Thursday, October 5, 2017

Oh dear, catch up time again!

Oops, I've gone nearly a month and haven't been posting about my rides! A summary of them:

- A ride on this adorable Thoroughbred who belongs to one of my coach's students. He's cute as a button, but has this quick, anxious trot when he's going straight on the rail. Relaxes and bends on a circle. Given how "up" his trot is, his canter is quite lovely -- slow and springy and rounded. Really fund to ride. I'll be able to ride him over the winter when he's being boarded just down the road. I have some ideas for ways to get him to relax on the rail during rides, so we'll see how that goes.

-A lesson in North Bay on the big draft cross who was quite nice during my ride with Laura. He decided to be a big slow butthead this time, though, and I spent most of the lesson getting after him to try to canter. I spent, without exaggeration, twenty minutes solid trying to run him into a canter. Unfun. It was a lovely day though, and a nice ride out in an open field in the sunshine, and my fiance took some great photos!

-A ride last week on my usual lesson horse, who was doing great until I think she got frustrated by me trying to canter without stirrups on a circle? Or just decided she was done and had a bit of a tantrum. Her "tantrum" was barging around at super fast trot and strong canter and leeeeeaning on my hands and ignoring my rein aids unless was a JERK about them. All in all a good lesson though, even though I was wearing new, fairly slippery knee patch breeches -- not exactly the best for no-stirrups work!!

Tonight's ride was quite lovely. Despite the fact that I've been incredibly stressed out, and pretty inactive, this week, my body was cooperating and things were really clicking. My hands were VERY steady, my legs were mostly quite stable and doing what I asked them to, and I was nice and sticky in the saddle at all my gaits. I had some good stretches of canter with NO bounce at all. The horse was fairly light in the bridle most of the evening and really listening to me. Stepping under and rounding and stretching. I was able to ride some pretty small canter circles on her tonight, and did one half of a canter serpentine with flying changes. (Tried to ride it back to the top of the arena but broke on the first turn. Picked it up and got the final change though.) My left shoulder is apparently now mostly fixed, but my left elbow is still wanting to stick out and get ahead of me, so that's the next fix. I also need to keep my pelvis a bit more tucked in canter, but it's not too bad. It gets worse if I'm nervous.

I came up with an interesting visualization for myself tonight that helped immensely. And that thought was, "Go to war." Where I was coming from was this: people with no training and no riding background used to have to join the cavalry and ride into the most horrible, terrifying situations, and still keep their minds on their mission, on the enemy, on everything BUT how the horse or their own equitation might fail them. So, the effects of this line of thinking: look up, ride with purpose, stop micromanaging, and trust the horse to get you through. It really helped me to relax and focus on the bigger picture of my tasks tonight instead of getting fretful and closed in. I'll keep this approach in mind on future rides because it made such a difference!

"Go to war!"

Editing next day to add: I did some really nice leg yield at the trot last night too, from the quarter line to the rail. Nice and (fairly) straight and smooth. Leg on behind the girth on the "sit" part of posting, and reins and knees keeping the shoulders straight. Worked well! The horse was nice and forward and willing, too, which makes a big difference. Had to give her a little tap with the dressage whip once or twice to encourage her to listen to my leg more, but she did and was great! Felt really good. Today my inside and upper-inner parts of my thighs are feeling that ride most. It's a pleasant kind of sore. The kind that makes you feel strong.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Wow!!!

What a revelation! My seat changed completely tonight, and for the better!

What exactly made the difference? I went in thinking of my "seat" as a sort of two-pronged single part of my anatomy that included both my thighs and acts as a single unit that "slots onto" the horse.

Suddenly, everything was better. I could sit the trot at just about any speed. Most of the bounce was out of my canter (and all of it at times when everything really clicked). But the sitting trot was the biggest thing; it was the best sitting trot of my life! Everything was locked in with minimal effort of interference. And my feel, even at the walk, was amazing. I could follow so much better!!

So what exactly happened?

