Because it’s Tough Sometimes

My most faithful blog reader suggested that perhaps I was too colorful with my language in my previous post and newer readers might get the idea that I am an angry, violent person. This really couldn’t be further from the truth. I allow myself so few opportunities to express extreme emotions in daily life that I don’t begrudge myself a little harmless road rage. I feel like there are worse ways to deal with stress than yelling obscenities inside of my own car. Very occasionally I use this blog for some catharsis and I think that’s probably okay too.

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I used to count on sports as an outlet for frustration. Something about getting your blood flowing, using your muscles, endorphins- makes everything okay again. A certain amount of aggression and competitive drive is allowed, even required, in many organized sports. I don’t play these sports anymore and rather firmly believe that there is little place for anger or aggression when working with horses so sometimes these things build up, ya know?!

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Anyway, sorry mom, I’ll try not to be so vulgar next time.

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It was a tough week last week: my boss was in town from Peru which always makes things extra busy at work; my Wednesday riding lesson was cancelled…again; and I thought that we were going to have to put this sweet manmuffin to sleep.

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Feline Hyperthyroidism gives me the sads and gives Riley the tireds.

                           Feline Hyperthyroidism gives me the sads and gives Riley the tireds.

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There is a cure (90-95%), but it is quite expensive and requires a very unique and difficult post-treatment protocol. My parents weighed the pros and cons and decided to try it, so this handsome fella will undergo radioiodine treatment on Wednesday and will hopefully be feeling much better in a few weeks.

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My lesson was rescheduled to Saturday afternoon. It took me two-hours to get to the barn due to a huge construction project along the main highway I take. This project won’t be done anytime soon, so I anticipate it could be like this for a while. Sigh…. It was hot and humid but Lou worked well for me. Not sure if it was the heat, or rustiness from not having ridden consistently lately, but I was having trouble getting him straight and having a lot of trouble getting him to bend right. We would be walking or trotting down the long side and he kept wanting to switch the bend through his back and kind of offering this false bend where he would leave his neck and head bent right but at the same time his haunches sitting out near the rail wanting to swap to a left bend.

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So Captain Pretend-Bend and I rolled around like this for a good while and finally trainer had had enough of watching that struggle and despite being in shorts hopped aboard to feel what I was feeling and to try to think of a different way to explain to me how to fix the issue. This is actually the very first time she has gotten on to show me something and it was PIVOTAL. I can’t even quite describe the majesty of watching her ride. It probably cleared up ten distinct concepts for me that weren’t even directly related to the one we were working on.

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Things I learned from watching my trainer ride for 5 min:

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  • Her aids are much more decisive than mine. Sometimes my aids have question marks attached to the end… sponging the right rein? Like I’m still not sure it is going to have the desired response so I pose it to Louie as a question. Obviously I am not going to have all the right answers now and I will make mistakes but I realized that I need to be more decisive with my aids if I am going to improve. Maybe it will even help eliminate some of those times when things go well but I have no idea what made the difference.
  • Her aids are sharper and it makes him sharper. Don’t misread this- I realize “sharp” tends to carry a certain connotation. I don’t mean to say that she is overly forceful. I just realized that there is a difference between how she communicates with him and how I do, and she helps him be more sensitive and sometimes the way I communicate with him makes him dull. It is a little bit of an art to use as much (leg, rein, pressure) as needed and to apply it in the correct manner. You can tighten your calf muscle, you can brush the horse’s side with your leg, you can squeeze, you can tap, you can pony kick- and these all can create a different response. My lessons help me decide which combinations are the most effective. But I still find myself squeezing where there should have been a tap and pulling and leaning where it would have been much more effective and maybe even kinder to have used more initial force on the reins and then immediately release. I think I’m being nice and instead I am just muddying the message and giving him an out.
  • She repeats things often. She corrects and asks quickly and then releases the second he complies. If the quality changes or he even considers changing it, she repeats the same steps. It was very obviously more effective this way than asking sooooo quietly and timidly for an extended length of time and then finally getting some semblance of the correct response and then holding your breath and hoping it doesn’t change and then not realizing it changed until it’s too late and you have to start all over from the beginning… I mean, I have no idea who would ride this way but they should really cut it out ;-). So, if you repeat the question early and often, eventually, you may only have to repeat half the question or you may not even have to repeat it. No one ever really explained that it might require repeating every few steps- and that’s actually just fine.
  • That sweet release. This is straight up muscle memory for her. Releasing the pressure is like not an active thought for her but a trained, automatic response. I am getting better and better with this but it still isn’t automatic. It probably has more to do with how I ask in the first place- if my aids start to get long, drawn-out, too wishy-washy, and naggy, then it’s really hard to feel that moment where a release is needed. If I can make the whole process quicker and every “ask” comes with a “release” then I think it will become easier to sort out the timing of the release and, of course, not forget about the release.
  • I need to watch more riding. I don’t exactly know how I am going to accomplish this yet, but I need to figure it out. Annotated riding would be the best to watch. I wish I could watch other people’s lessons. Clinics.
  • It’s not personal. He is not getting crooked, or swapping the bend just on you- he does that with her too (or tries to). So, it’s not necessarily because you are doing something wrong- could be, but not necessarily. She doesn’t make an issue out of it, she just fixes it or doesn’t allow it.

