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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A Very Informative Week

Including being not-so-subtly reminded of the taste of dirt. Thanks, Harley, how could I forget!

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Outdoor footing…not so soft.

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I got ballsy last Tuesday night and planned a ride with a friend of mine in the outdoor arena since the indoor is booked up with lessons every Tuesday. No problem, I thought, we’ll have a blast out there and I’ll even bring my bluetooth speaker so we can play music while we ride! Everything was going well, Harley was looking super fly in a new saddle pad (I have a serious addiction) and we were jamming to the soothing sounds of the “warm-up” portion of the riding playlist I made. I made this playlist a while ago originally to do some trot sets with Tyco and originally for ME to listen to while riding via earphones. After the roughly 12 minutes of slower, softer warm-up tunes the playlist shifts to a faster beat “on” song, followed by a slower beat “off” song. I failed to take into account multiple factors, including, but not limited to: it was only Harley’s second time in the outdoor arena; there were multiple horses turned out in a field that shares the arena fence; the barn owner was doing some work with the tractor; it was very windy; and Harley is fairly reactive to sounds. We turned onto the short side at the trot just as the tractor mower hit a pile of sticks and the first “on” song kicked on MUCH louder than I imagined and Harley scooted and took off. I attempted a half-assed pulley rein to no avail. I thought briefly about burying him into the arena fence or corner but wasn’t sure I had enough (any?) steering and worried that he might try to jump it. So I hung on as long as I could hoping he would just stop but after a handful of hairpin turns at high speed I lost my stupid right stirrup and knew that I was about to be intimately acquainted with the ground.

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I fell mostly on my well-padded butt except I nailed my right calf on something on the way down because I thought I pulled a muscle in there the bruising was so bad. My friend didn’t see the trigger moment but dismounted and watched the aftermath and then kindly collected my mount for me as I picked the gravel out of my teeth. I was fine, but mad, mostly at myself. I should have been smarter than that and shouldn’t have been so cavalier. I hadn’t made NEARLY enough deposits in the trust bank yet to justify such a massive withdrawal. I turned the music off and got back on and tried to settle Harley down putting him to work at the walk and trot. He was still quite keyed up as the tractor was still going and now the peanut gallery in the adjacent field was like “holy cow!!! much excitement!!!”. A week later I am still very bruised but I have had a handful of only positive rides on Harley since and we are back on track- lessons learned!

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Oh yes, that IS plaid trim on that saddle pad! ❤

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It was an equestrian social weekend for me including attending a dressage clinic, riding in wicked hot weather, attending my instructor’s baby shower, and capping off with a very nice lesson last night.

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I’ll have to write about the clinic in my next post because I took some notes and want to write them here as well in hopes that the more I revisit them, the more they will sink in!

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It was a sweltering 90 degrees last night for my lesson and Harley and I are both out of shape, so it was a lot! We did some smaller traveling circles at the walk for suppling on the short side and then we moved that traveling circle idea to the whole arena on a 20m circle at the trot. The goal was to get him to step under and spiral out on the half of the circle towards the open end of the arena thereby moving your circle. I was going to draw it for you but it was really hard to draw…but basically this:

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It took us waaaay too many circles to get across the arena tracking right because Harley was blowing through my leg aids to move over and I was letting him get away with it. We got some decent steps on our last circle, though. On the left, the exercise was much easier (I think for both of us). We schooled some leg yields from the quarter line to the wall and these went much better than they had during our first lesson but I think Harley was just more on my aids this time around. We progressed to a short leg yield to the wall, canter transition, canter circle. That exercise was helpful because it made us really organize and balance to get a nice transition.We struggled on the right to get the leg yield as he seems much more reluctant to want to tuck that right hind underneath and carry the weight. Our canter departs in that direction were abysmal too, but it was the end of the lesson and we were both pretty exhausted.

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It will get better! I am very encouraged. This horse hasn’t done a lot of dressage work in his past but he’s got a great attitude for the work and really does put up with a lot of my stupidity. I told my instructor what I think will be tough is trying to stay consistent with him while he learns new stuff without second guessing my aids. The clinician this weekend gave a lesson to an adult ammie with a very talented but young horse. He cautioned that if a rider asks for something and the horse gets it wrong the tendency might be for the rider to second guess themselves and “rephrase” the question when what the horse really needs is another chance or two to get the right answer to the same question. I really took that tip to heart thinking about Harley since he may not be young, but is relatively green for dressage and adult ammies like me LOVE second guessing themselves!

