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Quest is a 17.2hh chestnut OTTB gelding
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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Introduction
My name is Gabrielle, it's nice to meet you! I learned to ride horses at the ripe old age of 16. I took a break for a few years until I was able to finance my passion myself, and resumed riding when I was 21. Since then I've focused on jumping and dressage, though these days I'd say that I'm more of a dressage rider. I used to ride school horses 2x a week but as I started progressing in dressage and jumping I've found that I needed a steady equine partner.

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Very recently I found a 17.2hh chestnut OTTB gelding called Quest. I half lease him and I'm excited for my first real partnership with a horse. His owner is one of the loveliest people I've ever met in the horse world, she's so supportive and understands our struggles well!

I've put in many hours and ridden a lot of horses. I can call myself a rider but not exactly a horsewoman, hopefully taking care of Quest and growing with him will help us get there!

This journal will take you through our journey. You'll share in our triumphs and struggles, hopefully a few laughs and interesting stories. And "Quest" quotes. Because with a name like Quest who wouldn't want to throw in a few puns here and there!
 

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Quest is a 17.2hh chestnut OTTB gelding
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Discussion Starter · #2 · (Edited)
Back in the Saddle - Dec 2020

"Gabby, when are you going to start back riding?" one of the coaches asked me for the millionth time. I sighed. I'd just gotten married and was trying to figure out my new life.
I hadn't ridden in almost a year due to a fall, and then the great plague of 2020 happened. I also planned my wedding for September of that year. So with everything that happened, I'd put riding on the back burner for the time being. I was ready though. I'd missed the horses. I attend many shows because I'm on the equestrian committee for our country, and my yearning grew stronger every time a horse trotted past me.
"I need someone to ride Viking for me over the Christmas break," Josie prodded. Josie was expecting her first child. Her beautiful Swedish Warmblood was built like a couch, comfy but slow. He was good natured and would be perfect for building my confidence. "Alright," I conceded, "but I'll need a bunch of lessons first! And just walk-trot to start."

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I rode with the coach twice before she handed the reins over to me for the two week Christmas break. On my first ride back we walked, trotted and cantered! It was like I picked up right where I left off almost a year before. Having Viking to myself for two weeks was great. My non-horsey husband accompanied me patiently. Of course, I was hooked.

"Can we continue this for January?" I asked Josie eagerly. Viking was the perfect horse for me to lease. He was trained up to second level dressage and was a fantastic jumper. My dream is to reach Second Level by the end of 2021. I don't have a goal for jumping, except maybe to have a little fun now and then.
And so the lease began. I rode 2x a week, and shared Viking with two other girls - a beginner jumper and a dressage rider around my level. Let me tell you, it's not easy to share a horse with two other people!

I knew the lease wouldn't last very long though. Josie is a lifelong horsewoman and had plans to jump Viking in the 1m regional show at the end of 2021. She was eager to ride as soon as she could after having her baby. But 3 months with Viking did exactly what I needed - it got me back in the saddle, on a good schoolmaster who knew what to do but needed his rider to be clear with her aids.

The constraints of scheduling around two other riders, and Josie reclaiming him in a few months was the deciding factor. I needed "my own" horse, sooner rather than later.
 

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Quest is a 17.2hh chestnut OTTB gelding
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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
The Quest Begins - Mar 2021
Coincidentally I heard from my colleague - a veterinarian - that an owner at another barn was looking to half lease her gelding. The gelding resided at a barn under 10 minutes from both my home and office. It was very small, comprising of just 6 stalls and one arena. Being practically in the city, the horses used the arena for turnout at night and during the day if no one was riding.
I enjoyed riding at my current barn - the one Viking lived at - because there was a huge arena that was used for jumping and a smaller 60x20 warmup. It was where I spent almost 6 years. Unfortunately though, it was over booked and any horses good enough to lease were unavailable, so I thought I'd try my luck with the smaller barn. I resolved to call Emma to ask about the gelding the following week.

On that very day, a girl who taught beginner lessons at the larger barn called to ask whether I would consider sharing a horse with her. We would split the costs right down the middle. It would take some time to find a sound OTTB with the right temperament, so I said I may be interested. No harm in looking right? Until my vet friend said "Sure, it wouldn't be hard to find a nice horse for you guys. Many of the owners get rid of them if they're too slow. There are races all weekend, so I can have something for you to look at as early as next week."

