Going down the only road I’ve ever known

This should have been sooner. I am just a horrible person who is currently way too busy with school for her own good. I have to just get back into the habit of sitting down to blog once to twice a week and it will be as natural as breathing once more; I am sure of it!

This past weekend we held the first of many GDCTA Scribe clinics that will be going on all over Georgia. We had USDF S-judge Sandy Osborne come over to teach and had a turn out of about a dozen people who were enthusiastic about scribing. We are pretty blessed to have her locally and that a couple of our borders are heavily involved in the GDTCA which allows us to do events like these. I was one of a couple in-barn riders asked to ride for the clinic which involved riding a test of their choice so that Sandy could show the participants what was involved with scribing for a judge. I chose to ride the St. George as we are actually going to be showing it in a few weeks! The St. George is actually the Young Rider Team test so it was a perfect opportunity to test ride it all the way through about two weeks out.

I have to say my ride was a very successful run through. I haven’t shown in over a year, the last time I competed was in March of 2012, and for the first time in as long as I can remember I was nervous in riding a test. It was a strange feeling to have butterflies before turning down centerline – but definitely a good strange. It just reaffirmed how excited I am to be campaigning my big man again this year! We were asked to warm up outside and Georgia has definitely had an excess of rain in the past few weeks so the footing was less than superb. The footing in our outdoor front pasture was deeper than I feel completely comfortable with, and it was not completely uniform all the way through.  Ever since going to Festival and watching one of my competitors lame her horse in sub-par warm-up footing, I am overly attuned to the risks that come along with that. Val definitely slid into a hole at one point during our warm-up and because of this I didn’t really have push him or have the chance to puff him up in the direction of brilliance. This conservative riding on my part played a part in the fact our score in the test was mid-sixties and not higher. However, it was also important for me to go in and put a clean practice test down in his mind. Val is guilty of going to the ring in the past and trying to pick a fight about the work. Two weeks out from our first qualifier of the season, I felt that a positive in-ring experience was better than pushing him for brilliance. It was a choice of riding style on my part but it left me with the confidence to know that he will go and do his job for me and let me take care of the rest. It’s a good feeling to finally start to knowing that his confidence in my leadership is there. It let’s me know that in two weeks I can push him for more and that he isn’t going to balk or tell me no or he can’t.

It was also nice to run through the whole test together because it allowed me to see where the movements are that can boost my score up! His trot work is always really on the money, and this test was no exception. There are some accuracy issues that I can better take care of in my own riding to squeeze every point out. His collection needs to be very confirmed in the warm up so that it carries over into the test which will allow me to push for even more bend. I need to continue to school the walk pirouettes, which is something that I just don’t do enough of in the everyday work. When his collection is better all the canter work improves as well. I have to remember that in test riding I must use every stride to better the overall quality of the gaits, and use those short sides to show them off to his highest potential. The changes can be ridden with a little more ground cover in them; I just have to remember to trust Val to do his job and not second guess that. Also, I have to really be conscious of the expression overall – specifically in the lateral work where he tends to want to use my hands to carry himself.

Like I said, we are looking at our first qualifier in Aiken, SC on the weekend of the 15th-17th of March which is truly exciting! Our barn is taking eleven horses which means not only will I be busy showing but I will be busy taking care of all of our competitors  equine and human! This is my last week of college before Spring Break (which includes two tests – ugh!), which is the week before the show and I couldn’t have asked for better timing in that respect. Until next time, hope all your riding is going well out there!

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Coming home

 This is truly a welcome home and back for me. I let this blog go for quite a bit as I was doing some transitioning in my life and trying to find exactly where I belong. Consider this an update and the first of many because I am back. Nothing quite like going back to the place where it all began!

Because this was truly where it all sort of began for me. This blog was started on my road to hopefully riding at the FEI level and on the National Stage. It was started on a whim, with a pipe dream as the ending goal. And I credit this blog to much of my success in accomplishing those once lofty and unreachable goals of that year and many I hadn’t even begun to dream when I started this journey. And now I am here – in a completely different space with different hopes and dreams that are no less important to me. If the magic worked for us once let’s see if it will again. Plus, there is no better way to be accountable and have the ability to reflect and grow like writing it all down as you go.