I had a lesson in North Bay, on Saturday, with the jumping instructor I'd had three or four with back in February. I did a semi-private with my best friend, with whom I rode a ton and took lots of lessons as a teen. At the end of the lesson I was a little disappointed that we didn't do a bit more and felt like I didn't get much out of it other than a pleasant ride in the sunshine.

Well... HA!!

We did this thing called "exercise position" which consisted of dropping the stirrups, bringing the thigh down vertically, and bending the knee so that the lower leg was horizontal to the ground. Then, trying to roll back on your seat into its usual three points of balance while lifting chin and chest and engaging lower abs. WELL. It was an incredible hip opener and something really jogged in my brain. My brain and body took notes. Because, while I didn't change anything immediately that ride... it definitely was percolating in my brain since then, and I was able to take that "Aha!" into this ride with AWESOME results.

I THOUGHT I had been riding with my hips open. I had not. NOW I get it!!

I rode around doing mostly sitting trot tonight, at slow and medium and occasionally a bit faster, and just marvelled at my ability to do it almost effortlessly. I rode most of the evening on as loose a rein as possible, trying to continue to address my rein-reliance-and-tension problems, but I felt really secure and balanced and like I didn't need the reins so much.

I shoudl also mention, I discovered a really interesting exercise that helped immensely and that I will definitely do again. I dropped my stirrups and, at a walk on a loose rein, used just one leg at a time to push her over into a little leg yield off and then back onto the rail. I tried to do as little with my leg as possible. I want to stop tensing and lifting my leg when I apply it. I want to train my body that I can apply it while keeping it mainly relaxed. So I practiced practiced practiced moving her over at the walk with a bit of calf pressure inward and NOTHING ELSE. And I could do it, too! It didn't require tension or a shortening of the leg to be effective. Unsurprisingly, I was able to keep my left leg longer and more relaxed than my right -- it's habitually the one that has more tension and lifts more on me -- but I was starting to get somewhere with it. It also helped me to keep my leg long, relaxed, and further back during applied aids.

So, the recipe for my success(es) tonight:

My seat is a two-pronged unit that includes both thighs
My legs do not exists below the knee unless I apply them
My hands are of no consequence while I develop my seat
My calf presses inward without pressing upward
My calf can be applied without being a source of tension

Friday, September 8, 2017

Well, that needs work

Great lesson last night. I was back on my usual lesson horse. The weather was cool and clear, and both she and I were feeling good! She was the right amount of forward, and carrying herself better and more actively than usual. She wasn't heavy in my hands at all, except after a few downwards transitions, and it was pretty short-lived.

We worked on some trot poles (including some cavaletti on the lowest side -- so a bit higher than just a groundpole) which I had done the previous week with my coach's big gelding, but of course, it was a lot smoother for me, being back on the horse I'm used to. My coach told it was the best pole work I'd ridden, so that was great. I'm getting better at lengthening/enlarging my post to go with her more exaggerated motion over them. She also rounded nicely and lifted her back on my last trip over them. I also made a point of looking up at the fence beyond the poles once we were headed for them. Looking up never being a BAD thing at any point in riding!! Also did some serpentines, which felt good and are generally improving.

Canter work felt pretty good, though I was stiff in my lower back and my knees. This is not unusual for me. I need to put some more time in, getting the feeling back that started clicking for me a few weeks ago, where I was sort of able to "sit up" on top of the roll of the canter, and let me heels drop in rhythm with it to absorb some of the shock and keep my butt in the saddle. We did some circles, including spiraling in and out on one of them, plus a few flying changes across the diagonal -- which were better one way than the other, but that's usual with this mare. They feel much more organized for me lately, even if they don't always happen right away when I push that button.

So... The bad. Well, let's not say bad. We'll say it's good that we've identified what needs to be worked on. Given my canter "yips" lately, I asked my coach, Can we try something? I trotted around the ring on a completely loose rein. Not bad, not bad. She had me go up into canter, and I kind of... fell apart again. Without that fairly firm rein contact, I want to hunch forward, lose my seat, and go into defensive mode. I don't think I actually NEED the reins to balance myself, and I don't feel like I'm actually using them that way when I canter -- but this mare pushes so heavily into the bridle that it's hard to say for sure whether or not I am, normally! It kept happening when I'd try -- even though her canter was quite nice and she had more self carriage than she usually does -- so it was time to get on the longe line.