I talked it over with my husband (fitting right, to ask him after the fact) and basically he said it was my decision. I thought about owning a fresh-off-the-track youngster. And then I panicked. That would mean finding it a stall at a livery, 2-3 months of rest and at minimum 6 months of actual retraining. Best case scenario, 9 months of mostly ground work with no other horses available to ride in the meantime.
The more I thought about it, the more apprehensive I felt. The girl was also going to be leaving for university in about 10 months, and I would have to handle most of the horse's care when she left, including dealing with leasing out her half. If everything went well, I would be over the moon. If it didn't, I could potentially have to take care of full board and any other costs on my own.

I spoke to every person I knew who was experienced in training OTTBs. They thought I was ready to have my own horse, and they all generously offered their help in looking at any horses that the vet came across. They gave me several tips of what to look for - conformation, temperament, which injuries were acceptable and wouldn't interfere with the horse's new career in jumping and dressage. I am still very thankful that they provided their support, if I chose to jump into horse ownership.

During this time, I also set up an appointment to look at the chestnut gelding. I wanted to explore all of my options. One good thing about being on the equestrian committee was that I knew most of the owners and riders. Emma was very accommodating. I decided that I would try Quest out, and make my final decision about getting an OTTB afterwards. It was two weeks before I could actually ride him, because he was getting back into work after recovering from ulcers.

Soon enough, I was standing by the cross ties, gazing up at the gentle giant whilst I whisked away at his coat with a dandy brush. He stood so still, one back leg cocked and almost dozing. All the while Emma and her coach chatted, grabbing tack and telling me about how much potential Quest had.

Quest was great. He didn't take much to get going, and I could be light with my aids. And man, did he have power. He was a big horse with big gaits, yet he did nothing in malice and was willing to please. I enjoyed my test ride. There were a few things we could work on - getting him to keep a canter without me having to use my leg every other stride, or encouraging him to bend instead of motoring around turns.
I felt like these were things I could address with the help of my coach, and he already had some training under his belt. I could work on them step by step, and be responsible for half of his care. I would also be on track to attain my goal of training for a Second Level dressage test by the end of the year. From the time my boots hit the ground as I dismounted, I knew what my decision would be.
 

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Quest is a 17.2hh chestnut OTTB gelding
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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
A New Partnership

note: Mari is "the girl" who asked me to share a horse with her.
Josie owns Viking, who I currently lease. Amelia is my current coach.


My first task was to give notice that I wouldn't be leasing Viking. Second, to inform Mari that I wouldn't be able to share a horse with her after all. I was very nervous about the latter - I really had thought long and hard about horse ownership, and decided that at that point in my life, I just wasn't ready to bear the full responsibility.
We weren't exactly friends, but we got along well. I thought it would go over better in person, so I waited until I saw her that Wednesday.

On Wednesday morning I called up Josie and told her that I'd tried out Quest and that I liked him, and was offered the lease. To my surprise, Josie was incredibly supportive! She had trained Quest when they were both at a now closed riding school. I thanked her and gave her a month's notice about Viking. I sighed as I hung up the phone. That went way better than expected. There were a lot of kids looking for a nice horse to lease, so I knew Viking would be snapped up by the end of the month.

Around 11am, during a work meeting, my phone vibrated. And vibrated again. I tentatively looked at the screen. "I heard from Josie that you're taking Quest next month. Does this mean that you're not looking for a horse anymore?"
Unfortunately, Josie had called Mari shortly after our conversation to ask if she was interested in Viking. My plan to tell her in person was catapulted out of the window. I had no choice but to explain my decision via text message. It was a very short conversation, she said she understood and hoped that our lease worked out. I regretted having to change my mind, but I really did feel a huge weight lift off of my shoulders. I also informed the vet who had told me about Quest, as he was looking at horses off the track for us.

Now that the sticky part was over, I had an enjoyable lesson on Viking that afternoon. I asked my coach if she would consider teaching me at the new barn, to which she readily agreed. I felt a tingle of excitement. Amelia was excellent. She was patient and really loved her job. She took the time to explain the simplest things to me. We often discussed how and why we did certain things while riding. I was thrilled to have her on board. And she said that a proper half lease would really prepare me for ownership later on. It looked like we were on our way!

The next week, the Equestrian Committee sent out a notice of a "scholarship". Applicants were to ride 3 times a week, and send in a video of them riding a dressage test with their horse. For 6 months, the chosen riders' progress would be reviewed by a top coach in the southern hemisphere. They would receive invaluable feedback and exercises to help them reach their goals. And the deadline was the 19th April. That gave me just 10 dayst to prepare, if I wanted to enter.

