Saturday, August 21, 2021

August Clinic: Quit Overthinking


Another month, another clinic weekend that I was fortunate enough to be able to fit into my schedule.

There's a few miscellaneous topics I need to create separate posts and catch up on, but the low down is that I am also riding and showing a friend's half-Arabian gelding while she is pregnant. I feel very privileged she asked me to ride him for her. I struggle a lot with imposter syndrome, so this has been a great way to boost some confidence.

But onto the clinic! Saturday, I rode Chili. Since the previous clinic, we had changed her bit back to a thicker three piece boucher. Part of J's thought was that a slightly larger bit would help stabilize our communication with each other. I also have spent a lot of effort in trying to minimize my reactions to whatever Chili is doing half the time. The horse is wiggly, I'm hypermobile. One of us is going to have to find some stabilization.

So the good news is that I didn't need a full recap of last month's clinic theme. The theme of this month was quit thinking.

My coach wanted the clinician to evaluate my struggle with 3 loop serpentines. A judge at the last show focused a lot on how they needed to not have a straight line and that my circles were occasionally too flat.

I'm a scientist. I get frustrated because I understand the dimensions of a dressage court and I theoretically know what a serpentine looks like. I can draw it out. I can walk it out. But why the heck can't I ride it?

Well, the dissection that took place in my lesson was a couple of things. One, Chili has an obsession with just staying on the rail. That's probably my fault. I like to ride on the rail because I'm afraid of running into people when I cross lines or do circles because I can't hear what's going on. Two, the more people start discussing circles, serpentines, and everything else I start overthinking. When I overthink, I stop riding.

That part I probably knew. Only because I overthink everything.

The next day when I rode my friend's gelding Max, I tried the 3 loop serpentines again. The clinician said she would give them an 8 and promised to leave me alone. We had plenty of other things to work on.

But it's nice to have some outside perspective and that in some cases, less is more. Overriding and overthinking is a major struggle for me.

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

July Clinic


The other weekend, over the 4th of July weekend, I had the opportunity to ride with one of the coaches that comes into the barn.

Clinician J's point of emphasize on balance of the pelvis, the structure, and how to use it to influence the horse. A lot of Saturday was spent in the walk and off the horse. At one point and time, the coach actually had me feel which muscles and the tilt of the pelvis she would use to influence the horse in the walk. Nothing like being up close and personal!

She had me stay in the walk at first and utilize my pelvis to influence the stride and speed of her walk. She felt that often I was letting Chili drive and that I often maintain a passive pelvis that is the source of some of our inconsistency.

She also emphasized keeping a steady quiet contact, no matter what the horse was doing and if she was winging her body around. I was right and the horse was incorrect in her response, which is probably true.

Usually our rides go like this:

Me: Please take this contact

Chili: For only one stride, then I want to swing my haunches in

Me: Put inside leg on and probably pull on a rein I wasn't supposed to. Please stop swinging your haunches in.

Chili: *loses contact and goes above the bit* Huzzah. I win.

-rinse and repeat-

By trying to maintain a soft contact and having me actively ignore Chili's running commentary, I actually had a proper working walk with minimal inconsistency in contact and less work evasions. It didn't really matter if I was going straight as the initial point of the exercise was to maintain the rhythm from my pelvis and to accept and carry the bit.

On Sunday, we started off reviewing Saturday's lesson, then moved into keeping me busy. Clinician J did correctly surmise I like to override my horse and annoy her as well.

At one point and time, she alternated leg yields, shoulder in, and various circles and diagonals to keep me busy. After a few laps of the arena, she stopped me and told me her intentions (which I had guessed) were to keep my mind busy enough that one, the horse was kept to the task at hand and two, I stopped annoying my horse by overriding and usually either shoving with my pelvis or wandering off with my right hand.

I was pleased that she did let me know that would have scored one of my shoulders in a 7. It sounds silly to hope for a 7, but it was nice for a few strides to have her really feel connected inside leg to outside rein and to just side and ride. I wasn't really doing much besides just thinking of the movement I wanted and it happened.