Unfortunately... I don't have a lot of comfort riding on the longe. I think it's great theoretically, and I'd do a LOT of it with students if I were teaching, I think, but I haven't done much myself. Something about going around that small circle, totally giving up rein control, is figuratively and literally dizzying to me, and I feel like I have MORE tension instead of less, at least until I can start to ease into it. I relaxed well enough into the trot work once we'd done a bit, but I couldn't do any canter at all without at least one hand gripping the saddle. Again, I don't think I NEEDED to hang on, but my body panics without that rein connection and tenses up and shuts down. I was sort of almost maybe starting to get it one way? But mannnn.

When I had those jumping lessons in North Bay back in the spring, I had no trouble cantering around on a very light contact, so this is something new and I think it's been set off by a few things this summer. I think my weird ride on the big gelding has made it more acute and now I'm overthinking things. Whatever the case, and however much it's either mental or phsyical (though I think it's about 90% mental) I want to work on fixing it.

My current plan to address this:

-No-stirrups trot work to increase the security of my seat at a gait I'm comfortable in.
-Getting the canter WITH contact, and working on softening my back and hips, and dropping my heels in rhythm with it to keep my seat connection
-Letting my reins out once I'm already in a good canter, for however long I can sustain it and stay relaxed. I'll start with the centre portion of the long side and build from there.
-Stretching and core work at home (ughhhh) which I really, really need to do anyhow.

I'm having a lesson tomorrow morning with my best friend and one of the people with whom I've ridden the longest! It's with the coach who had me on a loose, soft rein in the winter, so it'll be interesting to see what happens there. Will I be able to keep it together? I think so! And if not, I won't beat myself up. Again, I'm going to see it as a positive to have discovered this new hole in my riding before it gets any more entrenched! I'm riding for the enjoyment of the process -- finding and fixing this kind of thing is hard and a little bit scary, but it's what it's all about.

Friday, September 1, 2017

The yips

I've had a few rides since the last post, though my August has been light on them as work has been crazy, and my usual horse is being leased elsewhere for the month.

This week and last week, I rode my coach's new horse. And for some reason, I was a big ball of nerves and practically forgot how to ride. I have no idea what happened there.

It had been two weeks since I'd ridden, and my last ride had been on the out-of-shape western horse, on whom I just did a bit of walk and a bunch of slow jog. So not particularly challenging or engaging.

Cut to me trying this other horse, who is taller than I'm used to at 16.2 (although my usual lesson horse is 16, so...) and sort of lanky and Muppet-y, and for whatever reason...

Everything felt off. True, I did start with my stirrups too long by two holes at least, but even that doesn't usually make me nervous and ineffective. I was convinced that the saddle didn't fit me and was rolling me forward onto my pubic bone and keeping me from tucking my seat under me... but based on this week's ride, the problem was likely lower back tension. I also felt like I couldn't position my legs correctly, and my stirrups were bouncing around on my feet (probably mainly because they were too long) and I was certainly tensed and waiting for the horse to do something reactive, even though he gave NO signs of it other than being a bit looky at the start of the ride (which was understandable as it was his first ride in that ring!).

Where things especially fell apart was at the canter. I think a big problem with it was that I'm used to my usual lesson horse's canter, and she actually goes BETTER if you take up shorter reins and firmer contact. That's... not how most horses work, unfortunately, and especially not this one. Even though his canter is lovely and floaty and smooth, I was confusing him by taking up firmer contact which... told him to stop cantering. And he'd drop out of it into the sproingy-est trot which nearly unseated me, and in my scramble to right myself he kept popping into and out of canter in confusion. Which just unseated me more. Closest I've come to falling off in one of my lessons!! Ha! It was a bit ridiculous.