Well heck yes I wanted to enter! I asked Quest's mum even though our lease started in May. She was gung ho! Honestly if she gave even the slightest hesitation I would've put it off for the next round of scholarships. But she quickly set up 4 lessons with her coach, Jenna, with the intent to ride a test by the 19th!



my dear reader: I tried to write my journal in a sort of story book style - is it too long.. Should I condense it more? Add a tldr at the end? I'd love to know your thoughts on anything I write here!
 

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Quest is a 17.2hh chestnut OTTB gelding
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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
Bootcamp

note: Jenna is my new coach at Stone Hill. Emma is Quest's owner.

My first real lesson on Quest was great! Emma's coach, Jenna, reminded me of my own coach. She was calm, patient and explained everything in detail when I wasn't sure of how or why I was doing something.
One of my friends had also told me about an app called "Equisense". It was mostly to be used with a product that tracked the horse's fitness, but it also had great exercise suggestions and I could record my sessions.
I had a great lesson that day. We started off by testing the woah and go aids (perfect) and some leg yields in the walk. Jenna praised us, and then had us ride squarely into our corners. Since we were both capable of Training Level 3, we focused a lot on accuracy.
I could tell canter would be our most challenging gait. Quest is wonderful on the left rein, but not yet strong enough to keep a balanced canter for very long. On the right rein, he could easily get flat and heavy on the forehand. We corrected this with lots of leg and half halts.

I found a few other things about him - that he liked to drift to the right when we were going up centerline, and I had to be ready with my leg to correct him. His halts were often prompt and square. He was quite different from Viking, but I liked him. I felt very positive about riding our test.

Two day before we were to ride our test, I employed my husband as personal photographer and cheerleader. He obliged, bless him. Interestingly enough, my notes say that even in the walk warmup Quest was not as responsive to my left leg as I'd like. He was quite good on the right side. This should have given me an inkling of what was to come.
We trotted, did lovely serpentines, practiced coming up centerline. We did well, riding accurate 20m circles. We didn't get the trot to canter transition on the first try, but we did the second or third time. I really had to focus on holding my core and not collapsing.
Our aim was to get one video that day and one video the next Monday, so we could have two to choose from for the application. When riding the test we broke the canter a few times, so we went over the parts where Quest felt unbalanced and broke. By the second do-over we got it, and decided to call it a day because it was getting too hot and we both were exhausted. I felt good though because although we had challenges, we were able to push through and end on a positive note.


TEST DAY
As anything with horses goes, the day you need to perform the best with your horse, is the day he doesn't feel up to it.

I wore my white show shirt and white breeches. I had even pulled out my Colombian riding boots, my show boots. I didn't expect our ride to be perfect, but I didn't expect to regress either! Our warmup was interesting. I had to keep nudging to get him to keep an even walk tempo. One of the girls was riding a school horse, and Jenna had us follow them in trot. Quest is a much bigger horse, so he easily caught up to the other horse with a few of his long strides. I'm not sure it helped with his relaxation!
The other girl was cooling down her horse, so they went inside after a few minutes, and then the real work began. Today, of all days, I could not get Quest to canter. He would simply speed up and give me this fast jarring trot.
My coach and I worked this out for a bit. I was clear with my aids yes, but if the horse didn't immediately canter I'd try to drive forward with my body. I could feel it though, there were a few moments where I'd feel him take that first canter step and immediately he would go back to trot. We worked on my position a little and tried again. Nothing. I was beginning to frustrated but I remained calm, knowing that tension and frustration would just prevent any progress.
We decided to change it up a bit, and I asked Quest to canter from a walk. Amazingly, he did! Ok so now I just needed to do the same in trot. Still nothing. My coach tried different ideas with me and none of them worked, so in the end, she got on. It took her a few tries as well (which made me feel like NOT a complete failure, haha) and had to correct him as she found that he wasn't listening to her inside leg. After working on it for a few minutes and getting a couple of good transitions, she handed the reins back to me.

It turned out that Emma had this same problem with Quest a few months prior, so she knew exactly how it felt and how frustrating it could be. We didn't expect any miracles during the filming of the test, so we decided to "cheat" and go into walk before the canter transitions. We'd lose points but it wouldn't be as detrimental as executing entire canter movements in the trot!

I mentally steeled myself and rode a decent test. Yes we had trouble with the canter departs, but we did not break at all! Quest was also mostly on the bit and responded to my other aids. All in all, I was pleased. At this point, I knew I probably wouldn't be winning a dressage scholarship, but I determined that my hard work wouldn't be wasted. If I had to, I would pay for those critiques and lesson plans out of pocket. It wasn't impossible, this new partnership. We may have a bumpy road to start, but we could do it!