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"wut jus happened to meh?"

                                                              “wut jus happened to meh?”

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The weather has been approaching my Max Operational Temperature lately and so, frankly, I’m surprised I was able to take this much from five minutes of standing in the sun and observing. I suppose it was good practice for the two-day biomechanics clinic my barn is hosting this weekend. I am auditing both days and fully anticipate some information  firehose feedings!

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Get Your Head in the Game

I had a pretty lackluster birthday lesson last night. I was distracted, I guess. Work has been tense and stressful for me lately and I am frustrated with my inability to fix it. Last week was brought to you by the letter “D” for displaced anger. Don’t worry, no equines were harmed, my anger just tends to manifest in the extreme urge to say/do horribly passive aggressive things to coworkers. And road rage, lots of vocal road rage. I need a better outlet…

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I am usually pretty good at leaving life outside of the arena but didn’t do a great job of it last night. I wasn’t worrying over things or in my own head, I just wasn’t focused and kept making dumb mistakes and getting frustrated too easily if something got hard.

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Get it together.

                                                   Get it together.

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In our warm up my trainer had to remind me to still my body which I was letting gyrate all over the place. I know better. Then we got started with some circles at the walk focusing on straightness so he was stepping up into the turn but not falling out the outside. This exercise started us out on a better note and things were looking great! Lou was getting nice and light in the reins and bending around my leg. We schooled leg yield a little at the walk and got some really good steps. He trotted nicely and we did some walk-trot transitions to keep things light and responsive. He had a stretch and then I picked up the trot going left and here’s where the whole thing started to crumble. Trainer asked me to pick up a left lead canter and instead of putting him back together and making sure he was balanced and on my aids I just threw the request at him in the next corner and we displayed what could only have been the most pathetic, slow, running, falling trot-canter transition ever. I knew. I tried to tell myself that I got the canter, and that was what mattered! No. Trainer was like, No.

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She said constructive things but the tone was more in the “really?! we’re THERE today? really?!” category. The shame. I nodded as she calmly explained in fluffier words how “if your trot is shit and you do nothing to fix it and then ask for canter, guess what kind of canter you will get?!” Last week I figured out how to ride the right side so he didn’t even get heavy in the left rein. I thought I had finally solved the puzzle and in my excitement, I promptly forgot everything. So after that awful canter he got really heavy in the left rein, I pulled, he chuckled and got heavier and then I played an idiots game of tug-o-war for the next 10 min while my trainer stood quietly in the middle internally wondering why I brought my C-game to today’s lesson. I could tell she was letting me work it out for myself and seeing if maybe the blind squirrel would eventually stumble upon a nut,  meanwhile I was just up there shoving my left hip towards my outside rein and praying for a miracle.

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Louie was happily plugging along completely counter bent and so heavy in the left that I couldn’t turn left even if I tried. I tried a few things: did some shit transitions; made some not-round circles; tried to play with the bit, give and take a little more to stop the pulling; came pretty close to just stopping and giving up completely but really just doing a whole lot of nothing. Circus music played. Exhausted from watching the struggle bus spin its wheels in the deep mud, trainer throws out the obvious life preserver and suggests perhaps riding BOTH sides of the horse. What a novel idea! She calmly states that I appear to be working extremely hard on the left side of my body to make something happen but just letting my right side dangle there limply. YES!!!! I silently scream, indignant. I want to turn left, and I want him to bend left, so Hulk smash LEFT!!!! More shame.

