Friday, March 9, 2018

Saddle goes POP!

In my last lesson, my coach was saying she'd like to replace the saddle I've been using this season. These were apparently magic words, because, the very next ride, in about the last ten minutes of the ride I noticed this weird, occasional popping feeling under my right hip, coming from somewhere inside the saddle. The horse didn't seem to react to it at all, and it wasn't a BIG pop, but it was there.

The next ride, it was more frequent. Drat. Especially going to the right. Again, though, the horse didn't seem to notice it and it wasn't BIG.

I didn't, however, rule it out as somehow coming from the right stirrup, so today I lunged and then did a quick ride. Well, the popping was more frequent and I could feel it in BOTH sides, and it seemed to now be happening further back in the seat. And the horse DID notice it today, as her ears were flicking back when it was happening. Not in an "OW!" way. More in a "What IS that?!" way. But it's obviously getting worse quickly.

So, alas, I think that saddle is toast.

As far as the riding itself goes... I felt pretty sticky today. She WAS a bit pokey, I think because I lunged first, but also, because I was pretty sticky that had the side effect, I think, of her seeming to go more slowly. Her initial canters were nice and soft and slow and round. I did, however, get a few "fuck you" trots when I tried to pick up the canter, especially to the right. Once the saddle situation is sorted out, I'll be more confidently able to get after her for that. As it was this ride and the previous one, I was feeling nervous about the popping potentially spooking her so I was kind of lax.

My previous ride, I did manage a lead change each way across the diagonal, without breaking and without completely cutting off the corner. She did come onto her forehand kind of dive into them, but that might be unavoidable at this point in her age/soundness.

Over all, things have been feeling good, with a few exceptions. Perhaps because of the busted saddle problem, I've noticed that the saddle has been shifting left, and an unfortunate side effect of that is that my right side, which is prone to shorten up on me, shortens up even MORE because my weight wants to sink to the left.

Major improvements lately, though: my canter is so much better. I'm moving my back properly now. I'm actually surprised by how high up my back the motion has to start; it's actually right at the base of the rib cage. My sitting trot is steadily improving. My hands are more still, generally, though they could stand to come down a bit more. I'm able to isolate parts of my body better and better.

When I feel like I'm not improving as much as I'd like, I just have to look back to how difficult certain things were a year or a year and a half ago. Sitting the trot without stirrups is now relatively easy, and rising trot without stirrups isn't too bad either -- just a bit tiring and hard on my "bits" because of friction. But I do feel pretty solid at both. Not like I'm constantly losing and correcting my balance, or like I might slide off the horse at any time, like before. I haven't been doing canter without stirrups but mainly because the canter has been pretty not-perfect lately, and that's a lot to do with the horse's limited capabilities at this point, so it is what it is. All in all, this winter has done a LOTTTT for my riding, and I'm very grateful for how it's all been going!!

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

There's your problem

I put my stirrups up one hole today and immediately discovered the reason my saddle has been shifting. I've been working with my stirrups so long lately that I haven't been using my right ankle much, and it's gotten stiff and weak. And I had no idea because I wasn't dropping into my right heel very much. Ughhhh. So, this is going to take a while to fix, but at least I've identified the problem. Note to self: change up your stirrup length sometimes.

I actually rode a bit BETTER with them shorter, I think, other than being initially a bit tippy while I adjusted to it.

Canter work felt really nice today. She started out doing her usual "things" but eventually got in this nice, soft, slow and rounded canter, and her transition from that to trot was smooth and not at all rushy or leany. It was lovely. Nicest canter I've felt on her in ages.

I did a lot of transitions today. Also cantered across the diagonal each way without dropping into trot, and got both flying changes, although it was tidier to the right than to the left -- which is normal with her.

Did some two-point at the walk to start torturing my weak ankle as much as possible without actually tearing something. Then did some no-stirrups trot work. The no-stirrups sitting trot felt GREAT. Wish it would feel that good WITH stirrups! Oh well. I'll keep working at it.

After chores, I stood outside and just hung out with the horses in the sunshine. It's sunny today and going up to +10 degrees! Wow!! Kazz was lying on the hay bale, sunning himself. Tobi the goat kept nibbling on my breeches.

Monday, February 26, 2018


My saddle has been going crooked the last couple of rides. Hmmmm indeed.

I wonder if M's shape has changed lately? I don't think I've suddenly gone crooked, but... maybe I have? I thought changing to the thinner saddle pad might have been a factor, so I went back to the thicker pink one today, but because she's put a bit of weight and muscle on, I had to back it off a hole from where we were before, so whether or not that was a factor, I didn't really notice any difference.

Either she's doing something crooked or I am. 

As far as my riding goes, the only major difference is that I'm actually using my back correctly in the canter, and moving my body more. But maybe with that change, I'm leaning too much into one stirrup?