Then I overrode it next time I actually thought about what I was doing.

At the end, the clinician had us working on shallow canter loops on the left lead. Our left lead at times has been tricky as I haven't always prepared her very well and she just prefers to pick up the right lead.

But she picked up the left lead well and it was a good lesson for me to keep riding the canter, sit back, and stop being so passive. If I ended up being passive, she would come down to trot. It is tricky to me to slowly reformulate my thinking of having an active seat/pelvis and not shoving. I don't know where I picked up that habit along the way, but I would prefer if it would please disappear.

Sunday, June 13, 2021

Gone West

 Gone West

Good news, is that it didn't stick and we didn't die. ;)

In this case, my husband and myself went to Southern Oregon and Northern California to spend time with my family and to do some of the touristy things.

The theme of the trip was rocks, trees, and water.

Sorry for the deluge of photos. Some of our favorite highlights included Crater Lake in Oregon, Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, Redwoods in Northern California, and various parts of the Rogue River near where my family lives.

Where are some of your favorite places to travel? Where should we go next to find some fun trees, rocks, and water? :)

Friday, June 11, 2021

Bucket List: Riding on a Beach

 Ever have some ridiculous bucket list items?

I certainly do. One of them is riding a horse on a beach. I blame The Black Stallion for that one. 

Well, at the end of May, I traveled back to Oregon and Northern California to visit family. I had mentioned to my dad that I wanted to ride on the beach and at one point and time, he drove past a stable on the beach in Oregon. He looked up the number and booked a ride for myself and my grandmother.

The horses were fairly well kept with equipment that seemed to be fitted. The manure was all picked up out of the holding areas and most of the horses had shade over their pens which was nice to see. There was a little gazebo and a restroom to use before the ride started and the staff went over everyone's riding experience and comfort level.

I was given this kind of rangey looking grey gelding named Renegade. He was a little impatient in the holding corral, but moved off of leg well enough and was responsive so that's not too bad for a hack horse.

We rode through the dunes at first, then headed out to the beach, where we were told as long as we headed North, we could spread out and not be nose to tail, so this was my view.

When everyone had arrived towards the end of this section of the beach, the staff helped people turn their horses around and then took the obligatory horse against the ocean photo.

I'm not photogenic, but apparently neither is Renegade

When we reversed and began heading home. Another horse ended up trying to kick a staff horse and was spinning in a circle who then bumped into Renegade who was startled into a crow hop. Nice to know the horses still are horses. ;)

The staff did let the horses trot back towards home and Renegade was not incredibly impressed with this plan as he was a gelding on a mission. At that point, I pretty much appreciated his tie down and asked him to settle down and walk because I think his only two speed options were angry prancing or run-back-home. The staff, unfortunately, were quite interested in talking to each other rather than managing a few other horses and rider related issues, but I was fine with dealing with Renegade and his problems. I just felt that enforcing his walk was going to be important to whomever had to ride him next time.

Regardless of some slight naughty behavior, I had a great time. The horses really handled themselves well as the wind was very brisk, it was quite chilly, and I hadn't realized how loud the ocean really was there.

How about you? Which horse related bucket list items have you accomplished?

Sunday, June 6, 2021

May Clinic


May has been somewhat of a busy month. While I keep hoping things will be simplified at work, they aren't quieting down. There are still significant supply shortages so I spend a number of hours each day trying to track down reagents, sort out ordering issues, and find alternatives to keep my laboratory trucking each day.

So, I'm late posting this, but it happens.

I had a chance to clinic with a well regarded "S" judge.

She was very patient with my somewhat feisty, red pony mare. She declared she knew how to speak chestnut mare. :)

One of my biggest takeways was committed to a decision once I made it. Once I made the decision to ask for the canter, to marry that decision, and to canter. Don't ask for canter, waffle on it, ask again, and waffle. It just irritates the horse.