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Getting Going

Capping two months of ridiculous work travel, I jetted home to the Northland for a surprise visit over the Memorial Day weekend. I got to spend some much needed QT with my family and got to swoon over feline cuteness in-person instead of settling for photos!

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Riley shamelessly commandeers my bed

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I got to hang out with some old friends on Memorial Day and we spent the day at the race track and then touring some of our favorite old haunts. It was a beautiful day.

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English Bulldog fun race! A dog named Winston won.

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I am back in the SortaSouth now and very relieved to be in one place for a good stretch. I wasted no time in setting up a training plan for Harley and myself. We had our very first dressage lesson together since he moved to my barn in April! I had a solid fitness ride on him last Thursday evening and we both felt it afterwards but I knew I had to get a good read on our current status to help our new dressage trainer assess things a little better.

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Much workout. So sweaty.

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I didn’t have many expectations walking into my first lesson. I just wanted to get the ball rolling. Harley started out rather stiff in his hocks but worked out of it quickly. The trainer asked a bunch of questions as we warmed up about his previous training and any quirks I’ve picked up on since starting to ride him. I answered everything to the best of my knowledge noting that I think he would have some good potential for dressage but it would be somewhat of a challenge since he’s had a lot of time off or under little work. She noted after watching us for a while that he seemed similar to one of her horses in that he is on the hotter side with a tendency toward spooking, doesn’t have a mean bone in his body, and would gladly be 110% on the forehand if left to his own devices. Luckily for me, she therefore quickly understood my tendency to ride him with the handbrake on and talked me through letting that go so that we could get some work done. She noted some weakness especially in the canter since he throws his head a good deal in the transition but I think that will minimize as his strength improves because once in the gait, his canter is nice.

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Harley got a bath after our lesson

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And a new flysheet- we’re going to give it a try.

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This coming weekend my barn is hosting a dressage clinic with my trainer’s trainer’s trainer hahaha so I will be auditing with a friend of mine to see what kind of dressage magic we can absorb just by observing!

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Drunk Walk for Straightness

Last night Harley and I had our first ride of truly nice work and it was all at the walk. Yes. You heard me. Walk. I know, I know, “dressage is boring as hell” and “what kind of mindless zombie drone enjoys riding in nitpicky patterns AT THE WALK??”.

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We had many reasons for staying in the walk including but not limited to: he needs his feet done badly but we are still trying to nail down a new farrier (pun intended); Harley’s tendency is to rush- because it is much easier for a horse to trundle around quickly and not use their body properly; we haven’t had much time together and needed to connect on the basics before we move on to more complex things; and Harley has been a bit hot in the indoor recently and I needed a win, not the spook and bolt roller coaster.

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So we worked on some of the same exercises I have been riding with Louie lately. My lessons have been so so great recently and I took a moment to reflect on my way out to see Harley last night. I realized it took a long time to feel this “plugged-in” when I am riding Louie. I resolved to be more patient and not rush my relationship with Harley. I’m not a good enough rider to think that I make whatever horse I sit on go better- BUT I do have some tools and I am gaining more independence using those tools, so with some time and patience, I can help a horse move better on my own!

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um…wat r we doing?

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I’ll just help myself to some of this here grass if you don’t mind…

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Harley and I drunken-walked our way to success last night by working a lot of shoulder-in and swapping the bend often to keep him engaged and thinking. In his zest to be a good boy, he tends to interpret all input as “go”. By staying relaxed and asking for a very SLOW walk coupled with switching up the bend on circles and even on the long sides of the arena, I finally felt him stand up straighter and get much lighter. It was a good 20 min of patiently, but firmly insisting that he bend his body whenever I ask for it but under the understanding that I wouldn’t ask for more pace and there would be lots of release so long as he stayed within the corridor. Afterwards, he felt so ready for anything I would want- I know that this is how we will have to warm up every single ride in the near future.

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That big, long, body of his and a good sense of self-preservation had me second-guessing my aids. He wasn’t being resistant, just unsure. What I needed to do was trust in my training and be patient. Luckily, I was in a mood to do that last night! It’s not always the case- I’m not this zen all the time. Not by a long-shot.

