Every winter I count down the days until I can head to Aiken, South Carolina for my annual spring training trip with my horse. This is the perfect chance to step away from work and my adult responsibilities in Kentucky and enjoy a week focused on my horse and spending time with friends.
This year, my horse Barney was laid up with a soft tissue injury. Luckily, someone at the barn was generous enough to let me borrow their 10 yo thoroughbred gelding Biggs (Big Brass Band) to take on the trip.
Biggs and I started our trip early Friday, March 19th and made the 8 hour drive to Jumping Branch Farm. We spent the week hacking around the picturesque property and getting dressage, show jumping, and cross country lessons. I was fortunate to get coaching from Jennifer Merrick-Brooks of Equijenn Equestrian International based in Michigan. Jenn has a unique talent for building confidence in timid horses and riders with an emphasis on having fun! I learned a lot from Jenn, and her daughter and Equijenn co-owner Brittney Weber, throughout the week.
In dressage, Biggs tends to curl behind the bit at the trot and Jenn gave me advice on how to warm up in the canter to get him thinking forward before putting him together and working through various dressage test movements and transitions at the walk, trot, and canter. We also practiced an exercise of riding square corners in an open field to help me support Biggs and keep him from running through the right shoulder and rib cage.
by Nancy Kowalski
In show jumping, we worked on my keeping my leg long and heels low which enabled me to support Biggs’s large barrel and help lift him up with my leg instead of sending him shooting forward. We also worked on my ability to half halt and rebalance Biggs with my seat and body (tilt my pelvis to sit on my seat bones and keep my shoulders tall) while keeping my hands low and soft. It took a while for me to find the right combination of supportive leg, body balancing half halt, and soft hand to maintain an even and consistent rhythm around the jump field.
Towards the end of the week I got to school cross country at Jumping Branch Farm. I worked on applying what I learned in my show jumping lessons to my cross country riding. Biggs and I were successful in keeping a steady rhythm and balance from jump to jump even while navigating ditches, banks, and water. So much fun!
The week was a great experience learning to ride a new horse while having a blast hanging out with my friends. A huge thanks to the MSEDA which provided me with the grant to cover the cost of my lessons while I was in Aiken. I cannot wait until Aiken 2022!
This is a report provided by the grant recipient Kelly Rover.