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.

 

IMG_7607

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.

 

FullSizeRender-179

 

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.

 

FullSizeRender-178

FullSizeRender-181

 

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.

 

FullSizeRender-180

IMG_6488

 

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?

 

 

 

Advertisements

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.

 

FullSizeRender-171

 

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.

 

FullSizeRender-173

 

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.”

 

Unknown

 

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.

 

FullSizeRender-169

 

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.

 

FullSizeRender-170

 

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.

FullSizeRender-166

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:

IMG_0529

IMG_0530

And then this text from the Trainer:

FullSizeRender-165

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???

 

 

Shark Saddling

Harley has been a rockstar lately. I told my trainer that while it did take me a solid year to figure him out- we have really been clicking lately and I feel like our rides have actually started to be productive instead of slightly out of control and mostly mediocre.

I think a few equipment changes have made a big difference lately. I bought a used MW Albion SLK High Head dressage saddle when I first started leasing Harley. I never blogged about it here because my mother reads my blog and already thinks that maybe shoveling my money, by the pile, into a fire might actually be a cheaper hobby than riding horses…

I bought it used on eBay so it was a huge and pricey gamble. The model is the same saddle my trainer owns and tends to fit a variety of horses. I had ridden Harley in her saddle before I started leasing him and we decided it should work. The high head model can be somewhat more difficult to find used, especially in the states. I was also in a time crunch since I really wanted to wait until I had Harley before I bought one so I could try it on him, but obviously didn’t want to be stuck for long without a saddle at all.

I think I made out fairly well on the deal. The price was good and upon arrival the saddle was in good shape. The flocking appeared to be in good condition and it looked exactly like the photos. The one thing that wasn’t explained in the ad was that this saddle had, at some point, been at least partially remade. It’s clear that the repairs were well-done, by a reputable place, but I would have maybe liked to have known that before I bought it. Still, it is a very nice saddle. At the time, I had two choices: this one at a very reasonable price; or a new demo model for a great price that was still about a $1000 more than the used saddle. This being a lease horse, I opted to take the gamble and save a grand up front. I don’t regret it. I think it fits Harley about as well as it could without investing some serious coin into fitting this nearly 20 year old orca for his retirement gig!

 

FullSizeRender-155

TWINSIES!!!

magaizine-spring-2016-orca-dave-ellifrit-center-for-whale-research-nmfs-permit-15569-dfo-sara-272_.jpg

 

All jokes aside, go look at that Harley photo again and tell me how in the world you’d go about saddling that horse!!

 

FullSizeRender-156

 

I did the best I could and hoped I could half-pad the rest. Here is how the saddle fits with just a simple saddle pad:

 

FullSizeRender-157

 

I like the steep rise of the pommel to fit those massive withers but look at where the balance of this saddle is even with sizable rear gussets- it’s too far back for me. He’s so uphill I would end up in a chair seat leaning forward to try and keep up with him. So I needed a rear riser pad. I have a shimmable ThinLine Trifecta half pad that I like very much except that you really aren’t able to fit very many shims in the pad- at least not enough for me to comfortably sit on Harley. I have been riding with this half-pad on Louie for every lesson and I love it on him. For Harley, I recently bought an ECP shimmable half pad and chuckled as I ripped out and threw away the laughable, completely useless foam shims that it comes with and stuffed in several ThinLine rear shims. This thing is a god-send and is working so well for us. Would I love him to have a completely custom saddle that fits without the use of these pads- sure- but he hasn’t been back sore since I’ve had him and he is moving so well with this configuration.

 

IMG_9880

 

Here you can see the saddle balance already much improved. I added a TSF girth and Harley is moving the best he has since I’ve leased him. With me in a better spot mechanically as well, I have been much more comfortable and it has even reduced some of the strain on my knees while I ride him. Clearly I still have some latent muscle memory of riding in the “backseat” for so long- either that, or I am part bridge troll…but once I start to realize I don’t have to lean so much, this will be a much nicer picture!!

 

IMG_0011

 

swl

 

 

Types of Athletes

Continuing with the theme of how very different my two paintasauruses are, I’d like to get your advice on some more nuanced coaching of my very different athletes.