After that, I tried more canter on a loose rein and grabbed mane with one hand and gave up on steering, just focusing on "forward" instead. This went a lot better, although my anxiety at going "fast" while not really holding the reins in a useful way was certainly a factor. He does have a SMOOTH canter though. Like glass! Really really lovely, but because he's big and has a long stride and this very fluid movement, he felt like he was going too fast for me, even though he definitely wasn't. PTSD left over from my bolting-related falls? Likely. Guhhh.

This week, we did some trot pole work (over which he was kind of lazy and trippy, oops) we took another stab at canter. And even though everything felt MUCH better and back to normal for all my walk and trot work, I actually managed to canter him even LESS. My first attempt at a canter transition was actually pretty calm and went all right... buuuut I took up more contact and raised my hands out of habit, and he fell out of it, which jarred me, and after that I was a mess again. I actually gave up on it pretty quickly compared to last week. At one point I tried just anchoring the inside rein with one hand and also holding the front of the saddle, while using the outside rein to potentially control speed, but grabbing like that just makes me more tense and unstable, soooo... nahhhh.

So, this week: better ride over all, but still had myself psyched out about the canter. My coach told me I'll probably be fine by ride 3 on him, and I suspect she's right. I'm also having a lesson up in North Bay in about a week and a half, so it'll be interesting to see how I do on a different horse at that time. I don't normally have THIS much trouble adjusting to a new horse. I have no idea why I'm finding it SO oddly difficult this time, but there it is. It'll be fascinating to see if I have a problem in that other lesson. I sincerely hope that having ride-ruining nerves on a new horse isn't going to become a "thing" when it never has been before. I'll try not to overthink it (something I'm an expert at) or else it actually WILL become a thing!

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Discretion is the better part of valour

I'm not going to try to recap all my rides since I last posted -- I'll never catch up on anything, at that rate! I'll try to be more on top of posting going forward, though.

My last two lessons on the horse were challenging; my canter two-point is practically nonexistent. I can hold myself up with my heels down IF I round my back. If I try to arch my back instead, I feel myself losing balance. My heels come up, my weight shifts too far forward, and I end up leaning on her neck for support. This isn't an issue at walk or trot. I also feel like, in canter two point, I'm having so much trouble holding my position that actually influencing the horse in any way feels next to impossible. Last night I was trying to ride circles over poles, and found myself only able to use my inside rein OR my outside rein, as I felt like I had to have a hand on her neck to support myself. Ugh. I think I ought to just be practicing my two point on the rail until it's in a better place, BEFORE I add complications -- like jumps, my favourite thing...

On the plus side, the regular seated work felt easy peasy after all that.

I rode on my own the other night, and didn't practice two point then -- just worked on adjusting my canter seat. If I sat up and back, kept my elbows at my sides, and let my weight drop into my stirrup at the right point in the stride, it felt great. Letting my heels drop absorbed a lot of impact, which let my body soften and follow the movement. I rode some half-decent flying changes, too, though not quite as nice as some of the ones I was doing over the winter on her, at the indoor. I am getting a bit better at making the right adjustments to ask for things in a balanced way. Though I seem to cut my corner every time coming across the diagonal. It's like I'm afraid she'll trip or something if I turn her too sharply so I'm lax when I shouldn't be. Need more practice, clearly.

I was also having issues with my right leg coming out an forward again, at the canter, like I used to when I first started riding again. Not sure what was up with that. Maybe still tired from the ride two nights before? I'll keep working at that. I've also been doing basically NOTHING to work on my fitness, other than my bits of riding (which haven't been as frequent as they should be, due to all this stupid rain) so I'm sure that's not helping anything. I went for a run this morning, which felt good but was NOT full of energy or stamina, that's for sure. Really need to get that working for me again. I've also started getting my studio cleaned up enough that I can, hopefully, be able to use the floor to roll out my yoga mat and do some stretches and core work.

