day, and I was looking forward to a mellow walk up into the hills. I tacked Nicolai up in his stall, threw on his hackamore, and walked him out of his stall, to find that he was absolutely dead lame and hobbling along. His left front leg was literally hanging from the shoulder. Since it was a Monday, I was alone and freaked out. Luckily, I got my trainer within a few minutes and she figured it was an abscess. I gave him some banamine, a kiss, and hoped that she was right.

While the culprit was indeed an abscess, it was a nasty one, and we fought it for almost a month. The whole story is far too long to share here, but we went through our share of vets and farriers, epsom salts, diapers, and frustration. We had to skip Thermal as well, but I’d rather have a happy horse than any color ribbon. (Meanwhile, my lovely horse decided to give me a solid kick to the stomach on a walk, sending me to the ER.) After everything was sorted out though, I was very happy to be back in the saddle, and I definitely think Nicolai was glad to be out of that stall and done with all that pain.

December 22, 2009

As the year wraps up, I’ve begun thinking about goals for 2010. I’ve never really been able to do so before, as my first horse was such a handful that just staying alive and getting him going around sanely was enough for me to handle. Now that I have a superstar (if I do say so myself!) I really want to enjoy him and see what we can accomplish together. First is showing at Thermal, which I’ve never done before (although I’ve spent plenty of time there). For the first time ever, I have a really big goal; a solid aspiration that I’m going to work my butt off to hopefully achieve. I’m still thinking and talking with my trainers, so I’ll keep my mouth shut for now, but I will be ecstatic if we can make this happen.

December 9, 2009

Last weekend was my barn’s Christmas show, the Oak Park Winter Championship. It was really fun and I was so incredibly proud of my boy for stepping up and going clear in all three rounds. The show was run in a Nation’s Cup format with two rounds (one at 3’6″, one at 4′) and then a jump off for those who managed double clears. Nicolai was fabulous in the first round despite a little stickyness at the base. He tends to get that way in show situations, but compared to my first show with him, this first round was much more solid. Our second round had to have been the best round we’ve ever had together. I had only jumped over 4′ twice before, so it was a challenge for me, but I felt so at home on him and it really was easy. Our jump off was also really great in my opinion. I didn’t push him since it was just a fun show and he’s just coming back to this height, but we had a few good runs and it was a tight, effective ride on my behalf. I was proud of myself for not getting any of those last minute second guess flyers! Overall we ended up 9th out of the whole barn which was just fine with me.

November 26, 2009

I really can’t believe it’s already thanksgiving! Nicolai and I have gone through so much since I started school, and it hasn’t all been great. I was very homesick at first, and I really think Nicolai picked up on that. He seemed very distant and unhappy the first month or so at his new barn, and it had to be because of my unhappiness because his new digs are pretty spectacular. He’s got a nice stall, runout, a gorgeous view of the valley, and a quiet private location with lots of trails and great people.

Once I got a little more acclimated I really latched on to him and we started to improve like crazy. He has gotten so much fitter from the trails and the work we’ve been doing and is starting to do 4′ again easily. My riding has become so much tighter and smarter; seeing a distance is so much easier now, and I feel tons more effective as a whole. The training is excellent and I really couldn’t be happier. I’m honestly bummed I have to bring him back home over my month-long winter break! I hate to leave such a fantastic environment.

Anyways, on this day I want to express my gratitude for a wonderful horse who has taught me so much these last five months, my family for supporting my passion, all the trainers who have influenced me and gotten me to the point I’m at today, and lastly, all the horses who have been amazing teachers and friends. I am part of a magnificent sport and I am incredibly thankful for that.

September 11, 2009

Today is a pretty big milestone for me (or tomorrow, really) as today is my last day at home before leaving for college. I’m going to try to enjoy my last lesson with Nicolai (he follows me up next week after orientation), and ride as many of my usual schoolies as possible. The horse I’ll miss most is Nick, a throroughbred that has been through quite a bit in his short life, including a number of surgeries. While in between horses this past year, I took Nick under my wing to help get him back on his feet and fit, and he really healed me. We went through a lot together, and it will be hard to say good bye to that one.

Nicolai has been doing well and is progressing on the flat. I’m starting to really work him and supple him up now that he’s fit, and he has been moving along nicely.

September 5, 2009

Nicolai has been great, especially considering the heat we’ve been battling lately. Hopefully it will cool down in the next few weeks and give us all a break! Both of us are continuing to work everyday but the heat is definitely taking a little of the energy out of our rides. We’ve been jumping around at 1.10m lately and will continue to move on up as he gets fitter.

