The Great Escape

Whoops! Sorry I kinda ghosted you guys in November. It’s been busy! I have been doing a lot of traveling and, of course, plenty of riding too.

My trainer continues to ride and take lessons on Harley which is still nice. She doesn’t go out of her way to offer to give ME lessons on him (I haven’t taken a formal lesson this month) but at least she is more forthcoming with feedback from her rides on him that I use to decide what I will work on when I ride him. Changing trainers is tough…but we are doing pretty well, all things considered.

 

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I extended Harley’s clip a little bit, with much less success than my previous attempt. Must have been some beginner’s luck in my favor on that round.

In late October, Harley and his buddies went on a fast-paced tour of the farm and surrounding neighborhood thanks to the antics of one naughty pony barreling nearly over his owner and throwing open the pasture gate. This all occurred during a dressage clinic at my barn which I was auditing at the time. The area’s main trainer was aboard her horse schooling canter pirouettes and before we all knew what was happening she yelled “loose horses!” and we all clambered up from our chairs to close the arena doors in time to block the incoming stampede. My eyes bugged out of my head as I realized that it was MY horse and, since his pasture is quite far from the arena, something very bad must have happened. I swore and fast walked out of the arena through the barn hoping to head them off at the gate and hopefully keep them in an area that could be enclosed. Other barn members had heard the commotion and had already closed the gate. Harley and his herd mates continued to run around like idiots for a few more minutes refusing to be caught until finally Harley let himself be caught by my trainer while I managed to corral his stall buddy and the herd mare. Everyone grabbed a horse and we all walked them back to their pasture to turn them back out where they returned to eating grass and looking at us all doubled over in the driveway like “What?! We didn’t do anything.” It was intense. Thankfully, no people or horses were harmed in the great escape despite the whole herd crossing a fairly busy country road to frolic around the neighbor’s house.

Anyone who read my last post and thought I was being a stick in the mud about the pony tearing down the decorations while taking photos should keep this in mind… manners matter. This was the same pony.

Anyhoo…our barn has recently become a gated-entry facility! We’re so fancy.

 

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I have been continuing to use my theraband off and on while riding. I think it’s a good tool but I don’t want to become reliant on it either.

 

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Sorry all you get are the crummiest screen grabs from low light iPhone videos.

 

I am making a conscious effort while riding to be more aware of my body. Harley and I have fallen into a much more comfortable groove where I don’t have to be so constantly vigilant about external stimuli. He still spooks all the time at the dumbest stuff but I know his triggers and can read and feel his tension better now. I have noticed most recently that he rarely lets my right hip lead. There is plenty of chicken and egg argument going on here because my right hip doesn’t actually ever WANT to lead. Due to all of my knee problems being on the right, I am very weak on that side, too. I have to make a conscious effort to lead with my right hip when I walk so it just makes sense that I am not helping Harley’s left side weakness. This is what I now focus on during most of my rides.

The two very simple exercises that seem to be the most clear in helping me focus on this are: pushing my right hip to lead on a 20m circle to the right while focusing on keeping my weight balanced. The other exercise is leg yielding to the left. It’s important to focus on working the stiff side in both directions and it is so painfully obvious how much attention is required because when I come around the turn on the short side tracking left, I really have to actually think counter bend coming out of that turn or he will throw his shoulder towards the wall the second I ask for a leg yield. Both of these exercise provide some really good, and immediate, physical feedback so I know (even without a trainer) if I am doing it correctly or not.

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I went home to the northland for Thanksgiving and lavished attention upon the two most spoiled creatures in the universe.

 

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And on Thanksgiving Day in the middle of my third cocktail, I received this photo from my trainer.

 

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The cutest.

 

I hope you all had a really nice holiday and got to spend quality time with family, friends, and beloved four-leggers.

swl

 

 

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Wish Granted

Last weekend seemed to be the last breath of summer in this area so I didn’t need anymore of an excuse to leave work a little early on Friday and head out to the barn. Harley has been growing a pretty woolly coat the past month and he’s often already sweaty before I ride. So, I made a plan, and Friday was the day! I gave him a bath which he didn’t really appreciate and then I took him out to graze in the sun which he liked much better.

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After he dried my trainer insisted on taking photos of how clean he was for five seconds.

 

 

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We also tried to take cute photos with the barn’s fall decorations but my friend lets her pony do whatever he wants and thinks it’s cute and makes no effort to stop him so after he rolled the large pumpkin into the parking lot with his nose, ate the straw, and yanked down the corn stalk, I was pretty much in favor of being done with that activity.

I hope you got a good look at that chestnut chest hair above because promptly after those photos were taken, I tried my hand at clipping a horse for the first time ever!