Makes sense, but somehow I still manage to waffle.

One of my other takeways was how to approach and ride each part of a circle differently. She emphasized on how often horses will bulge out on the circle closest to the gate or exit and it's OK to have different aids or strength of aids depending where you are in the circle.

On the horse front, she did have me keep busy, which sounded very counterintuitive and difficult for me. I want to be a kind rider. However, my little red pony takes full advantage of that and either quits, inverts, or stops using her back. So "S" wanted me to go ahead and think about the strength of my aids. When she was being steady and quiet, think about being a 1 or 2 on a scale and when she was being looky or needed to be kept busy, to emphasize aids up on a 5 or 6 level. Not saying, she meant to be harsh on the horse, but in Chili's case, it ends up being more tug-of-war if I completely release rather than keep half-halting or keep her mind busy with soft hands and something to do rather than leaving her to her own devices.

So all in all, a good lesson, despite having to move inside halfway through as it started raining.

Our first schooling show of the season is next week so it will be a good barometer to see where we are at at and to gain more feedback.

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Hot and Sweaty


Some of our rides have been more exuberant at times about canter departs. I have probably permitted Chili too long to be a little too crooked in her canter, not take the right rein and not always use her hindquarters as she should.

So for a while, especially on the left lead canter, she would be a little too offended if I used too much left leg on her during the canter or careen into the canter instead and then any time I actually asked her to stay on the right rein, she would break.

My fault. I babied her because of so many past injuries and would just let her have a somewhat wild canter at times because I figured it was better than no canter and then coupled with my left sided weakness, I couldn't really insist on much better.

So, that's been a focus now to ask and slowly put together all the pieces and Chili thinks it sucks.

Canter forward in a quality gait on both reins while using her butt.

Poor Princess. Such offense.

It's slowly getting there and we are chipping away at it. Winter it was a little bit harder because it was easier to maintain and have enough time to have a quality canter in the large arena and the indoor is good sized for the Midwest, but certainly not big enough for our liking, plus filled with spooky corners.

Brave chicken? Stupid chicken? Who knows

Last week, it warmed up to about 80 degrees F. Pretty warm for this area and despite it was kind of windy, I went ahead and rode in the big(ger) outdoor arena. Slowly been trying to put together pieces of a more quality canter and so I was happy that both ways, we cantered in a civilized manner and then on the left lead canter, which is typically her weaker direction, we made it about a lap and a half of the 200 meter long outdoor arena. We do have a ways to work on keeping up her conditioning, but considering a year ago she was injured in a paddock accident and it took until late fall to have an appropriate diagnosis, I can forgive her lack of condition.

My lack of condition, not so much. ;)

 She behaved well with no lunging, despite having most of the week off, did well at the canter, and so we called it a day.

I noticed her saddle sitting a little bit differently than it did previously, so I also tried a different half-pad as I usually ride with a Thinline half pad with shims, but the last ride I just rode in a regular fleece half pad on top of my typical saddle pad and the sweat marks seemed to be better. I imagine as she continues to regain condition, we will keep tweaking her saddle fit. I took a photo of the sweat marks (thanks warm day!) and sent them off to the saddle fitter who agreed that we should probably try switching some of the shims and she could take a peek at the saddle later this month when she was in the area again.

I feel like I should end this post with some major takeaway or revelation, but the reality is that I'm just happy that I had the chance to ride my horse again, canter a good canter for more than a 20 meter circle, and then realize how dang lucky I am that I didn't lose her to that fence accident.

The sweat on our faces at the end of the ride was certainly worth it. Here's to hopefully many more.

Saturday, April 24, 2021

Clinic Recap


Last weekend, I worked, but I managed to allow myself to be talked into riding with the clinician after work on Saturday. The clinician, Jennifer, is a dressage rider with a focus on biomechanics and the rider's seat.