I might need to diagnose this the hard way. Do a complete ride with NO stirrups and see if things shift. :/ 

Orrrr just try to keep my right leg long and weighted.

Or have my coach hold the far stirrup when I mount.

Or do a ride that's all walk-trot and see if the canter is the cause.

I find once I notice it going even slightly crooked, it's like trying to compensate for it makes it worse instead of better, and it throws my whole ride off a little. It's not like it's sliding way off. It's more like half an inch, but I NOTICE these things. I have a lot more feel when I ride lately, which is great but there are times it can cause me to get hung up on stuff.

Today's canter work continued to show improvement. Since I started using my back better, we stay in canter a lot more easily, and I can use different parts of my body more independently to influence her. I don't feel like I'm having to hold everything together with EXTREME CONCENTRATION (and grimacing facial expressions). I can use one leg or the other, use my whip, adjust my reins, give a half halt, etc., and not have her fall on her face into trot.

I found a good compromise at canter between doing circle work and going large. Lately I've found I'm much happier and more relaxed cantering a 20m circle than I am on the rail. So today I did a full circle, then did a half circle turned the other half into using one whole end of the arena. Then went back on to my circle and used the other end. Then changed direction and did the whole thing the other way. I think this is going to be useful for getting comfortable cantering on the rail. I'm not entirely sure WHY cantering on the rail makes me more nervous than cantering a circle, but whatever. I don't need to overthink it if I can just do the work to fix it!

Sitting trot was decent today, although my shoulders wanted to roll forward, and I was having trouble engaging my lower abs to lift the front of my pelvis. So I was too much on my pubic bone and not back enough on my pockets. It's also the first real day of my period, though, and I was crampy and took some ibuprofen before my ride. So all things considered, I did pretty well. With concerted effort, I managed to NOT make faces the whole time.

I had a look at my leg position in the mirror today and was happy with what I saw. I'm definitely not in anything even resembling a chair seat. My heel is finally, after all these years, in line with the middle of my hip. Yaaaaaaay!! My toes are almost straight, which is as straight as they need to be as far as I'm concerned. I don't want to force them into an artificial and less effective "correct" look.

Over all things felt good. Our rein back is still crooked and lousy. Seems that the side I squeeze with is the side she pushes OUT, which is the opposite of what should happen. Urgh. I don't know how to correct for this when we're going backward and not forward. Backing the leg aid up with the whip doesn't seem right. I'll need to get some advice there!

I got a new pair of breeches today: a dark wine colour with a black "suede" full seat. They're the Tuscany brand that I like so much, and are the only type of breeches I think I ever want to ride in from now on! Comfy and grippy and attractive! Love 'em. These also came with a free pair of boot socks. These are yellow with a black and turquoise Aztec pattern and a picture of a donkey. Well, why not?? I've actually never ridden in boot socks before, so I'll give them a go.

Speaking of boots, I really need to break my tall boots out again. They're still pretty slick and my legs feel weird when I use them. I greased up the inside panel with some Oakwood, and need to add more now that it's all soaked in. That should help matters! I couldn't effective ask for canter last time I tried them, and my legs were shooting around during transitions. Not ideal. Will fix!!

Friday, February 23, 2018

Another morning ride

I rode for about 40 minutes this morning, including cool out (though she didn't break much of a sweat). The ride was good, though I was stiffer than yesterday and so was the horse. Coincidence? Probably not. They seem to go together.

Which is not to say there was anything bad about the ride, not at all. The trot needed a lot of push. In hindsight I would have been better to have tapped her up early and not squeezed her every stride, urrghh, but it wasn't too bad the whole time. I did a few more transitions today, though some of them, especially trot to canter, were a bit sloppy. My body wasn't quite as limber as yesterday, as mentioned, but still pretty good. I followed fairly well in canter, although I was much stiffer and somewhat bouncy to the right. Sitting trot was not-to-bad although I kept it slow to minimize bounce while I played around with my body.

I continue to be better able to sustain canter, and not have her break on me. It helps that I can sit it more confidently, which means I feel like I can adjust my hands or my leg or whatever I need without the whole thing falling apart. I was doing some half-halt-and-push to make her step under. She was back to reefing on the reins a little, but it's still not as obnoxious as it was, and I prevented most of her post-canter leaning by half halting pretty sharply and pushing her forward, and/or circling her with a high inside hand.

At the end of the ride I cooled her out on a long rein and eventually she started picking her own path. She would curve around towards X and start to slow to a halt. I would bump her a bit with my legs until she moved past it. Then repeat. Repeat. She tried the gate a couple of times. I never touched the reins, just pushed her on with a bit of leg to see where she'd try next. I eventually hopped off her in a corner where I don't habitually dismount.