Harley was awesome and didn’t even bat an eye at the clippers. He stood completely still and was a total dude about the whole process. I thought it wise, for my first time ever holding a clippers, to stick to something simple so I planned a tidy bib clip to start out with and later I could extend it if need be. I think I did a pretty decent job for my first time! But, I have no idea how you guys do things like make shapes/designs or straight lines for that matter…

 

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Saturday early afternoon I came back out to the barn for a ride and the barn was eerily empty for such a beautiful day. Sometimes Harley gets more concerned when he’s all alone in the arena but on Saturday he was a perfect angel and did not put a foot wrong. We had the BEST ride we’ve had in months. It was wonderful. He was relaxed but forward and even when I spanked him with my whip once a little harder than I planned, he let it go and didn’t get tense. I did not wear the theraband around my back but spent the whole ride focusing on getting that same feeling like I was wearing it and sitting up and back and relaxing my shoulders. He was much more accepting of my contact and I remembered to half halt firmly but release quickly and to keep doing that throughout the ride especially when we started to get disconnected. I find I’m often so concerned about the tension in our rides that I let us both get away with not having that conversation in the contact. I really enjoyed such a quiet, productive ride where I had the chance to feel through the connection when his focus was on me and when it wasn’t.

Sometimes this really nuanced message gets lost in the hustle of trying to “do things”. I have been frustrated lately in my lessons because they seem so focused on completing a pattern or getting a shoulder-in. That’s okay for some rides, but I often feel like I’m skipping over fundamentals to do it. I’m struggling to merge the two functions. And wondering, is it better to slog around doing imperfect “patterns” until they finally click? Is repetition the key? Or, is that connection the key to the whole thing and the minute you lose the connection you should stop trying to complete the pattern until you’ve recovered the connection? A little of both, probably, but I just don’t enjoy that feeling of running around like a chicken with my head cut off in the hopes that eventually one of those aimless circles will be a perfect 20m with correct bend.

Oh, dressage…you’re such a perpetual, addicting, mind screw.

 

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Fallback

My favorite season is finally here in Southern Indiana! Fall sure takes its sweet time getting here this far south. I have been riding pretty often to varying degrees of success. I am currently stuck in the awkward scenario in which the trainer that I have a ton of respect for as a rider (the one currently riding Harley once a week) is not exactly my favorite lesson instructor and my favorite lesson instructor moved and is now too busy to answer my emails. Sigh… #firstworldproblems

Harley and I are muddling through on our own most of the time. I have so many bad habits and positional flaws that are creeping back in since being left to my own devices. I feel very behind the curve now at a time when my trainer is consistently having “mind-blowing” lessons on my horse.

I want that.

Don’t get me wrong, we have fun, we have good rides, I just wish I could have more than that while I have him. My only other option for that would be to up my financial, physical, and time commitment. Unfortunately, with life squashing me from several other directions at the moment, that’s not a feasible option. So, we’ll just continue trying to move the needle- really slowly.

Most recently, I have been making an effort to crack down on my rebellious arms. My left arm maintains a nicer position but is prone to dulling and never releasing. My right arm is all over the place: flailing; elbow straight; shoulder-in-my-ear; chicken-winging; and vacillating wildly between tugging and throwing away all contact. I’m a mess.

 

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Right arm….where are you? What are you doing?!?!?!

 

So I did the only rational thing you can do with arms that misbehave- I tied those troublemakers down.

 

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Its a little hard to see in that photo but I am riding with a blue stretchy theraband looped around both elbows and tied around my back. The blue band isn’t a ton of resistance which is great because on Harley I always need a bailout scenario just in case.

 

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I know it’s not perfect, but thankfully, it never was! I’m just glad it is helping me get back to where I was- right arm CAN, indeed, play nice as seen in these photos from our very first ride a year and a half ago.

 

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At the very least I feel comfortable enough to finally work on my position with this horse. He is the most forward, uphill, spooky horse I’ve ever ridden and I have found it tough to really unfold out of the super defensive seat you see above. It’s pretty obvious to me looking at both trotting photos that I am much more relaxed now even if he is still a little strung out. With no eyes on the ground willing to work on improving me as a rider, I will be riding with the theraband for a while longer hoping that eventually I can loosen the resistance and then get rid of it completely and still keep the position.

 

Have you ever used a training tool like this on yourself to great success?

 

 

 

Clinics and Professional Training

When we last left our heroes… I had just returned from a long work trip to find that my trainer had absconded with my noble steed.

She rode him in a clinic at our barn for her trainer’s trainer who visits from his home base in Florida a few times a year to offer these clinics. You pretty much have to be a student of my trainer’s trainer to even get the opportunity to ride for him so this is probably as close as I’ll ever get to that.

 

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It was amazing. Harley was a perfect gentleman and impressed everyone, including the clinician, with his athleticism, temperament, work ethic, and good looks. I preened at their gushing like a fucking peacock and I’m not even remotely sorry about it.

