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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Physical Limits vs Mental Limits

Monday I wrote about ways that I am pushing some physical limits in my life and today I want to talk about some mental limits that I’m struggling with lately in my riding.

A few weeks ago, I had an amazing lesson on Louie where my trainer even video taped part of my ride to show me how much my seat has improved and what a positive influence it was having on the way Louie was moving.

 

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Alas, what goes up, must come down. Tuesday’s lesson was a total bust and I’m still trying to process what was going on. I think I may have been in my own head too much- trying to reproduce something I came across in a very exploratory frame of mind by instead forcing it or rushing it. Louie was being a little lazy and when I couldn’t get him to feel how he felt last ride, I kind of crumbled. When Louie started phoning it in, the wheels came off and we were a mess out there. She asked me to do some canter transitions to balance him in the trot and he was. not. there. He was super dull and giving the bare minimum amount of effort and I was suddenly completely at a loss for what to do. I could feel it- or rather the absence of it- and I just kept trying to force it. I was able to finish with some decent canter work only after a heart to heart….er…whip to rump discussion with Louie and my trainer explaining to me that I wasn’t even asking him to keep it together- I was just giving away all of the impulsion out the front. Weak sauce.

After the lesson she told me something I already knew, but after that performance, probably needed to be told again. She said something to the effect of, “you are not a beginner anymore, when people start lessons they look to their instructor to guide everything they do. When more advanced riders take a lesson, they come in and ride and I help when they need it but they do what they need to do for their horse before I say a word. You have more than enough tools in your toolbox to get him where he needs to be without me- you have to ride him like he’s your horse. If I ask you to do some exercise but you can feel he isn’t balanced enough to do it, get him there- do something else you know will help him.” She’s right, of course.

So, what happens when the EquiNovice isn’t exactly a novice anymore? I’ll tell you what happens- responsibility!!!! UGH, what a drag! As long as you are new you feel like you can make mistakes, second guess yourself, be hesitant, and it’s all acceptable because, well, it is- you’re new. Coming to grips with not being new is a bigger mental hurdle than I thought it would be. I need to level up my mental fortitude to match my skill or it’s going to be darn near impossible to continue to advance.

I don’t imagine this was a particularly enjoyable lesson for my trainer to teach and it is in stark contrast to my last lesson which I think she probably did enjoy. But it means a lot to me that she continues to push me to be better. Yes, I pay her for every lesson, but she could just as easily feed me empty compliments and let me putz around on good natured Louie every week. I’m never going to show him; never going to be reflected publicly as her student; and may not even get to take lessons from her for very much longer. But she still cares about my development as a rider enough to tactfully have an uncomfortable conversation with me and push me to be better. That’s a quality instructor.

 

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Mental limits: must push for more progress! Onward and upward and don’t let a few bad rides get you down.

 

 

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Oh Happy Day

My first lesson back after a 6 week hiatus was a total win! It was great. The best part about riding someone else’s horse is that when you can’t ride, they have still been training super hard. I got to slot back in and feel like I haven’t missed a beat. She adjusted the lesson to try and make things relatively easy on my knee, but it was just as detailed in terms of pushing me to improve both my aids and my position. Getting Louie, french leather lover, to come on to the aids and lift and feel super light and ready is soooooo much easier than it was one year ago. It is a great feeling to hear my trainer comment how tall he gets and how great he is moving while I am riding him. I can’t seem to replicate this feeling much with Harley yet but I’ll allow myself to feel like I am at least on the right track.

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We walked for most of the lesson and worked on half-pass. Louie is such a funny boy and often makes us laugh during lessons because he is so tolerant and forgiving but you can always tell when his brain is about to explode and he has earned a break. He will totally let me keep him there teetering on the edge of sanity for a good long while as we try to get the right result before finishing the exercise. He is never naughty and doesn’t buck or bolt, you can just feel it through his whole body that you are really pushing him outside of his comfort zone- it’s kind of this potential energy, snorty, chaotic sensation. It’s the best. He’s such a good boy.

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Treats?!

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No treats…no photos

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My knee did very well. It was starting to get tired at the end of the lesson and that’s when I will have to be extra careful. I gingerly dismounted and paid very close attention to each step while untacking, grooming, and walking him back down to his barn. When I got home, I could really tell that it had been quite a bit of work for my knee. I was sore and my knee was a little swollen. I iced before going to bed knowing that I had PT the next afternoon so I needed my knee to be feeling good for another tough workout. I don’t want to push things too far too fast for fear of backsliding. Overall, I am very pleased to be back riding and thankfully with dressage, an “easy” workout doesn’t have to feel limited!

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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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