So with that I bid you all welcome to 2013 and the rebirth of my blog and leave you with my Note from the Universe, a wonderful service that inspires me each and every week day. I think it is more than appropriate, a little touching, and motivating as well! I have never been one to shy away from that illusive big fish, and I am going after it hard once more.

Image

 I promise to have a real riding update about the Redhead and myself very soon, along with goals and a show schedule. I will even bribe you with pictures as well!

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April Showers

Hey guys, can you even believe it is April already? I have been at the Hasslers now for three months and time has really flown by! April is going to be one crazy month for us up here which is both exciting and terrifying. Next weekend is my first show of the season which means it will be the first time I don my tailcoat and top hat and go to ride the Prix St. George! I am going to school in it this next week and honestly Val is going really well right now. Scott said he will be holding his breath in the zigzag, the three’s and four’s, and the right canter pirouette – and I responded that I might be holding my breath too! I am feeling really good and I feel ready though. I ran the trot patterns from the Individual yesterday and I had a really nice feeling. There was a good sense of flow and he felt very honest. We will just have to see what comes next weekend. I am so excited because both Mel and Jill, other Young Riders in the barn, are going too. And my friend Maddy from Region 8 will be coming down! It should be a party!

As for April, last Wednesday I officially ordered my new saddle – the Debbie Special from Trilogy.

This is my new baby!

Should be here in 4 to 6 weeks and I cannot wait! Thank you so much to Theresa and Debbie of Trilogy saddles for all of your help. I cannot say enough great things about this company and how helpful they have been already.In addition to the show next weekend the following week is the USEF East Coast Young Horse training session that we are hosting at Riveredge which I am really excited to see. And then the weekend after we have Michael Klimke coming in for a clinic. Our barn is going to be full all the way through the month and we are going to be amazingly busy. Should be a fun time!

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“Straight Makes Eight” – Part Two

So, this is a little late. Story of my life it seems like! Anyways, onto part two of the Linda Zang clinic! Because I am writing this late some things might not make a lot of sense. Let me know!

The half pass was a really big “ah-ha” moment, and I am pretty sure that I was not the only one who felt this way. A half pass is really travers on a diagonal line. When you think about that  The head, neck, and shoulder should be put on the diagonal line and then you should ride across the arena in the travers. The shoulder must always stay in front of the haunches. Linda explained that half pass is not a sideways movement but a forward one! Big name, upper level riders will come out of the corner with the front end lined up and then power the hind legs so the horse carries them across the arena – instead of the awkward pushing and driving many riders try. Even before you get to the letter the position of the head, neck, and shoulders should be on the line. Use the corners to really develop the flexion properly. Look up at the direction with your eyes, and this will help lift the leading shoulder and not create that behind the leg feeling. She really stressed that winning a test is all about getting a horse into the flexion correctly before the movement or out of the corner, not only in the half pass but in all the figures. I have kept this in mind a lot riding this past week and it has really helped Val’s expression. I also have to really think about keeping my right shoulder back farther in the left half pass so that he stays straight and the hind legs keep driving. My position is where I need to look for problems first, not assume that it is Val’s fault. It is always the riders fault – sometimes I really forget this!

For proper collection the horse should feel like you could ask for a pirouette at any time – this is truly “on the aids”.You want to ride a horse out in front of you so that the transitions occur uphill. There should be space between your body and your hands so that there is area to influence the horses way of going. A rider should open their inside hip and ab area to allow the horse to come forward into the space that exists with their hands in the proper place. According to Linda “straight makes eight” – this straightness needs to exist in all figures, lateral and otherwise. Straightness also refers to a horse being correct between the aids and balanced. The last rider of the day was a Young Rider so she worked on the Prix St. George which was really beneficial for me to see. Linda helped her work on the flying changes for a while too. When a horse pulls a late change it usually means they are dropping the forehand and shoulders. The rider needs to open their hip and allow them to come up and through the change. Think of it like the first stride in the canter that comes up. You have to present the canter. Her visual connection was to think of fencing. That moment of “en guard” is how you want the canter, and the changes, to feel. A change will get a 7 if it is correct without expression, 8 if there is correct ground cover and no sway, and a 9 or 10 if the corners and collection are good before and after. When riding diagonals you have to complete the movement before the marker otherwise it will be an automatic 6. A good example of this is the extended canter in the Prix St. George. The ‘back’ and the flying change need to happen before the corner marker. For the pirouette’s there needs to be one stride of collected/pirouette canter before and after the full or half pirouette for a rider to score anything more than a 6.