August 23, 2009

After letting Nicolai unwind from the show (which warranted some equiciser sessions and long hours in his new grass pasture), I just let him stretch his legs this weekend and gallop a little. I think it’s so good to let horses run every once in awhile, both physically and mentally. We all need to blow off steam sometimes and I could really tell that the gallops loosened him up and made work a little more interesting and engaging for him. At our previous facility, we had barely enough room to breathe, and galloping was out of the question. Now, we’re at a gorgeous private barn with a huge outdoor sand derby ring. The footing is perfect and the corners are nice and rounded so he can open up down the sides and not have crazy burn-out turns. He’s no racehorse, but he really got into it and when I take him up north next month I might just have to take him to the beach and really let him go!

August 16, 2009

Week two of showing ended well after a little bit of a rocky start. Class sizes were huge this week, meaning rounds dragged on forever and we had some stiffer competition. My first ride in the .90m jumpers was iffy…I think I was so happy after our last round last week that I figured he’d have that same jump and attitude. To be honest, he really did, but my eye was off and I didn’t really hold him together very well. The second round that day in the Lows was better since I buckled down and rode a solid ride. The jump off was optimum time so I just cruised through it and got 5th. I’ve never liked optimum time rounds since you really just have to get lucky unless you’ve got a clock in your head and can time it right. I was happy with the round though. On Saturday we had two more weak rounds. I felt like I was really inconsistent and just didn’t hold up my end of the deal, and went home pretty angry. Nicolai was a little foot sore in the second round and he still jumped his heart out for me, which really showed me what an awesome partner he is. On the other hand, it made me even more frustrated for giving him a shoddy ride when he was an absolute star. By the time Sunday rolled around, I just wanted a strong ride, and I got it. We just did a 1.00 meter class to wrap up the show and I had a great warm up. Whereas two weeks ago I was running him at fences because I couldn’t package him up, I had him going along nice and impulsive, right between my leg and hand and ready to go. Once we got in the ring, everything just fell into place, and he was great; no pulling, no looking at fences or taking flyers. He was just right on, and we finally had a strong rhythm and an awesome connection. The jump off was quick and put us into the lead, and that long canter back to the in gate was epic. He had his ears pricked and tail up, and I could feel that our partnership was forged. Unfortunately, the very last two people in the class screamed around and beat our time by a second, but I felt our ride was perfect, and ribbons were the last thing on my mind. It was a great way to wrap up our two weeks, and for now he’ll get a week of rest and pampering and long turnouts.

August 11, 2009

Nicolai’s dam, Imagine

1750Photo courtesy his breeder, J. Muilwijk of The Netherlands.

August 10, 2009

Nicolai’s sire, Excellent-W:

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Photo courtesy KWPN stallion registry.

August 9, 2009

We ended the first week of showing with two wins in the .90 meter jumpers, a second in the .90s, a first in the 1.00 meter jumpers, and a seventh and eighth in the Low Ch/AA jumpers. It really took me until the last round on Sunday to understand my horse; we worked well together, but there was a disconnect. We had two rails throughout the weekend, both of which were my fault, and they really bothered me. It was obvious that I was muddying the waters somehow; Nicolai has won at 1.30, so a 3′ class shouldn’t be a big deal for him, and he never gets lazy. He tries every step and is very careful, so the rails were my fault. On Friday, we even stopped at a big oxer in the jump off, which was a result of too little connection and a miscommunication on distances. In the warm up for my last class on Sunday though, something clicked. I buckled down and started riding very precisely and aggressively, being sure to stay over in the air and be soft rather than resorting to the defensive position I’m known for. Somehow, it paid off, and during that class we got to know each other on a deeper level. It was as if he finally understood what I wanted of him and how I rode; and I understood what makes him tick and his limits. He’s an amazing horse, and although we still have a relationship to build, I feel like we are much tighter now, and it’s a great feeling.

August 8, 2009

Nicolai did a 1.00 meter class with my trainer earlier this week and had one rail in the first round to get 8th out of 21. It was his first time in the ring in about a year and she was really pushing him beyond his usual stickyness so it was unfortunate but understandable. I showed him today and he was great. He’s a completely different horse in the show arena–awake, stronger, and very snappy. I’m still getting the hang of him and figuring out all his buttons, but I feel more comfortable after today. We won our .90m class, and in the Low Ch/AA jumpers we had a fast and clear first round but he stopped at an oxer in the jump off. It was really both of our faults; I was trying to slow him down a notch since it was an optimum time class, and we got our signals mixed, never found a great distance, and he just threw on the brakes. After a circle he actually jumped the oxer perfectly and we cruised through the last two jumps and through the timers. It was a good learning day, and allowed me to test his boundaries and figure out our parameters out there.