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Wouldn’t you know, the second I stopped riding like a stroke victim, he got light again, no more pulling, and better bend. We ended with some canter work that was probably the best canter stuff I have delivered in a long while. I think my trainer was as surprised as I was. I don’t know where it came from, either!space

Then I got home and my friends had decorated my garage door while I was at my lesson. So sweet. ❤

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Only So Much

After learning that Tyco’s navicular issues are likely going to take quite a bit of time to address, we’ve all decided that my lease has effectively ended. Thanks for everyone’s support- I know he isn’t mine and I know he will be happy and well taken care of, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t difficult for me, so thanks for being there.

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Goodbye, Handsome...

                                                                      Goodbye, Handsome…

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But, EquiNovice, it’s only been like a month, so not that big of a deal, right?

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Right you are! If only I could manage to listen to my own advice not to get emotionally attached. Tyco is great, and yes, I ate my feelings for one night dealing with the loss of him. Not such a huge deal. The problem is that I am far too in love with the idea of leasing. The loss of my lease and the thought of having to start over with the whole process of finding a good horse; a good owner; within my area; is not really something I planned on having to do monthly.

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The dressage trainer who helped organize this lease emailed me the other day mentioning a couple of leads she had on other leases. One was to get back in touch with Charlie’s owner and the other was another horse at the same facility as Charlie. Less than ideal. I don’t think I burned the bridge when I told Charlie’s owner I was choosing another horse but, as longtime (lol 2 months ago) readers will recall, the lease on Charlie was going to be a month-to-month, temporary scenario anyway.

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I was struggling when I read that email. Here she was helping me network to find a new lease and I had more than one moment of “I don’t want to do this anymore”. I don’t mean riding in general, but in this exact moment, I am on the fence about leasing. I replied and thanked her for the leads but I told her I might need to take a break. It is emotionally taxing and I am a little exhausted after all of this.

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Then I had my lesson last night.

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One of those “can’t-eat, can’t-sleep, reach-for-the-stars, over-the-fence, World Series” kind of lessons. You get ten points if you know that movie reference. It took me hours to come back down from the runner’s high it gave me. Maybe Louie could tell that I needed a win. Trainer was pleased, I was trippin’ balls. ENDORPHINS. (so what if I had to urban dictionary that)

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I wouldn’t say my delicious lesson changed my mind on the lease break quite yet, but it did provide some clarity. I can still make progress in my lessons. I am not going to forget how to ride or backslide dramatically. I know it will be extra work when I do decide to search for a lease again because leads will have gone cold, but I am okay with that. I don’t know how long this break will last and there is no reason to define it. If something comes along, I’ll evaluate the fit and decide but I am taking a break from actively searching for a new lease at least until morale improves.

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hte8sz

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I am going with my friends to watch some dressagin’ this weekend at a local show. It will be good medicine!

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Open Hip, Open Doors

I pulled up to the barn last night in time to see my trainer and the two women who ride before me on Wednesday evenings out in the mare pasture trying in vain to catch any female horse but the mares just were not having it. That’s correct, two 45min lessons spent entirely on watching their mares run around the pasture like a bunch of lunatics. Luckily for me, someone had put my gelding in to give him his dinner early in an attempt to coerce the girls to come in too. I had a much easier time catching my ride for the evening. Mares…

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Cute dappled butt.

                                                                               Cute dappled butt.

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I have been working very hard lately on making significant changes to my seat and correctly engaging my core while riding. It has been a long process of strengthening some parts while loosening others in the right combination. It is difficult to describe how far I have come but let’s just say the improvement has been slow but staggering.

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Last night I received a little confirmation that things are moving in the right direction. My trainer is always positive and supportive, but she definitely isn’t one to over-compliment. I generally appreciate this since I am ultimately taking lessons to improve-not have smoke blown up my ass. But she is so keenly observant that she will say it if she sees it. It makes the compliments that much more meaningful. Last night after my lesson she commented that my seat has improved so much. She said it’s clear that I am able to give much more effective leg aids without it throwing off my upper body. Nice to hear since I have been slowly trying out some of these things on my own while riding Tyco but I never quite know if I am making the right change or not.

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She said I must be working on my core strength because she can see a difference. This is inaccurate to a point- I’ll explain. Unless you count laughing at Amy Schumer’s stand-up or sitting a bunch of bucks core strengthening, then I haven’t been working on it. HOWEVER, she isn’t wrong in her observation- I had some core strength deep down in there that I simply wasn’t using effectively at all while riding.

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I used to let my back be so loose in the saddle in what was a well-intentioned attempt to “follow or allow the horse’s movement”. Unfortunately all this does is prevent your parts from working independently. Try sitting a trot and instead of using your core to support your own frame, letting your hips/spine roll all over place. Here’s the sad punch line- you’ll be unable to use your legs as aids. You lose all ability to isolate muscles.