On a random note that I took from the clinic, but that I thought was too important and thought-provoking enough to include, when you are riding a circle you are really riding straight! When on a circle you want to use the outside hand down low and have the outside leg on to make the horse straight. When you are riding straight you are actually riding flexion and suppling at all times. It is rather an interesting and intriguing thought that the only time you are not constantly flexing and suppling is when you are on a circle allowing the horse to flow around the soft inside.

Linda also revealed how you can win your test, and it reminded me a lot of what Jimmy Wofford says about winning an event. Linda says to win a test you must have the horse correctly in the flexion before the movement (I said this once already but it was important enough to say again!). She also said that disciplined riding is the only way you will win. You have to be honest and really consequent in your riding. Accuracy and precision can never be given too much weight in your training. Be hard on yourself and don’t let yourself get away with ‘just okay’. You have to use every bit of space in the arena and not let a single moment pass you by. The short side should be where a rider shows off the quality of the gait – that is how a good rider turns 7’s into 8’s. Present the horse because that is really all the judge can critique when you are on the short side. Funnily enough, this was not the first time I had heard this advice! Jason and I had talked about this very thing last summer going into Kentucky and Gladstone.

And now for your random fun fact of the day, the first ever Kur was in Atlanta at the 1996 Olympics and there was a huge debate over whether adding music would inherently ruin the sport making it a spectacle graded on entertainment value and not correct training. Personally, I think the Kur is one of the most beautiful and interesting parts of the sport, and I know a lot of people agree! Linda talked about how she remembered the debate and how she believes it really helped to keep the sport vitalized and going strong today.

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“Straight Makes Eight” – Part One

First, I apologize for not posting sooner. The days just get so long up here and with working five and a half days there never seems to be enough time to really sit down and write a blog post up. I sort of just live in a perpetual state of exhaustion so that is why it can be difficult to sit down at the end of the day after coming home and write. I am taking lots of notes though so I am keeping up with it all to write about when I do get the moment!

This past week Scott has been riding Val quite a bit. This is so he can really feel and dig down into Val’s training, that way he can help me. Sometimes Val rides and feels different than he actually is, and the time Scott is spending in the saddle will only further his ability to explain and understand what I am feeling that way he can help us through it. Our big obstacle in the St. George right now is the half pass zig-zag. Val’s issues come from the right shoulder mostly and the exercises Scott has been riding and then explaining to me all deal with how to ride the right shoulder up into the body in a way that his straightness improves. With the improved straightness, his cadence and bend can improve. Lateral suppleness within a small channel just between the point of both shoulders – that is the name of the game. The closer I can keep him to true center the better and more through he will become. Our favorite exercise right now is a few steps or meters of leg yielding to true straight back to steps of leg yield back to straight and so forth – as many times as I can fit it in. This is making his honesty to the aids very present in the work and he really has to respect the channel and my intentions that way. The more in control I can be of straight to sideways, the better the half pass becomes. I am starting to really be able to ride each stride and step within the movement and be very in control of the line.

However, up until today I had not yet ridden the full Prix St. George test as a whole. I was inspired after our wonderful clinic (which I will get to in a moment) today at the barn though and with the regulation arena, complete with letters, still set up in our indoor, I decided that I needed to woman up and run it through. I was really hesitant and worried about it but overall I am pleased. The trot work is really shining right now and felt spot on today. Taking the advice from Linda about the half passes really improved their quality. The medium and extended trot have become a wonderful highlight for him as well finally – his improved balance and cadence really shine. The walk work was rough to start with but it got much more through towards the end. After doing a bit of half step work after the test the clarity of the steps and rhythm improved. That is not something I would suggest to anyone else since half steps can really ruin the natural beauty of the walk, but for Val it helps him understand the collection better and lean less towards his lateral tendency – his walk is just too big for his own good! The walk pirouettes were okay, better to the left than the right (stuck a little). The extended walk was very free and had great overstep and rhythm. The canter depart itself was good but the collection after was a little rough. The canter half pass didn’t quite make it to X but it was correct with clean changes so it was a good start as well. The canter pirouette to the left was a little stuck behind and we swung into it, but the right one was spot on. Both counter canter changes were right on. After the pirouettes he was a little frazzled and so I opted for only three four tempi’s. The five three’s were spot on although I had to over ride for the correct count and they climbed a little. The extended canter started well, but the transition back was rushed and worried so he took the flying change early. Both halts were great and square and prompt down center line. It was a good trial run putting it together.