I also made a difficult but, I think, wise choice regarding the pony I've been helping with. I essentially resigned, though I'm still going to keep at some of the training with her. She's proven to be a lot more anxious and unpredictable than expected. And even though she's come a long way with things like her separation anxiety, some of her spookiness, and he manners in things like leading and general handling, she still has unpredictable, explosive behaviour that makes my gut say that, no, I should not be riding her. The desensitizing work has been really interesting and I've very much enjoyed doing it -- what's not to love about torturing a bratty pony with a scary plastic bag on a stick? -- but, even after an hour of getting her to NOT react at ALL to a specific scary stimulus, she'll still pull weird random moves like spooking and pulling back because... the BARN??... was scary. She also bolted a couple of weeks ago and dumped her owner's kid in the dirt. It was seemingly unprovoked -- and happened WHILE she was being led! Argh! Too many traumatic memories of Java coming up to the surface. I don't want to ride a horse that's going to make me afraid to ride. The downside of this is that I will have to start paying for my riding again, but that's the fair choice anyhow, as the pony hasn't measured up to original expectations of being useful as a lesson horse, so there's no longer any benefit to my coach in me working with her. My coach agrees that she's not a safe horse to do much with right now, and that the right person for her is going to be one of those devil-may-care, will-ride-anything crazy teenagers who'll ride through the crap and maybe, eventually, turn her into a solid citizen -- or at the very least just put up with all the weirdness. If she were mine I might consider putting her, and keeping her, on a calming supplement, but she's not mine and I don't want to complicate things by paying for something like that with someone else's horse. So. I think I'll stick to groundwork and lunging, take her for some walks, hit her with some fly spray, etc., and who knows. Maybe she won't have a bad end, eventually, but she's a long way from being a safe lesson pony, that's for sure.


Sunday, July 2, 2017

Catching up

Whoops! I've had a few rides (four or more?) since I last posted here, but life has been kicking my butt and I haven't made the time to sit down and write about them.

Since I last posted, I had one or two pretty pleasant, uneventful rides on the project pony where we did some nice walk-trot, and I had her doing trot to halt really smoothly and nicely. She's much MUCH less distracted and less counter-bent, generally, too, and is getting pretty good at rating her own speed.

I also had a really good lesson on my usual lesson horse, at my coach's place, where everything was REALLY clicking and felt great! She was stepping under herself and her canter was really lovely -- and she was moving well even through some seriously muddy patches. I was highly motivated to keep her collected and lifting -- it was self preservation so she wouldn't trip in the mud!!

This lesson also included the smoothest flying change I've ever had on her. Normally she drops her head heavily and kind of falls onto the new lead, but this time it was *like butter*.

The next week, though, I went out for a quick lesson on the pony, and things did not... err... go so hotly. Usually I either hand-walk her around a lot, or else lunge her, before I get on, and when I do, it's at the mounting block. She seemed to be in an okay mood right after tack-up though, and I know the kids who have been riding her at their place don't lunge her first. So my coach suggested I just mount from the ground right outside the barn, beside the other horse.

Well.

That was not a good decision, apparently.

She actually stood all right for the mounting part, but as soon as I was in the saddle she panicked, ran backwards, got her legs tripped up in the manure pile, and actually fell over and half-rolled. I of course fell off, as staying on wasn't a possibility. Luckily I was unharmed, though it could have gone very badly.

We wrote it off as a fluke thing, walked her around a minute, set her up and tried again -- sloooowly, with a few bounces and... same thing but worse. As soon as I was sitting, she flung her neck up and CRACKED me right in the face, and scooted and kind of sat-fell and half rolled again. It was more violent this time and had even more potential to be dangerous. If she had clocked me two or three inches to the left, I'm certain she would have broken my nose. I also hit gravel instead of manure and bedding this time, so my elbow got so badly scraped up it tore the thin running jacket I was wearing to keep the bugs off. It also scratched up the side of my helmet, so -- not that I needed it -- further proof THAT thing is a necessity!!!

I was PISSED OFF so the other girl had a short lesson in the ring while I just angrily lunged the pony for a bit. She was super pissy on the line (not just because I was mad -- I was being firm but not really taking it out on her) so I pushed and pushed her, both direction, and she was pulling and resisting and was obviously not in a work mood. Eventually she settled and started to bend and drop her head.

