Thursday, December 7, 2017

A general summary instead of a specific recap, because I've been delinquent!

Having kind of let all my ride reports here slip -- whoops!!! -- I'll do more of an overview of what's been happening lately, what I've been working on, what's been working, and where I know I need improvement.

We've been doing a bit more lateral work lately. This was kicked off by me admitting, after being asked to practice some shoulder-in in my free rides, that I hadn't actually done shoulder-in (though I did try to kind of wing it). We've done a couple of lessons that included leg yields to the track, shoulder-fore, shoulder-in, and haunches-in (travers?). The mare is funny about it; she doesn't want to do it at first, and will try to get away with just bending her neck and popping her shoulder. Or just being really sluggish about it. But once we get going she starts to anticipate and does it without asking. Oh boy! She also tends to get worked up and starts charging around in a FAST trot. Could be worse!!

There has also been a LOT of no-stirrups work. We kind of skipped No Stirrups November because the horses took so long to get settled and stop acting like wingnuts. So I guess it's No Stirrups December instead. I had two lessons that were almost entirely no-stirrups posting trot. My muscles definitely felt it, but it wasn't actually that bad. I did have to cry uncle eventually in both lessons, but it wasn't the muscular effort!! My dang crotch was getting so chafed that when I had to pee after my lesson, it burned so badly I could practically see through time. :O We've done about 90% rising trot stirrupless. Only a little bit of sitting trot and just the tiniest smidge of canter. I haven't been doing much canter work lately, as the horse has been sore and hasn't had her arthritis meds for a few weeks, so I haven't been pushing it, especially as she tends to get stumbly when she canters while sore, and I do NOT need a wreck to happen while I'm riding there on my own.

A nice side effect (unless the not-nice side of burning while peeing) of the no-stirrups work has been a much deeper, more controlled, connected, open seat while I ride. (I know the full-seats certainly don't hurt with that either.) I can sit the trot a lot better, and I feel like I can use my seat and thighs more effectively to control speed and begin my transitions. I've also been incorporating a lot more thigh into my sense of what "seat" is. Previously my butt seemed like it was my seat and that my legs were separate entities. Now it's all starting to work together more cohesively. My few Lauren lessons, with emphasis on using my thighs in a supportive way, and her "exercise position," really helped to clue me into that. Especially the exercise position. It really made me realize how much more my hip could open. I started following the motion of the trot and canter in a way that let me move with the horse instead of feeling like I was trying to counter the motion.

Another funny thing that was a good reminder, recently: someone posted this video in a thread giving advice to a new rider. Be the chicken!!

Which is also reminiscent of the advice, "shoulders like a queen, hips like a whore," but a little more G-rated.

I should also add in here that I had one lesson on the cute Thoroughbred that I rode once back in September. He's got a softer mouth than my usual mare, so that was a nice little break for my hands. And good to know I can still be soft too. He tends to go around a bit crooked, the one way, so we were doing a very slight shoulder-fore when I was on the right rein with him. It went really well and felt great. We just did walk-trot, which was fine for me while I get to know him. Yay for comfort zones! Sometimes it's good just to stay with them, haha.

This morning I had a nice ride on the mare. She broke from canter a couple of times, but not in an asshole way, and it was otherwise a pretty great ride. I worked -- with mixed results -- on trying to push out and collect her trot. We average 7 strides between the letters on the long sides. I got her collected to 8 a couple of times, and pushed her out to 6 a couple of times. Mostly we stayed at 7 though, even if I did try to change things. It's interesting to try, though, and feel what my body does to communicate. Kind of a tightening and slight lifting with my thighs and set to collect her. And a deep, open, knees-off, forward push to lengthen. But like I said, the results are... currently mixed.

I need to keep working on my turns to the left without stirrups. It does force me to get that shoulder back and turn my torso to keep my balance. This is good. I've gotten much better but the dang shoulder continues to betray me.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Winter barn recap part one

Whoops. I continue to neglect this blog pretty badly. Not my intention at all. I've just been doing so much that finding the time to sit down and summarize things hasn't been the most appealing use of my time, even though it's rewarding and useful.

I had a couple of bad weeks. My usual lesson horse turned into a weird spooky explosive beast my second ride on her during my horse-sitting week. It was a windy cold day with random loud gusts coming through and rattling leaved and gates and things. Still, she doesn't usually react much to that sort of thing. Well, she spooked twice, jumping and shying suddenly, while I was still just leading her into the ring. Shouldn't have been a GREAT surprise that she gave me a pretty nasty big spook under saddle, but usually she goes into work mode right away when I ride her, so I had kind of counted on that happening. Well, it didn't. I walked her a few more minutes after surviving the BIG SPOOK (a  multipart shy-and-run that I'm pleasantly surprised I sat through) then hopped off and lunged her, where she continued to randomly have little explosions at seemingly nothing. And then it poured rain the rest of the week and the footing went to crap, so that was my last ride attempt for close to two weeks.