And for long post tax, here's a screenshot of our free walk.

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Pointers from an International Jumping Coach - Pt 1

I'm going to take a quick break from my story to post some great pointers from a top international coach. He addressed some issues with a few of our local jumping riders. Here are a few takeaways that I think will be great to use with Quest!

Q: The horse looks to the outside when turning.
A: The rider needs to use the reins less when turning, and bend the horse around the leg to turn him. He will benefit from lateral work (leg yields on a straight line to the wall) and lots of circle work. He is a younger horse and has a sacroiliac issue, so 20-25m circles is enough. They must work on the circle in both correct bends and counter bends. The rider should also support the horse by using as much space as she can to give him bigger turns as she navigates her course.
Cones can be used to help the rider with turning and approach to jumps.

Q: Rider's position is not secure. She has not yet developed an independent hand and seat. When she relaxes, she is better able to follow the horse's movement.
A: 10 minutes on the longe line with no stirrups and no reins. Give her independence of her torso and her hands. On the longe line, the most difficult work is in the trot, so she can start with walk. She can have the stirrups at the trot, and canter. Take the stirrups off after 2 rounds at canter. After two more rounds, regain the stirrups to go back into trot. She can hold the rein with one hand, and do exercises with other hand. Once she masters no stirrup work at the three gaits, her seat issues (pinching with the knees, lack of independence etc.) will be fixed.

Q: Horse had trouble landing on the correct lead after jumps
A: If the rider's aids are good - looking in the direction she wants to go, showing the horse the way with the rein etc or the horse is not good at flying changes, you can place pole on a bending line after the jump. This way, if the horse lands on the wrong lead, the pole helps him to correct his lead.

Q: Take off spot is inconsistent
A: Placing poles in front of the jumps can help the rider and horse train their eye. The coach needs to be experienced with placing the poles based on the individual horse's stride. This is very important.

Q: Horse rushes after jumps. When he rushed after a jump, the rider did not sit back in her seat and regain control of the horse before the next jump.
A: Establish control. Jump and then come back to a trot. Strengthening abdominal muscles will also help the rider regain her position. The automatic release is preferable to the crest release, but the rider's abdominal muscles must be strong.
Also do exercises on the longe with no reins. The rider should hold her hands as if she is holding reins. At the canter she should alternate between full seat and forward position to strengthen her abdominal muscles. She should use stirrups during this exercise.

Q: Many riders have an issue with confidence. How can we improve mental fitness?
A: There is nothing you can say to a rider to improve confidence. You can only improve confidence by practicing often and successfully completing exercises over and over. With repetition the rider can be convinced that they are able to do it! If they have a problem with oxers, use grids to introduce oxers until the rider/horse feels confident, and then include them singly and then in a small 2-3 jump course. If the rider is competing at .9m, they should school at 1m or 1.05m at home, so at the show the rider will not be over fazed by the heights.
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
Last Day on Viking

It's what they call the "dry season" but we've had enough rain to flood the arena several times. I wanted to practice a few things on Viking while I had him, but he is much heavier than any thoroughbred and is pretty much banned from cantering when the footing is wet. So after driving half an hour to the stable, and being stuck in a road block for another 45 minutes, it was too late to expect to get any kind of practice in. Instead I decided to hop on Viking bareback when I finally pulled up the the stable. Immediately he thought we were going out into the pastures, but I preferred the relative safety of the arena because there were only a couple of people around. We had a minor disagreement where he wanted to head towards the pasture. After a wasting a few precious minutes I got him to walk two steps in the direction I wanted to go, then hopped off and led him.
Once we got to the arena he was fine. We walked and trotted for a little and then I let him go in for dinner.

My last day riding Viking was great though! It was raining again - surprise surprise - but my coach has us working on transitions. She had a fun little exercise which got me thinking about exactly WHEN to ask for canter by feel. I knew theoretically when to ask, but I never really understood how to "feel" it. In the posting trot, as I went up, I said "now" every time. I continued with it in sitting trot, posting trot again, and then said "canter" on the same beat I would say "now". I realized how easily rhythm could be lost and why it's actually important to sit for a beat before asking for canter! Interesting exercise that I hoped to take with me, to be in sync with Quest's rhythm.

Just a snippet of us cantering in the rain :


Looking at it I'd say - stronger core especially in the transition! plus I'm not a fan of cantering forward in wet footing 😕
Viking was a star too, he worked really well for me that day and we didn't fumble in the transitions at all. I'd miss him so much!
 
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