The real reason for this post and the title comes from the Linda Zang clinic Riveredge hosted today! I am looking forward to her return so I can ride with her. Everything she said was beyond helpful and I gained so much just auditing. The first rides were training level and four-year olds, so it gave Linda a great chance to talk about gaits and overall impression. As a judge, to determine clarity and correctness she always looks for the V – in all three gaits. She said that most judges and clinicians don’t want to talk about the walk enough and so she spent ample time really going into depth about it. In the walk we, as riders, must allow the head to move and don’t ride the head still, otherwise we are riding front to back instead of back to front. In a walk the ideal track up is 3 to 4 hoof prints. If it is barely tracking up the highest score you can get would be a 5, if it is lateral on one side a 4, and lateral on both sides a 3. For a free walk the height of the poll does not matter. However, for an extended walk the eyes should be at the height of the withers. In all gaits when the shoulders come up, or when the rider is trying to ride the shoulders up, the issue is directly related to the straightness to the hand. Two thirds of the horse (energy) should feel in front of you, and one-third behind. To correct a horse for straightness we must move the shoulders rather than the hind legs. The hind legs are the power while the front legs are stilts. Because the front legs are connected to the horses body not on a joint (they are connected by the shoulder) there is no true power in them. We must bring the shoulder into the body and place it in front of the hind leg to create freedom, expression, and eventually collection. When talking about collection in a young horse the term is only used as a description of the ability of the hind legs bending and the joints articulating. As a side note she mentioned that she often sees that short backed horses can develop tightness and problems if the saddle sits too far back laying on the ribs. This issue is something to be very aware of if you own a shorter backed horse, like one of the horses in the clinic.

She was also a big stickler on rider position. She says that if a rider comes in and does a lateral movement with the inside rein the judge cannot give more than a 6 on overall rider score. Every lateral movement must be ridden from the outside rein. The lateral movements serve to strengthen and develop the guarding aids. When working on this kind of work the head and neck can start to leave that ideal but she cautioned against riding the head rather than the hind legs of the horse. “Don’t fix the result – fix the cause.” No matter what we have to sit square in the middle of the horse and ride the bend up and through inside to outside. Our hips must push down and our ribcage up. Her example was to imagine sitting on a swing and creating the feeling of pushing when you want to swing higher. That is what our seat should feel like. When the position is good the horse will begin to wait for the rider and that is when the true harmony will show up. To tuck and engage in transitions the rider should imagine sitting on the edge of a bed with their feet flat on the ground. Then imagine laying backwards on the bed with your feet remaining on the ground. When you do this your tummy and back will engage – the same muscles you need to use in correct transitions. A rider needs to get their hands away from their body to create a space for the energy and throughness to live in as well. This is why riding with your hands in your crotch is wrong. There is no space between your hands and your body for the horse to fill up.

With the remaining horses that were farther along she began to get into true lateral work and the idea of collection, the half halt, and engagement. A shoulder in should be on three tracks, and everything else should be on four. This is why the shoulder in to renvers in second level trips up so many riders – the transition from three to four tracks. In a shoulder in the hind legs must stay straight – if they cross the movement instead becomes a leg yield. She cautioned that collection does not mean slow but that it refers to the bend of the hind legs and the lifting of the body. If you are holding with both reins for the half halt then you are doing it wrong. You must always ride forward to the hand – even in that half halt moment. To develop that feeling Linda says she likes to do trot/halt and walk/halt transitions. This gets the body and back to come up and lets the rider feel the idea of the growing of the back and the energy coming under and over a round body. Without impulsion a horse cannot have suspension and a rider cannot get either of these without engagement.

This post is getting far too long and I have a ton more notes since these were only from the first couple of riders. I will finish this up tomorrow and talk about her explanation of the half pass, flying changes, and test riding. Until tomorrow!