My saddle got very crooked by the end of it. My hips are tensing a bit just recounting that cool out walk. Ooof. I'm going to go back to using the thick pink pad again, as the saddle never seemed to shift with it the way it has for the last several rides. I only made that connection today, but it makes sense.

I'm feeling generally a lot more relaxed and confident riding, lately, than I was for a while. This is good! Definitely helps to get things accomplished and makes for much more fun!

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Had a brief but good ride this morning. Canter continued to flow a lot better, and I think she only broke out of it at an unplanned time once (maaaaybe twice?) this ride. Though it did take a LOT of encouragement to keep her moving forward.

The biggest thing was that sitting trot worked a lot better this morning. I was nice and sticky, and while I kept it to quite a small slow trot (didn't want to push my luck and lose the feel), I really did stay with her very nicely. There were three things I did to make it happen: use the inside-back of my thighs supportively, use my lower abs to lift my pelvic bone, and let some of the bounce drop down into my heel on alternating legs. It took a lot of concentration to keep all three things up at once -- I kept forgetting about using my abs to lift -- and I realized quite a ways into this that I was baring my teeth with the concentration and probably looked insane.  I texted my coach with an "imaginary judge's comment." "Horse should be more expressive than rider." Oh well. I'll do what I have to do now to get the muscle memory. Fix the facial expressions later. 😜

In miscellaneous barn follies: I couldn't figure out how to get into the hayloft because I was pushing on the middle of the door instead of the side away from the hinges. Ummmm basic physics?? So I worked that one out. Manure pile gate appeared to be frozen solid to the ground but it was an illusion. Got it open but prior to that the wheelbarrow had slid all the way down the icy hill, so I intentionally dumped a bunch of poop and shavings and spread them around for traction. It actually worked really well!

Wednesday, February 21, 2018


Had a bit of a disordered day but it turned out great!

Last night my partner and I drove 45 minutes to go eat a belated Valentine's Day dinner. Well, we noticed on our way out of town that there was "lots of cool fog" and remarked on how beautiful it was. Unfortunately, as the light faded and fog got thicker, it got TERRIFYING.

We kept going because we both thought, well, fog never lasts THAT long, and it certainly wouldn't stay that thick at the very least. So we kept going and going, and the visibility got worse and worse. Eventually we got past the half way point, so we were better of continuing. We couldn't see more than 30 feet ahead of us down the road, our headlights were extremely ineffective, and as all the wear and tear on the winter roads had worn the painted lines down to nothing... Yeahhhhh, you can imagine. He almost took us off the road once, not aware of a curve in the road, but I yelled "WHOA WHOA WHOA WHOA!!!" and he slammed on the brakes and cranked the wheel. It was a bit of an overcorrection but we stayed on the road. 😱

Anyhow, we had our nice dinner and then, as it was still just as horribly foggy afterwards, we spent the night in his parents' spare room. It was STILL that foggy at 3am, but okay by morning.

We hurried back to our house this morning so I could run out and do barn chores, etc., when I got a call from my riding coach. She was already up there and had fed the horses and put them outside! Hooraaaaay! So I didn't need to rush up!

I stayed at the house working this morning, then headed up there at noon and did the stalls, etc. While I was out at the manure pile, the... precocious.. five year old tried to get out there for the first time ever, so I had to shoo him away and close the gate. On my next trip out, while I was at the pile, he walked over to the arena, lifted the board across the door with his teeth, and let himself and all the others into the ring where they ran around like tools, like they do. He and Kazz started chewing on the cavaletto. Jones started eating the wooden bracket the board had come out of. It was pretty early for them all to come inside but... ughhhh, whatever. I brought them in and got M tacked up and hopped on.

Within five seconds of me swinging my leg over, I heard "Door!" and my coach came in, so the lesson that we though we'd have to cancel went ahead!

Everything felt really good in the ride today. My legs felt strong, my seat was cooperating and for the most part I didn't pop out during transitions. M was just a touch pokey at times but not bad at all really. I actually used my whip to reinforce my forward aids a few times, instead of just flailing it. So that helped!

My canter was instantly better than it has been in ages. The difference? I was watching a video yesterday, I think one of the Natasha Althoff ones, and I watched her seat in canter. She wasn't doing any exaggerated rolling or rocking of her hips to follow; she was just using her back to move her hips in the correct backwards-oval motion of the gait. And I went "OHHHHHHHHH!" and I guess it clicked! My coach has been saying "Move your back!" for ages to get me to follow better with my body and lose that pesky bounce. But I was interpreting that as "use your back to shove your hips under you." No, just MOVE your BACK to move your body! The hip angle doesn't actually have to shift during the motion anywhere near as much as I was thinking it needed to. Hopefully this revelation will stick!!

Otherwise, we worked on some trot serpentines which included sitting for several beats periodically to work on my sitting trot; and on my standing-in-the-stirrups exercise (which was way more stable than it used to be!); and we did my best -- so far -- flying changes across the diagonal. I didn't drop into the turn and cut the corner, and she actually stayed in canter on two or three out of four or five tries. Which doesn't sound like an amazing ratio, but it is for me!

