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.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Tests

In today's lesson, we had me try to tackle three different test. Training level tests one and three, and first level test one (with some modifications).

It mostly went pretty well. My attempts to reduce my nervousness and "what-if" thoughts have been helping a lot, so I was able to ride pretty effectively. The training level tests went off pretty smoothly. I'm sure they have awkward moments but sitting here this evening typing this, I don't remember anything specific. The canters were timed right and didn't break. The transitions down from canter could have been better but certainly weren't remarkably bad.

The first level test was... trickier! I had to canter at C and go up 3/4 of the long side, lengthening stride, before turning off into a 15m circle where I had to return to working canter in the beginning of the circle. We got the canter, got the lengthening, but trying to bring her back to a smaller canter led to careening around the first turn before sloppily breaking. I took too long to get us reorganized and it would have been a pretty big fail if I'd actually been riding the test at a show! It went a little better on the next try, and I think on the third try we actually didn't break although I was riding pretty awkwardly on these subsequent tries. I would get up into sort of a hovering position instead of sitting deep, and/or my right leg would shoot forward on the left lead. Funny, because the other night I was telling a friend how I was glad that THAT had finally stopped happening!

It was actually a good reminder how much all of that has improved though! Because those things used to be default things for me that I had to fight with almost all the time. Now they were just coming out when I was concentrating hard and feeling a bit disorganized. Better!

I'm also getting better at ACTUALLY using my whip now and then. I don't use it with much of a thwap behind it, but at least I'm actually touching the horse instead of flailing around and/or hitting my boot. I was a little afraid to do much with it before for a couple of reasons. A big one being that I generally assumed little disobediences or slow-downs were me riding badly, not the horse blowing me off or underperforming in that moment. Also, sheepishly, I've been afraid of getting a burst of speed as my result, even though intellectually I know that's more desirable than undesirable.

The big difference now is that I'm feeling more confident that I'm right about needing to correct. I am also more confident that I can sit a little burst forward or an annoyed kick-out from the horse if it happens, though that's the lesser of the two factors.

I showed my coach my sitting trot, as it is now. I've been feeling like I'm bouncing around too much still, and it really varies from ride to ride. But she said it actually looked really good and I'm certainly not getting any air time in the bouncing. My muscles are working to support the bounce and keep my body balanced and moving with the motion. So, the bouncy feeling... just is. It's there, so you work with it, and that's what I guess I'm doing.

It was a really productive ride over all and I felt really good about it. Other highlights: getting really good trot-to-halt transitions during the tests. They were square-ish, which is better than we usually get. Halt-to-trot was a bit snappier today. Rein-back is feeling much less awkward; tipping my pelvis slightly forward to lighten my seat, using my legs alternately and a little further back than usual. Leg yields at the walk were... so so. Better than when I tried on my own the other day. I still really need to work on planting my seat in downwards transitions, and not blocking with my thighs so much that I pop myself out of the seat. Over all M had a lot more energy today! I was actually having to slow her trot down quite a bit in the last third of the lesson, instead of having to push her along. And it didn't make me (too) nervous, either!

Other recent riding stuff: been practicing, practicing, practicing. Last week I rode four times and this week, three times. My most recent non-lesson ride, I ended it off with some no-stirrups rising trot, which I kept up for as long as it took for no-stirrups sitting trot to feel like the "relaxing" alternative. Ha! Ha!

Saturday, February 10, 2018

One more trail ride thing...

I forgot to mention something funny. At the beginning of the ride, just as we were setting out through the gate to start on the trail, Jessica turned back to me and said with gravity and great emphasis: "You know, we NEVER do this. With ANYONE."

Haha. Well, whatever way it might have ended up going, just being TAKEN out on the trail, then, was a pretty huge compliment and a privilege!

Those crazy Paso people!!

That Paso Fino trail ride

So, that crazy trail ride was now nearly a month ago. Oops! It was darn memorable, though, so I'm sure I can still do it justice.

When I got there, I saw little Sueno was being used in a lesson by a small kid. It was funny to watch, because while he did want to GOOOO, he wasn't trying to take off and was (relatively) responsive to her requests to slow him down. I got the sense that he's one of those horses that alters his behaviour based on the type of rider on his back.

After the lesson, I walked back up and hung out while everyone else grabbed their horses and started to tack up. Sueno had an English saddle on, and I said "Oh, this is fine" at first but thought more about it, and decided I'd feel better in the more-built-up Paso saddle (which was like a horn-less Western). This was a good call, as we shall discover.

The owner of the barn grabbed her own horse, a perlino stallion. He was quite pretty but very underweight, which was odd, though I didn't ask why and wasn't offered an explanation. Most of the horses there, while a bit on the lean side, were still in a healthy-ish range, but this boy had very little muscle or fat on him. Not emaciated, just THIN. He had lots of energy though!