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You Are What You Eat

The Bo Jena long lining clinic was very educational and informative although I did not get to watch too many of the rides and horses go during the day. I was fortunate enough to sit and watch our in-house stallion go, Davidoff Hit (Davi), which was the one I really wanted to see be worked. He came into the clinic never having been long lined before and we were all really impressed with how he took to it. It was interesting how Bo really taught the horses the lateral aids through rein contact, much like riding in a sense. Davi played around a little bit to start with but when he settled down and really went to work he was just beautiful to watch. His ability for collection really shines! Even after watching for the day I am still unsure about a lot of it – long lining definitely went over my head for the most part. There is a lot going on. To conquer that hurdle I would have to practice with some serious guidance!

Last week was one of the best weather weeks I have had since I have been here. We got warm enough that the horses went naked, in February no less! We left the barn open for the days and even overnight. Val and I rode outside pretty much every day last week, lessoning both on the track and in our beautiful outdoor. We also got to take what Scott likes to call a “spirit day” which involves a nice gallop out on our track. I cannot wait until the weather consistently stays nice enough to start adding conditioning sets back into his routine. I really think he enjoys the break from the hard work and just being able to stretch out and ‘go’ – I know that I enjoy it at the very least!

View, while horseback, from the outdoor

We also had some incredible rides with Scott as well. The four tempi’s are really developing as we start to put the Prix St. George work into place. The relaxation and true throughness work has helped more than I can say. By focusing on making sure the tightness (not resistence, as Scott is always quick to remind me) is absent so that Val can really allow me to ride him through the neck and access the back and hind legs, the work is becoming brilliant. We are starting to talk about how to get those 8’s and 9’s this year as well. Most of the time we do four’s in our rides and he is nailing the count without panicking the first time! Val is starting to let me ride, and we are slowly building the trust there as well. His collection, especially in the canter, just keeps getting better and better. I am really noticing how much strength he has built up even since being up here. I am just so proud and happy with my big seven-almost-eight year old!

Naked outside in turn out in February in Maryland!

Scott is gone to Florida until Thursday (since Saturday) but there is never a dull day at the barn. Yesterday our equine nutritionist came out to inspect all of the horses and evaluate their condition and revise our diet program as necessary. It was so interesting getting body condition fully explained and being able to have him us hands-on what we were looking for. Just like in humans there are slow-twitch (weight lifting, heavy set) muscles and slow-twitch muscles (quick and lean). Warmbloods usually have a good mix of both types of these muscles which both need developing, while hotter horses like thoroughbreds have more fast-twitch, and heavier warmbloods and even coldbloods have more slow-twitch. Basically, you start with the overall outline of the horse. You start by feeling their fat content on their neck and crest area. You always want to evalutate at the middle of the neck because the lower you are the more influence the muscles near the withers and shoulders come into play. All body fitness is expressed on a scale of 1 to 10. The optimum horse lives between a 5 and a 6. Next we looked and the rib area. If you can see ribs the horse is usually less than a 5. Then we go to the hind quarters. You want a nice strong flat bridge of the back into the top of their rump, as well as a roundness from the hipbone to the top part of the hip as well as to their tail.

A horse needs to injest 2% of their optimal body weight a day in day. This amount should be spread out over the length of the day because the outside, “pasture” or even wild horse grazes up to 18 hours a day. It was interesting to hear how much stress we really do cause on these horses by putting them in stalls and ‘protecting’ them. Our nutritionist also mentioned a good bit about lactic acid build-up, which is as a result of the intense work coupled with stabling the horses most of the time. When a horse is in better condition they can actually recycle most of their lactic acid back for energy. However, when they are in poorer condition it can build up in the muscles after work outs which is why he stressed that it is very important for horses to get out for their second work. He told us a story that the best conditioned horses he had ever seen belonged to a thoroughbred racer who lived in United Kingdom and ran his horses every week. When asked what he did for workouts he said that he worked them at the Moors. Our nutritionist asked to come along and watch one day and he was directed to go 12 miles down the road. The man tacked up everyday, rode the horses 12 miles down the road and worked them, then rode 12 miles back. Due to all the walking the horses had no build up of lactic acid in their muscles and were extraordinarily fit. He said that a majority of riders and trainers overlook walking in their programs and that so much benefit is done by it. It is something that I always knew but to have it repeated just cemented how important a proper warm-up and cool-down really is for fitness and healthy horses!