Sooo, moment of bravery: I mounted her again. But in the way I usually do, post-lunging and from the block, skipping the stirrup. Before I got on, I did some leaning and hanging off the saddle and *actively* tried to annoy her into a reaction, but she couldn't care less, this time. I got on and had a nice 15 minute walk-trot ride while my coach helped and made sure everything was okay. She was actually perfect once I was on -- THIS time. Little twit pony. :(

That was just over two weeks ago, and I haven't ridden her since, as she's been out on loan to the kids who ride her. They've had zero problems with her, at all. Which I'm glad to hear! Next time I'm out I'm going to focus on groundwork and getting her working and thinking -- and also a LOT of desensitization. I want to work on getting her okay with having a rope slid over her, and fly spray sprayed on her, and move up to a plastic bag on a stick. She needs to be way less reactive, because while she isn't generally spooky, she does have the ability to explode when her anxiety ramps about something. I like the analogy Warwick Schiller uses about the cup of anxiety: you don't want to let it get full, because it'll run over. So, I need to do some small things that keep that cup from filling in the first place.

I also don't want to ride her next time unless my coach, or someone to assist, is around. Just in case. My safety matters most. Also, I think her problems aren't related to the riding part -- she's perfectly fine with that. It's getting her mind in the right place. Her general anxiety HAS come down a LOT since I started with her this spring. But as that mounting disaster demonstrates, she still has a long way to go.

More to come on the other two rides since I last posted...


Wednesday, June 7, 2017

The nature of progress

I think, when I started back into riding after my sixteen year hiatus, I thought... Well, first of all I thought it would be very easy to "get back to where I was." I thought that, with a few weeks or even a couple of months -- max -- of regular riding, without outside guidance, I'd just pick it all back up again. Because obviously I must remember everything I once knew, and what I once knew must have been everything I needed to know, right?

Well, as it tends to be with these things... it did not go that way, not at all.

Sixteen years of growing from a teen to an adult, sixteen years of not having to use my body symmetrically, or stretching or working those muscles and tendons. Wow. Sure, my brain remembered a lot of the theory, but the majority of my feel was gone, and my flexibility and strength had definitely left the building a long time ago. Confidence had left along with them.

So, there I was, starting basically from scratch. Even though the road ahead was clearly going to be a little (a lot) longer than I had anticipated, I still thought that progress would be something that happened in a linear, steady fashion. Well... no.

Welcome to the game of "got it, lost it."

Many things HAVE played out that way, but many more things have not. Sitting the trot, for example: couldn't get it, and then after a few rides on Syd, I FOUND the motion I needed, and it translated really wonderfully to my lessons. And then... I lost it. I haven't found it again since, though I'm working at it.

Sitting the canter: I was bouncing and bouncing and bouncing for my whole first season, and then, in my first lesson on the same horse, after four or five months off... I could sit it smoothly and effortlessly. It just happened. But then, in the very next lesson, back to bouncing. I'm only now able to sit it smoothly again, a year later, and only if I actively think about it!

Also, most notably, I've just gotten... abruptly better this season. I don't know why. Everything is just clicking, and I feel strong, stable, in control, and able to give more directed and specific aids than ever. My confidence has also increased a lot. My lower leg has stabilized a LOT -- it's in just the right place and feels so strong and stable! My leg is right under me -- no more chair seat -- and where I used to ride off the back of my leg when I had just restarted, I now use my calves and the inside of my legs for impulsion. Swinging my leg back for a canter cue, and a well-timed push with my seat, is becoming deliberate and easy in a way that it hasn't been in yeeeeeaaaars. Last night I even rode the easiest flying change I've had since I returned to riding -- smooth and balanced and relatively effortless.

My left shoulder, which has a habit of creeping up and forward, seems to have mainly been tamed, and I'm keeping nice and straight instead of collapsing my right side. My hands feel much more stable as well.

I wish I could say all these sudden improvements were the result of fitness efforts over the off season, but... no. No, it just seems to have happened. I'll take it! And hopefully... I've got it!