I had a fantastic lesson on Louie last Tuesday night and I think I can mostly attribute it to me coming in hot with some energy and a very can-do attitude. I don’t know why I was in this mood but it worked super well with how Louie was feeling that particular night and we had a great ride. Louie is a very interesting ride for me and I think he’s my ideal kind of ride. We are actually a lot alike. He has this internal switch where he can go from relaxed, pokey, bombproof, toddle around on a loose rein babysitter to light, responsive, tuned in, fancy (draft cross fancy) athletic partner. You can have whichever horse you want that day if you know how to flip the switch.

Louie is like a car with a sticky shifter with a strong preference toward staying in first gear. When I find myself getting frustrated with his goofy evasions or general laziness I have to remind myself that we are literally the same type of athlete. I used to pull all kinds of shit to get out of running or fitness tests. I always told myself that I could play smarter and achieve the same success with less effort and, for the most part, I did. Well, here I am being burned by the exact same thought process…I just have to laugh. Just like sometimes my coaches had to get tough on me or creative on me to get max output, I have to do that for Louie. The silver lining is that we are both the type of athlete that is usually worth this extra effort because the resulting performance is really something. Is it a shame that sometimes talented individuals are not born with the work ethic and internal motivation to achieve their own max potential? Sure it is. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be coaxed out of them by someone else willing to put in that effort. Some coaches can’t or won’t do that and they write off these athletes as lazy, soft, and not worth the effort. They’d rather coach a team of athletes that try their best any day. That’s a decision coaches have made on me all of my life. It’s a spectrum, too, it’s not all or nothing. A lazy but talented athlete can still have an incredible amount of grit, it’s just buried in there a little deeper.

This post was going to be a lesson recap and it is quickly veering off into sports psychology territory. I’m sorry, read on if you like! I have the unique experience of simultaneously riding these very different athletes and it is exposing many parts of my personality to me that I haven’t really thought about in quite awhile. The talent vs effort argument is as old as time and sure won’t be discussed in full in this simple post. I like to think I am the coach that would put the extra effort in for the type of athlete that needed it. I think I even prefer to coach this type of athlete. It’s not right or wrong- it’s one way of doing things- a personal strategy.

I look at Harley and I feel like he is the max effort guy. The one who gives 110% every time. But EquiNovice, isn’t THAT what you want?? That’s awesome! It is, or rather it CAN be. Sometimes he feels a little bit too much like Rudy. Go watch that movie if you haven’t, it’s a valuable pop-culture reference if nothing else. Rudy gets a happy ending and is finally rewarded for putting in the effort despite the various challenges he faces. For every talented, lazy athlete, there is a Rudy or some kind of iteration that falls more on the effort side of the spectrum. That’s not to say Harley isn’t talented, he’s arguably more talented than Louie, it’s more of an effort in the right direction issue, I think. Coaching this type of athlete requires different methods. I am personally less familiar with helping this type of athlete achieve their success but I would imagine it is much more about thoughtful channeling than harnessing.

One thing is pretty clear, you can’t try to make either one of these types of athletes into the other. You will fail and waste so much effort, time, and emotional resources trying.

Being much more comfortable understanding my own tendencies, I know I am failing Harley in many ways because I am trying and learning to be a good coach for him, but I easily make big mistakes and get frustrated trying to understand what makes him tick. In my head, I see this:

AAEAAQAAAAAAAAPMAAAAJDk3MDYzZTA5LTc2YTQtNGExYy05MDJjLTY4NWQzNTVmNjg3Zg

To me, his evasions are in the form of bulldozing off in a million different directions with all the best intentions. I quickly run out of tools to coach this because in dealing with this much more frenetic type of personality I want to yell “Just STOP for a damn second!”  “Think!” and that is exactly the wrong way to help him succeed because that’s me trying to make him into something he’s not (but something I understand better). His answer to almost every question I pose is RUN because he truly thinks that might be the correct answer and all I want to do is rein him in. I have to adjust, but I don’t know how.

Those of you with horses more like Harley, help a sister out! Or if you were the type of athlete who always gave 100% tell me about your favorite coaches- how did they help you? What’s your take on the talent vs effort debate? Will one categorically get you farther or is it more about an adjusted development process on either side to get greatness out of both types? Where is your horse on this spectrum?