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The Jean Luc Cornille clinic was the kick-in-the-pants moment I needed to start experimenting with poise and tension within my own riding frame.

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Poise vs.Tension

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Super important principles offered up to you for some thoughts.

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In another post I’ll geek out on a rowing analogy involving poise and tension that eventually connects to riding, I promise. But not today…

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I had been festering squarely in the red zone below and could not seem to connect the dots physically.

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Last night for a good portion of the lesson, I maintained a tucked seat, upright body, and even convinced my hips to supple occasionally. You know what’s crazy?! Using multiple parts of your leg as different aids. Whoa.

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I also learned that I was giving up too early on some of these “new to me” aids. When Louie torques his body to avoid bending or switches the bend on me I would correct him by lengthening my inside leg while using my upper thigh to ask him to bend around my inside leg. The effort required was a lot for my right leg especially and I would apply the aid but not exactly give Louie enough time to process before I gave up on it. At one point, tracking right, he threw his shoulder into the middle of the arena and swapped the bend. I asked him to re-establish right bend and, ironically out of frustration, I held the aids a fraction longer and he rebalanced underneath me and bent right. He will get quicker at this eventually too, and I won’t have to extend the aid so dramatically. But for now, I needed to give him that extra beat to sort out the balance.

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Coping Mechanism

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To get me through the dark abyss that is Sunny’s current behavior, I rely on a very handsome coping mechanism!

 

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My lesson last night was the type of night you spend all day watching the weather and wondering if you should cancel but then all of a sudden it is time to drive to your lesson and so you just go with it. If I would have cancelled, then the storm wouldn’t have hit at all, but because I decided to go, of course, the storm did NOT miss our area and instead hit with a miniature fury shortly before and during my lengthy drive home.

 

Great night for a ride, amirite!?

Great night for a ride, amirite!?

 

Despite being due for a little joint lovin’ and being a titch draggy on the left side, this dude worked his butt off for me last night and we had a lovely dressage lesson!

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I had a co-lesson again, for the first time in a while, and I think it was another great experience for both of us. I’ll admit I get used to having private lessons and having all of the personal attention makes me feel like I am progressing at a faster pace than I would be if I had to share. BUT, there are also some huge benefits of having to share the arena as well.

The Rubber Curry Comb recently blogged about trying to transition one of her lesson students to a group lesson and supplied some unique perspective about teaching private lessons. She noted that “The trouble with teaching a child, or indeed a private lesson, is that you can end up micro-managing the client. Telling them when to circle or change the rein. With this client I have tried unsuccessfully to get her to use her initiative by telling her to “change the rein wherever she likes” but I think her low confidence and intrinsic nature means she is reluctant to take the lead.” (The Transition From Teaching To Coaching)

I was like um…have you been watching MY lessons?!?!!? It’s not that I turn my brain completely off during my lessons but I am very guilty of, as a student, becoming complacent in this particular category. I am more than happy to allow my trainer to dictate my every move and then I try my very best to do a better and better job at each thing. It’s not terrible. It’s just missing out on a part of the well-rounded education I COULD be getting. It also contributes heavily to feeling more lost when riding outside of my lessons (ohhhhhhhhh, you mean like when you’re riding Sunny??! Ohhhhhh, weird! Huh, wonder if that is a contributing factor?!)

My trainer is always trying to teach me things I can do to warm up the horse on my own and I am getting better at just starting out working through some stuff independently at the beginning of each lesson. But still, sometimes it will occur to me that I have walked three full laps having not asked for anything or prepared for anything. Having to share the arena and having another person riding in the lesson last night meant that I had to manage my shit. I had to think of productive things to do to keep us both engaged when it wasn’t my turn and keep in mind arena traffic rules. It was great!

We worked on some turns on the forehand and then spiraling out to canter transitions. It was cool, and Mc was awesome. Our transitions were great last night and the only really bad one was totally my fault. It was a down transition from the canter and I just completely crumpled my ribcage (it’s my favorite thing to do!). Hulk smash you down to walk! It was pretty sad. But thankfully my trainer was like, yeah, don’t do that… and I had lofty down transitions for the remainder of the evening.

After scraping the ice and snow off of my car, I rallied my energy for an extra long drive home. I almost ran, slow motion, into a large tree coming around an icy turn near the barn but other than that, it was just your typical two hour-white knuckle-have to stop on the freeway as they drag multiple people out of a ditch- drive home from the barn! Nothing this former northlander can’t handle, although I do miss driving an SUV.

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