It was only a half-hour lesson as a mother and daughter were coming in to ride the same horse right after me, but it was definitely a quality ride! Felt good!

Monday, February 19, 2018

Yesterday morning, while I was out of town visiting my parents, everyone else was having a lazy morning, and it was nice clear mild sunny weather outside, so I though I'd take advantage of the lull and go for a walk. I went nice and briskly, for about half an hour.

About ten minutes into the walk, I realized how fantastic my body felt. I'm a bit heavier than I'd like to be right now, but that aside, I felt strong. Everywhere in my legs, my hips, really everywhere from my feet up to my middle felt fantastic. Powerful, balanced, flexible, and I could really feel the motion of everything in my walk. What a difference riding has made! I still remember going out for walks the first winter after I started back at it, starting to feel little changes, starting to feel a little more balanced, noticing that I wasn't toeing out as much when I moved. Well, where I'm at now felt absolutely awesome. I still want more core strength, but even though I haven't worked at it at all outside of riding, it has been slowly improving. Over all, though, a very good feeling!

This morning I put in a ride on M that was probably close to an hour. Did lots of trot, including circles and transitions. I really tried to use more inside leg on the circles to see what I could do about bend, pushing her out, etc. It was a bit messy, as it often is when you try to change something, but it was cool. I think my right leg is still stronger than my left, but it's not quite as drastic a difference as it used to be.

I've noticed my saddle has felt slightly shifted to the left on the last few rides, but I wonder if maybe it just isn't quite recovering fully from mounting. It's definitely not shifting like that saddle I used to ride in! Maybe the horse's motion tends to shift them that way a bit too; it might not be all me, as it definitely wasn't with that saddle. Other people had the same problem.

I got some more sustained canter today. I think she only broke early on me twice. I'm much more confident cantering on a 20m circle than I am on the rail, for any length of time, so I used that to my advantage. I would begin by cantering around the circle twice, then carry on to the rail for a half lap. I think I eventually got up to a full lap -- or within about 15 feet of one when she broke! Augh! Still, it was further and longer than we often get at canter. Got the wrong lead a couple of times (right while going left, which is the opposite of what we usually get wrong, interestingly) but not a big issue. She felt really good and while she got a bit heavier at times she never got HEAVY in the reins/on the forehand. She didn't do her rein-snatching thing after canter today, either; she only rooted a couple of times during the cool-out walk.

My canter seat was better today, and it was certainly helped by her not feeling like she HATED the fact that she was cantering! She's moving so much better now. I do have a little more bounce to the right, but I was able to keep my seat in the saddle maybe 50% of the time that direction today instead of 15%. I'd say I can park my butt in the saddle about 70% of the time when I'm on a left rein and she's moving all right. Over all I felt good and sticky today. It wasn't one of those rare super magical seat days, but it was a better than average one for sure. I tried some sitting trot and while it wasn't awesome it still shows a lot of improvement.

I tried a bit of two-point today, which was definitely a hot mess. Trot wasn't so bad although I've lost a lot of the feel for it and need to work on my balance and stability. It definitely felt a lot better than the canter though!! Trying to ask for canter while in two-point, I got the "fuck you" fast trot instead, and had to either bring her back and try again or just run her into it. Neither was very graceful. I tried circling her to the left at one point to see if I'd feel more comfortable that way but the circle got smaller and smaller and smaller until I was cantering a 10m circle in a terrible two-point. I can't believe she stayed in the gait!

After we both got settled back down from that, I did a lap and a circle each direction in no-stirrups rising trot, then a serpentine in either rising or sitting (can't recall now) and did some more work sitting. My strategy here, if I haven't already mentioned it, is to sustain rising trot this way until sitting trot no-stirrups actually feels like a relief. I find when I'm tired of posting like this I sit deep and follow automatically without even thinking about it. I see no downside to this punishment so I intend to keep it up. :D

After my ride I turned everyone out, and I could hear voices in the woods near the paddock where there should not have been voices. The noises got the horses worked up, and Brogan ran Jones off the hay pile, and while Jones was running off the noise spooked him further and he fully ran right over Tobi the goat. Jones's front feet sent him tumbling and he fully stepped on him right in the ribs as he ran him over. Tobi popped right back up, coat half-way off, and stood there looking a bit stunned before carrying on as before. Incredible. I felt him all over but he didn't seem seriously hurt.

Anyhow, lots of adventures! I'll miss having the horses so close at hand. They go back in April. My mornings definitely won't be the same!! Looking forward to coming out of this winter with a major leg-up in all my skills. I feel like I'll have done a major fast-track intensive, which is what it is, really, now that I'm able to make the most of it.