Other fun things during my horse sitting week included the two geldings getting buddy sour and becoming next to impossible for me to lead into the barn. My coach's horse panicked in his stall and it got dangerous in there, so I had to let him bolt out of there to avoid getting hurt, and long story (and a couple bad decisions) short, I wound up with TWO loose horses and a broken stall door.

After that week, we moved the horses up to their winter accommodations with the indoor arena. This was extremely hard on them for some reason. More so than most moves. The mare stress-colicked after my second or third ride on her there, and the other three horses have been anxious, most especially my coach's horse who has taken the last two and a half weeks to finally settle down enough to be rideable.

My first ride, after my anxious week of horse sitting and the horses being so UP at the new place, was just walk and a liiiiittle bit of trot. Even though the mare has always been really solid, I was very shaken by the spooky day. I confess, I got on and she was still so perked up and anxious, that as soon as she whinnied back to the other horses, I just walked her a few more steps and hopped off. :/ I did make myself get back on again, after hand-walking her around a bit, and it went slightly better but it was still pretty fraught for both of us. It didn't help that the horses were outside in the paddock JUST outside the arena and I was worried that SOMETHING would happen. I've since done my rides with them waiting in the barn BEFORE they go out. Much more peaceful!!

The ride before she colicked was a peaceful walk-trot and the first time since the big spook that I was actually feeling more like myself riding her. The colic episode was bizarre and scary, and I had no idea what was happening. She kept craning her neck out and curling her lip, and would lie down on her side with her head elevated off the ground and her lip curled and her jaws crossed. And not move at ALL. A couple of times I wondered if she was dead and/or having a stroke. It didn't help that there was blood in her spit, which in hindsight I think was from scratching her mouth while giving her a dose of bute.

Turns out that was all pretty normal for her when she has an episode, but I hadn't seen those specific colic episodes so it was definitely scary.

I'll resume my recap in the next post, but I'm happy to say things got better from there.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Horse sitting

Looking after the horses in the mornings for the next week while my instructor is away.

I haven't written up the last two rides. Partly because I was busy, and partly because there was nothing really standout about them. Don't get me wrong, I'm not downplaying them at all. Riding a horse is always a "standout" experience, but for the purposes of this blog, they didn't offer any major revelations or developments.

Today I rode alone (obvs, coach away!). I had new rubber boots on instead of my usual boots and half chaps, and I thought I'd be fine in them (I was in the spring) but apparently I've become a boot snob because they felt terrible. Okay, okay, I know what's actually happening is that, as my riding is improving, the way I'm using my body is getting more specific, my feel is getting better, and when my equipment is feeling or performing subpar, I really notice it now. At least, let's go with that.

Otherwise, things felt good. And after a while, I stopped really noticing my boots squeaking and sliding around. :/ Though I did notice I wasn't keeping my lower leg on as much as usual.

Didn't do anything particularly fancy today. Bunch of walk and trot work, a serpentine or two, couple of passes over the (straight) trotting poles. Skipped the curved ones because the horse was a bit slow and stumbly today and I didn't want to risk her tripping while I had no one else around.

I did some canter work, mostly focusing on getting my transitions where I wanted them. I wasn't sitting as deep today for whatever reason. (Can I still blame the boots?) But felt good otherwise, even though the horse wasn't as on her game. She wasn't "off" or anything. Just didn't have much pep today and needed a few long walk breaks.

One thing I did that I'll definitely try again was to count my strides up the long side at a regular canter, then push her up and try to cut a stride or even two off that count by lengthening her. I was surprised that, at a slower canter, I actually got 13 strides down the long side. Could get her to about 11.5 by putting more leg on. At this point I was kind of half-seating it but... ahhh, whatever. It's hard to concentrate on more than one thing some days. :D Plus... maaaaybe I'm only used to thinking about strides that way while jumping? Maybe? So my body wanted to assume that position? Eh, whatever. It was fine.

My sitting trot work was NOT in that magical sticky place I found a few weeks back. I hope I can get there again. So, after a few bouncy attempts at it, I dropped and crossed my stirrups and did some sitting trot work that way. Thought not so much about tucking my tailbone. Instead I thought "long hip, squishy butt" which was actually more helpful. By "long hip" I mean letting the joint open and lengthen in the front. The "squishy butt" part I think helped me relax into the motion a bit. Haha, whatever works. I also did have a few "go to war!" moments at the canter today to think more about forward and stop breaking to trot. But didn't REALLY push the canter work today. She just wasn't that into it so I let her have an opinion about it.

I even attempted a bit of posting-trot-no-stirrups though I really didn't get any air. Still, I suppose the motion helps to strengthen anyhow, even if it's minimal. I figured, I'm going into the weekend and won't ride again until Tuesday, so might as well go for maximum soreness/strengthening. My crotch REALLY hates me. It has for a lot of rides this fall. I think I'm keeping more contact with my seat now that I'm riding deeper. Which, while good for my riding is not helping my parts. I have one pair of breeches that is basically the devil. :( Going to look for some with MINIMAL seaming when I go down to the Royal. Maybe some better underwear too. Ah, the Inverness problem...

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


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!