I thought that what did I have to lose, so I signed up. I had the last spot of the day, so that I would have enough time, factoring in always possible work emergencies, and recruited my friend to come down and help get my horse ready. Part of my chronic illness is realizing that having a little bit of help pays off.

The clinic was running a few minutes behind schedule when I arrived, so I was able to watch a few minutes of a lesson, except it was somewhat windy and we were riding in the outdoor arena, so it was a bit difficult to hear.

My friend helped catch, groom, and tack up Chili while I sucked down some more electrolytes. After meeting with a cardiologist last month, he pointed out I need to greatly increase my electrolytes and wear compression socks (among some other things), to help mitigate my symptoms and to improve my quality of life. Now, if only I can remember to do this at horse shows when it is blazing hot and I go hours without eating or drinking properly.

Post-electrolytes, I felt much better. Chili seemed pretty relaxed and not in dragon mode, so I hopped on her in the indoor and walked and trotted a little bit.

Chili deciding to bow for grass
Jennifer watched us warm up for a few minutes and then we discussed where we were currently at in our training journey. I am quite self conscious in feeling that I negatively affect the ability of my horse with my physical limitations, so I discussed this aspect and how my left hip is very difficult to use compared to my right.

The first thing Jennifer had me do was decide to have Chili learn to live with my leg on. I have always heard the saying to have a hot horse live with your leg and Chili isn't hot in the zoomy sense, but rather the offended dragon sense. However, I think the goal with having the leg sort of snuggly was to not to offend her by having it on, then off, then on without a lot of prior warning.

It did take Chili a while to learn to live with this. It's different. She is wiggly and is by far, the most mobile horse I've ever ridden. Putting the parts together, especially while I am myself hypermobile, is not an easy job.

Learning to live with my leg

Jennifer's next suggestion was to try and ask me to ride her a little bit "deeper" and to focus on keeping all of our parts still. Keep my leg on and quiet, keep my hands quiet, and to just ask her to be a little bit lower, but not behind the vertical. What I found out was that my perspective of being "deep" was closer to correct and then encouraging her to stay there by being quiet made us both happy.

In the canter, she can be difficult sometimes about filling out and taking the right rein, so she encouraged me to go back to schooling her like a baby horse in that sense. Encourage her to take the entire bend with her body and it if she broke or tossed her head, to be sure I kept an equal level of contact by widening my hands. All basic things I have heard before, but I find I need to hear the explanation different times in different ways.

Chili has had a number of injuries, so it can be tricking to comb through what is a true evasion she has learned (and I permitted), or what evolved from pain related responses or a combination thereof. Jennifer encouraged me to think of it more as physical therapy for the horse and that at times, it may be a combination of all these different techniques to find what will work for her and what will be fair (also known as to keep me from picking at her while she is trying). As one instructor has told me, "Don't be a greedy bitch".

So while, in some aspects, it seemed like a basic lesson, it was nice to have an opinion from a well regarded clinician. She did emphasize to me multiple times that she believed I was a much better rider than I was giving myself credit for, that my leg lay in a good spot, and that Chili's issues were mostly her issues and that I was not creating them or making them worse.

She also emphasized to keep working Chili in hand and having her be soft and reach into contact when I picked up the reins and walked and to not permit her to pull or evade. It's hard. I probably have neglected the walk (and the halt) and her response for too long. The walk is extra wiggly for both of us, so while walking, I find I need to focus more on having a soft contact through the back of my elbows and to relax my hand. Sounds counterintuitive, but once again, I tend to hold too much tension in my hand, since my joints (and especially my elbows) are so unable.

But since starting physical therapy, I am appreciating the awareness of how to bring my elbows into a neutral posture and to be aware of how to engage different muscle groups to stabilize the joint itself. Hopefully this will continue to pay off in the saddle!

I do look forward to riding with Jennifer again in the future and demonstrating progress. She thought Chili was super talented and once we put the pieces together, she will rapidly move up the levels. I can certainly hope and keep chipping away at the goal.