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Maybe it was the new saddle flair!

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My friend “K” and I went to Target a few weeks ago and saw those clip-on leather tassels everyone is attaching to their purses and we decided we were going to start a trend- we were going to get something like that and hook those bad boys up to the dee rings on our saddles. Well, instead, she went out and bought me the craziest saddle flair she could find and I wore them all proudly last night.

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Now, I am totally down with the mermaid and even the friendship heart that I’m  pretty sure says “Best Bitches”… but take a look at the piece de resistance of saddle flair…

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What on earth possessed her to get me a cat pouch to attach to my saddle?!?!?!?!?!

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Oh wait, yeah…..it was this monstrosity that I made her wear for Christmas.

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It all makes sense now. Anyway, Harley and I rocked that collection of random shit so hard last night! Maybe he could sense that she had filled the cat pouch with baby carrots…

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I know, you’re jealous. Go ahead, run out and get one- I won’t even make you say you saw it here first!! 😉

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We’re Still New Here

This has been the longest week. My coworkers from Latin America have been in town since last Wednesday so I have been playing hostess for far too long (they are not staying with me, they just don’t know the area). It’s moments like this that make the introverted parts of my personality come out in full force. I love to hang out with my coworkers, especially when we are traveling, but something about having them here in my own backyard just started to become too much for me. I am a transplant to this area and in the five years I have been here I still haven’t really learned the ropes. It is also a college town so the prospect of taking my coworker who doesn’t drink, but inexplicably still loves to party, out on the town gave me a lot of anxiety. Not to mention there was a huge campus event this past weekend and the weather was the best it’s been so far this year. The streets were packed, the bars were packed, and I was wishing I could be a million miles away.

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Luckily, my therapist has been very instrumental in helping me keep my cool this week.

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Clean me. It will help you relax or something.

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So what if I knowingly missed a business dinner for the sole purpose of going to see Harley instead!? #worklifebalance

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Hi, my name is Harley and I wouldn’t put my weenie away to take nice photos because idgaf.

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We had our first ride in the outdoor arena last weekend as additional footing and mag was being added to the indoor. The weather here has been very erratic and we did have one not so great ride in the indoor a couple of weekends ago. He is pretty reactive to sounds and got quite spooky with the combo of wind howling outside the arena and the BO doing some work with the tractor. I couldn’t really blame him too much, the arena doors were closed and he is even more concerned if he can’t see where the noise is coming from. Aside from that, Harley has continued to impress me with how well he is adjusting to his new home. We are starting to get to know each other more and I plan to start lessons with him in the next couple of weeks.

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I would describe him as the quintessential gelding. His ground manners cannot be beat and he is the type that lowers his nose into his halter when you come to get him. Under saddle he is extremely willing, very honest, and has zero opinions. Clearly much more of a “pull ride,” he gets rushy and heavy easily. He has a longer body and is a much bigger mover than I am used to so much of what I hope to work on in my first lessons with him will be not riding in a defensive position and learning some tools to help him slow down and think more about what is being asked of him. Is “too willing” a thing??  haha

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I had a phenomenal lesson this Wednesday with my current trainer on Louie. Lou is very different from Harley and I really felt the difference this time. Louie’s owner has been working so hard with him over the winter and in my lesson he gave me some of the best trot work I’ve ever seen from him. My trainer was super complimentary of our ride and I told her it’s clearly all the work she’s been doing with him lately that has produced such a big change. He didn’t throw me even half of the evasions I usually get from him and I’m hoping it’s because he is figuring out that moving this way isn’t nearly as difficult as he thought it was. These things take time. She tells me I should work on the same exercises with Harley so I try to incorporate them into our rides. What is difficult about that for the moment is that the feeling of “correct” on Louie is going to feel different from the “correct” on Harley and I am still pretty lost trying to decide if I am doing the exercises correctly on my own. Harley and I need some feedback as we try these things so I can start to memorize the way it feels to get Harley moving more correctly.

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sweet boy.

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Harley gets to meet his new vet tomorrow for just a wellness exam. He’s had his spring shots and doesn’t need his teeth done yet. Is it a total dick move (literally) if I just have the vet clean his sheath?

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