I had assumed it would just be her and I going out on the trail, but her daughter and another girl who was presumably the daughter's friend joined us. All their horses were a bit... high strung, but they all rode very relaxed and easy with the confident way that only people who have ridden their whole lives seem to have. I don't have it, haha. I never have. But I know it and respect it when I see it.

No one but me wore a helmet. Weird, but... Anyhow.

The trail ride.... was FAST. We did a little bit of corto but almost immediately picked up a canter, and stayed in canter for probably 80% of the ride! Most of it was on a sand trail that followed the edge of a wire fence. The footing was pretty good and the Pasos are pretty sure on their feet, though mine tripped a little bit now and then. I didn't really worry about a catastrophic tripping or anything though, even in the grass portions, the way I might now on other horses.

The way out was mainly some easy cantering. I felt good at first and was able to roll back onto my pockets and follow the motion with only a little bounce. My stirrups were too long -- oops -- but I kind of just gave up on them for the most part and relied on keeping my seat balanced on the saddle. And just let myself get jostled and balanced. So be it! It was actually kind of nice -- and probably good for me -- to just let all that go and see what happened. I occasionally grabbed the pommel or stood on the balls of my feet (yeah, I know, I know) to steady myself but just let the ride happen.

The terrain was little rolling hills, sand, bit of scrubby grass. Some trees and houses along the way, and some fenced areas with fields -- although not big open farm-country-type fields. Still lots of trees and scrubby bushes around. There was one fun little hill that we did corto down and cantered up (though the girl were riding ahead by this point and cantered it all). The owner was great and very attentive to me, and let me hang back with her and set the pace for the two of us.

When it came time to turn back, though, was when the ride got a little crazy! The two girls up ahead TOOK OFF on their own and did fast canter or some gallop almost the entire way home! Again, I hung back with Jessica and she let me ride in front or beside her and set the pace.

Now. Most horses, especially on the way back home, would NOT be okay with two horses going faster further up the trail from them. Even Razz once took off on me in a similar situation, during Hunter Pace. So I fully expected him to lose his self-control and blow off my slow-down aids and take off to catch up with them at SOME point. But it never happened!!! He was absolutely amazing! Every time I asked with the reins and/or my body for him to come back to me and slow down, he listened completely. It was honestly one of the coolest experiences I've had in my history of riding. I felt like he and I were having a real conversation and really connecting. It was wonderful! I can't even say it was the result of amazing riding from me by that point, haha, as I finally just one-handed the reins, stood on the balls of my feet and grabbed cantle to stop being bounced and just stay out of his way!

Once I knew I could bring him back if I wanted to, I had an "Oh hell, why not?!!" moment and I actually did let him open up and run pretty fast for a few hundred feet. I could hear Jessica behind me asking if I was doing that on purpose, just to make sure!

The only moment that was a bit hairy in a ride that seemed like it could have ALL been hairy was when Jessica's horse sort of swerved to the left while she was riding up beside me. Sueno interpreted the swerve as a spook, so shied that way too instinctively. I lost some balance, grabbed mane and had a quick moment of thinking I might come off his shoulder. One of my stirrups shot home -- which was NOT awesome as I was wearing flat-soled Skechers -- but we both stopped while I got myself sorted out, and off we went again. I should mention, this happened before my previously described "Yeeha!" moment, so it obviously didn't put me off from having fun for the rest of the ride!! In the moment when I thought I might fall, I actually didn't feel afraid. The horse was small and the footing was soft sand. It was more of an "Ah, hell, whoops! Here we go!"

The whole experience was REALLY good for me.

-I went fast and didn't panic
-I trusted my body
-I trusted my horse
-My horse spooked a few times, but they were tiny spooks and reminded that not ALL spooks are BIG DRAMATIC CRAZY DANGEROUS spooks! They made me recall that little spooks actually used to be a pretty normal part of riding. I've just been lucky to ride mostly very solid horses these days.
-I let myself ride "badly" and it was completely fine. Sure, I was standing on my stirrups instead of in my heel, I was holding on with one hand, BUT I was kind with my reins and I stayed up and out of the horse's way and let him balance and carry himself. It was GOOD bad riding! And it got the job done!
-I rode in what could have been a dangerous situation on a different horse, but trusted my horse and he came through for me!
-I got a positive adrenaline rush instead of a panicky adrenaline rush!
-I almost fell off and was actually okay, in the moment, with it happening if it needed to
-Riding such a different type and feel or horse, who was so sensitive, made it seem relatively easy to go back and ride a horse I KNOW and who can take leg and voice aids without TEARING off at a crazy run-walk!
-I went back feeling excited and a LOT more confident!

I hope I get to ride another Paso again some day! Or even the same one!

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Paso Fino adventures!