July 30, 2009

For the past week or two I think that Nicolai and I have made some solid improvement. We’re not stunning anyone, but I know him a lot better now, and I also realize that we have a ways to go. Our communication has always been remarkably good…he seems to know what I want and responds handily, but there are certain situations in which both of our pasts have caught up with us. He’s used to being a packer, and my last horse left me with major confidence issues. This combination means that at certain times, Nicolai makes his own decisions, which can mess with my confidence; on the other end of the spectrum, when he does listen and trust me, I can make mistakes that just muddle the waters. Overall though, we are heading in the right direction, and I’m learning to trust him and be assertive enough so that he knows that I’ll keep him safe and be clear with my aids. None of it is easy, but every step we take is incredibly rewarding.

July 15, 2009

We had a lesson in the indoor arena at Blenheim Farms today. It was good to get away from the sun’s blistering rays and ride with a nice breeze! Nicolai was a little looky at first, which is understandable for his first time in that arena, especially since it’s right next to the jump shed with all sorts of standards and poles everywhere. He warmed up very well, with a more engaged trot to start off. We jumped three different courses at 3’3″ and he was great. I couldn’t ask for a better horse.

July 14, 2009

Nicolai was great today; he had a really nice forward canter without me asking for it, and was better on the collected canter, and going from that to extended. He’s getting a little sharper off the leg with my tiny spurs, so I think I’ll stick with them for now rather than using the ones with a longer neck. He was excellent at the trot, very soft and round. He really lifted his back and had a nice swinging pace. Apparently he knows how to half pass as well…I’m not sure if that’s something he was schooled to do with his last trainer, if he retained that from his early training in the Netherlands, or if it’s just something he has from his dressage breeding. He certainly knows what to do; this is no leg yield!

July 12, 2009

We had a small breakthrough today, or, at the least, a realization on my part. Over the past month I’ve learned that Nicolai starts out a little slow. He’s not round, not really forward, and needs some encouragement to stay engaged and in front of my leg. Today I trotted him until he was loose, fighting him along the way to push him onto the bit without getting this huge ridiculous trot. Finally I just let him trot how he wanted and just focused on keeping a constant pace. Since the theme of our canter work lately has been forward, forward, and forward, I let him loosen up and then asked him to gallop down the longside of the arena. The first time he had a so-so hand gallop going, but wasn’t really engaged. Next time around, I really asked him with my body and then let him decide whether he was going to answer or carry on as he was. He answered! This was no bullet fast gallop, but he really opened up his stride and had a nice, swinging gallop. After that, I let him wind down, doing some collecting across the ring and then allowed him stretch out. When I brought him down to the trot, he was forward, engaged, and on the bit. No leg was necessary to keep him going; he was very supple and flowing, and just had an absolutely lovely trot and pace. So I really think the key is to a) allow him to stretch out unhindered at the start, and b) get him in front of my leg at the trot and canter, and then gather him up, and he’ll be golden.

July 11, 2009

My biggest issue is trust, so today’s lesson was about trusting Nicolai and not doing too much. He takes a little leg to get clicking once we first start jumping, but then he coasts along quite nicely, so I just had to remember to get him flowing forward and then maintain the rhythm but not pester him. He was great again, jumping little oxers and verticals and doing some fun rollbacks while I tweaked my position. He’s a saint! I think what I really need to work on is getting him sharper off my leg; he goes, but it can takes some pumping with my legs to get him wound up. I’m not sure if that’s because he’s out of shape or he’s just being slower in the heat. Once he’s in gear, he flies, but his reaction time isn’t the greatest. I have tiny tiny spurs on at the moment and I really don’t want to put a heftier spur on, but I may hack him in a rounded spur with a little longer neck tomorrow.

July 10, 2009

Flat lesson today.  We mainly worked on regulating Nicolai’s paces and rhythm, something the both of us need to work on. He has a nice forward trot once I get him going, and he’ll coast along like that, but when I take a hold and ask for a working trot, he lags behind my leg and kind of starts and stops. It’s not a very consistent pace to say the least! We did poles, collecting and extending, and tons of half seat for me. Once again, he was a good boy, and except for some lead swapping during collected canter, did everything I asked of him.

July 9, 2009

Today Nicolai and I had a sort of hybrid dressage/eq lesson. We started out doing some more advanced flat work between dressage letters, like counter canter, shoulder-in, collection and extension, and tons of sitting trot. After he was nice and loosened up, we did some really fun jumping exercises. He’ still coming back from coffin and hock injections, so we didn’t get much higher than 3′, but we did courses with bending in-and-outs, hand gallops on a long approach, unrelated lines, trot poles to an x (in the middle of a course), rollbacks and the like. He was perfect and did everything asked of him. I’m going to work on getting him more consistently on the bit while flatting, as he tends to arbitrarily place his head, ranging from behind the vertical to normal high-headed jumper status.

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