 

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My trainer didn’t feel like she rode very well during the clinic but I sure thought they looked great. She admitted later that she should have used my normal half pad/ shim configuration because she felt out of balance using hers. I nodded, I really don’t know jack about this *but* I have spent a year and a half now getting the saddle set-up so that I finally feel balanced on him. I had him in a french link baucher because I felt like it gave me improved steering on the big guy but my trainer thought he felt heavy in it and the clinician didn’t like it for him either so we swapped to an eggbutt french link snaffle for the second day. Slight equipment woes aside, she said he felt great and went great.

 

 

 

The clinician proclaimed him to have probably been quite the horse in his younger days considering his confirmation and movement. He noted him to be a slightly older style body type but likely one of the prototypes of new Belgian warmbloods. To which I nodded, swirled my wine, adjusted my ascot, and casually murmured, “indubitably.”

 

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Post-clinic my trainer admitted that she is completely in love with Harley and that he is one of the coolest horses she has ever ridden. So we are currently in a kind of casual barter relationship whereby I don’t ever have to pay for trainer rides because she loves it so much. It’s perfect. If it needs to be renegotiated for any reason, we’ll do that. But for now, it is a nice perk for me to ride and take lessons on a talented horse that is being actively trained as well.

Long-time readers will remember my first fall off of Harley which was actually a pretty traumatic fall and though there were thankfully no head injuries or broken bones, I had a pretty major soft tissue injury to my right calf and a giant bruise on my hip/thigh. Needless to say, we haven’t had very many positive experiences in the outdoor arena. It shares fence lines with two pastures, is surrounded by horse-eating trees and bushes, and seems to always be super windy. I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I haven’t ridden Harley down there since that fall. I have taken him down there, lunged him down there, and we do ride elsewhere on the property outside, but he just always seemed way too amped every time we set foot in that arena.

 

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Last Sunday was a beautiful day in Southern Indiana, despite the terrifying mini-apocalypse seemingly occurring everywhere else, and I swear every single boarder came out to ride. Our barn isn’t huge, but it has grown recently, and I think especially some of the newer boarders tend to ride their horses a lot. When I pulled in there were several cars parked up by the barn so I hoped that by the time I got Harley ready that group would be done riding. Unfortunately, the cars just kept streaming in. I walked Harley up to the indoor and there were three riders going and another in the aisle tacking up his horse. I gulped, and decided to trek down to the outdoor arena where there were also two riders currently riding.

 

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I mustered as much courage as I could and decided that we would leave if we started acting nutty and being disruptive. I walked Harley around the rail so he could gawk at all the turned out horses he sees literally all the time that he’s never seen before in his entire life. He was excited, but reasonable, so I threw a leg over and gave him a necco wafer for standing at the mounting block nicely. He ripped a low-hanging branch off of a tree while I adjusted my stirrup and I hoped that if he was relaxed enough to think about dressage snacks, we might just be okay. He was a champ! Only did his “omg, run away?!” ears two times but snapped out of it easily with a circle or a lateral request to focus on. It was a really pleasant ride and he was light and forward but not bargy and super adjustable. We did a little bit of everything and then called it a very successful day! I am looking forward to trying a few more late summer rides out there before it starts to get cool.

 

 

 

 

 

When Your Trainer Steals Your Horse

I just recently returned from a two-week long work trip to Brazil where I toured three hospitals (for work), visited four different cities, presented for the owner of my company’s Brazilian distributor and got bronchitis or some kind of legionnaires disease from a particularly shady Brazilian motel I accidentally ended up staying at for two nights. I’m still recovering.

I knew I was going to be gone for about 16 days so I asked my local dressage trainer if she could put a few training rides on Harley while I was gone. I figured between her rides and my friend riding him a couple times, he’d be set for training and have a couple sets of eyes looking out for him while I was away.

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I left on Friday, August 4th to spend the weekend with my aunt and uncle in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I was going to be back in town for about a day before leaving for Brazil. My trainer texted me on Saturday saying she thought I had already left and so she rode Harley and he was awesome. She also asked if she could ride him for her trainer (the local big name) while I was gone. Of course I agreed! Well, that was pretty much all she wrote….my trainer has fallen head over heels for my horse. The timing was oddly serendipitous because she ended up having to put her old school master down right before I left town and her other ridable horse has been off for several weeks now. So it kinda ended up that Harley, in addition to already being one of her favorite horses in the barn, was now pretty much hers for two whole weeks. She took full advantage. I had agreed to pay her for 3-4 training rides over the time I was gone. I think she rode him almost every day- I’m not even mad!!!

My friend who was supposed to ride him while I was gone gave me updates and sent pictures but told me that trainer had made it clear she would NOT be sharing Harley with my friend because he was just too much fun. (My friend has her own pony and has a great relationship with our trainer so it was all in good fun)

I got these photos from my friend:

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And then this text from the Trainer:

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I found this whole thing rather hilarious and super awesome. Her main riding horse is still off so she just asked me today if she could ride Harley for her trainer again tomorrow and in a clinic this weekend at our barn- UM YES. I am almost as excited to watch my trainer ride him as I would be if I were riding!

Only question is… how am I going to get my horse back???