When we pulled Val out he was actually very happy with the way he looked! For his top line/crest area he scored a 5 which is on the lean end of the middle where a horse should be. The top line is all muscles which are developed through exercise but can be influenced by a protein rich diet. This is why when horses are either young or in training they really do need a diet that has a sufficient amount of protein for proper development. Protein deficient horses, especially young horses in training, will develop weak ligaments and tendons. They will have soft tissue problems and weak bone density. This just really stressed how important protein is in the diet to develop proper muscles – and made me happy that we had always made sure Val had enough while he was younger! Over his shoulder and ribcage he also scored a 5. The ‘weight’ of the ribcage is influenced through calories in the diet. So adding more calories does not necessarily mean your horse will balloon out everywhere – good to know! He also commented that Val had a great back and loin area too and that he was very strong and well muscled there. His belly area also scored a 5. This area is directly related to how much fiber is in the diet and their digestive tract. He related the small intestine to a sausage casing. The walls are very thin and so it is better when the sausage is full to prevent twisting. When a horse doesn’t have a full tract that is when twisting is more likely to occur. From this knowledge we know that it is better to have a diet spread out through the day so that the gut always has something in it. However, if their belly is big or distended in any way it is usually a sign that they are eating their bedding – whether it be straw or shavings. Again, this is because horses are natural grazers and we have taken them out of their natural environment and stuck them in boxes. The wither area near the top of the shoulder is the last thing to develop and the first thing to leave – which is what makes developing a horse so tricky. We as riders want our horses to be strong in their backs and even by influencing them with a proper diet that place is still hard to really make perfect. I was so happy to hear that Val was very well muscled there and that he could really see how he was going to fill out – and had already begun! He had all of us feel him to show a good example of what it should be like. It made me a proud mother! Overall my horse scored an A- which was one of the few A’s that we got to look at.

I will post a lesson update later this week – I have old lesson notes that I think would still be really awesome to put up here. I am learning so much from riding and I am so enjoying my time with Scott.

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I’m Awake, I’m Alive

I am so so sorry that I have been remiss in updating this blog. The internet at the house is really awful  although I am awaiting an internet card which should be here within a few days! I am working on the fix so I can actually have a connection so that I can update for you all.

Since I have been here I have seen more snow than I know what to do with. We have gotten quite a few days of pretty awful weather, but we have also gotten our fair share of nice days too! We have actually been able to ride out on the track a handful (five-ish?) times since I moved in and let me tell you I cannot wait for spring to get here so I can really ride on it and open him up a bit. I know that he will love the opportunity, and it is so big enough for a nice gallop! Anxiously waiting the day – trust me, you will all know when it happens. And maybe Richard, the Hassler photo guru as well as many other awesome things, might even be out there so I will have photo proof!

from our first snow storm!

Oh goodness but this place is stunning! It is such a work of art; I constantly have to step back and really look at the beautiful opportunity I have been given to be able to work in what is undoubtedly the most amazing facility I have ever been in.

Overlooking the indoor arena
Our real snowpocalypse!
Ice Ice Baby!

Since I have been here I have also been super sick with what was either a terrible case of food poisoning or the 24-hour flu. Either way it knocked me on my ass and seriously was bad news bears for the riding for a bit. We are lucky enough to have four horses in training from another dressage trainer in the area who is on medical rest herself. Because I am the smallest I got the FEI pony. He has been shown Fourth level and is schooling the Prix St. George. He has been super fun ever since though and we are really getting to know each other and work together well. I will try to get some pictures of the cuteness because he is precious!

I am already up later than I should be because I have to get up at 5AM tomorrow for our Bo Jena long-lining clinic which I will give you all a full report about. I have lesson notes from my time riding Val with Scott but I am way to exhausted to type them up. I promise them super soon just know that I had one of the best rides to date this past Wednesday. I am really excited for Young Riders and getting back out into the show scene. This next week we are having a Goals meeting with Scott and Susanne to plan out some things which will be when I have my show schedule hammered out and it will be posted. Must send in that Declaration before the first of March as well! For now I leave you with me and my pony cuddling; I promise to update again ASAP!

 

This is the second cuddle in the past couple of days! :D

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