I'm a sucker for a cute and snorty little horsey with a good engine, and that's exactly what I got on this trip!

I just got back two days ago from ten days in Orlando with my family. When I went on the vacation, I didn't pack a single piece of riding gear. I thought, it's only ten days, and I've been riding a lot lately. I'm sure we'll have other things to fill our time, so I should just use the time to take a break from riding. I had been feeling a bit nervous and reluctant lately with my riding, for a number of reasons, so I didn't think I'd mind the short hiatus.

Well...

There's this thing a lot of riders do when they're passengers in a vehicle. That is: stare out the window at the landscape rolling by, and imagine riding through it. Picking a path, deciding where the best parts for a good canter would be... That sort of thing. And with the sunshine and perfectly comfortable weather in the low 20s, the varied terrain with great looking footing... Ughhhh I lasted ONE day before looking up riding stables.

There were some very questionable sounding places (including one that offered "trail rides" consisting of being plopped on a horse and then silently led in walk circles around the property by someone driving a golf cart) but one of the best reviewed places was a Paso Fino stable! They offered kid and beginner lessons there, so I figured there'd be a) helmets and b) maybe a horse that could gait and also wouldn't kill me!

So I cold-called them, made sure they had helmets, and booked a lesson for the next morning.

I got there and met Jessica, the owner of the place. She was very nice and reminded me of one of the leads in one of the bad horse camp movies Laura and I had watched. (Not in a bad way at all -- just a resemblance!) She immediately said, "So you're a strong rider. I think I'll put you on Sueno. I think you can handle him." Well, ever-confident me, I'm like "Uhhhhhh." And immediately got clarification.

She said he was "naughty," but the two naughty things he did were: root at the reins, and try to escape out the gate.

"Oh, okay! As long as he doesn't try to take off on me."
"Oh he absolutely WILL!"

Oh boy. So I went and got him, and the enormous spoon curb bit wasn't super reassuring regarding the taking-off consideration. However, he was a perfect gentleman to catch, brush, tack and mount (other than being a little mouthy, which was more cute than problematic.)

I immediately got to experience what she meant about him wanting to take off, and also understood the importance of the BIG bit... but neither of these things were actually negative at all, as it turned out, because he was keen, smart, and really listened.

Experiencing the "corto" gait for the first time was wild. Instead of moving up from distinctly-a-walk to distinctly-a-trot, the walk just got fast and very animated. You could tell it was different gait once it was happening, but there was no distinct gear-shift-moment. Other first impression: I remember driving our lawn tractor when I was growing up. When it was in gear, it stayed forward at a constant speed by default, and you had to put the brake on and keep it on to slow or stop it. Well, he was like that. With no input, he just wanted to zip around in his impressively peppy gait, and there were lots of rein and seat cues to hold him back and keep him back. You couldn't halt him and release the reins, because releasing was permission for GO!

He also had QUITE the accelerator. Any amount of leg was met by shooting forward. On the instructors advice, I made ONE kissing sound and he shot forward to fast I'm just glad I kept my seat! The same thing happened later when I tried clucking. Poor little guy did exactly what he was supposed to but I was so shocked by the sudden acceleration that I caught him in the mouth both times. Sorry buddy!

I was riding with about 80% hands for the first half of the hour, I'm sorry to say, but got a lot more seat and weight involved by the end. Fun discovery I made about myself: if an instructor ever wants me to stop tipping forward, just tell me that leaning forward is a cue for the horse to speed up because I will then sit RAMROD STRAIGHT for the entire ride.

I had some steering issues because I was afraid to put ANY leg on, and he would cut his turns too tightly (we did corto serpentines and figure 8s around bending poles) or drift in or out at the arena corners. I'm not sure how well he listened to lateral leg cues anyhow, though. I did boot him a bit with inside leg once, once I had him figured out a little better, and he shifted over for me, but that could have just been surprise.

His canter was really really fun. It was so smooth that the only way I could tell he'd moved to cantering was feeling a very slight change in rhythm. Forget figuring out what lead! His back barely moved at all. I did have a little bounce at his canter, but I think that was mainly my fault for having my stirrups too long. The first bit of canter I had on him, it was a little faster and more strung out (which is to say not strung out at all by another other horse standards) but the canter at the end of my lesson was so smooth and lovely, I didn't want to stop!

While we didn't actually intentionally work on it, I did get a little bit of largo towards the end of the lesson, too. It had the same rhythm as the corto, but was bigger and faster and covered more ground. It was still very smooth though!

Towards the end of the lesson, just in conversation as she was letting me out to ride back over and untack, she mentioned that they have great trails that they love to go out on. WELL. I asked her, "Do you do trail rides here?" "Well... Not for the public. We just go out ourselves. But... If you wanted, I could take you out, if you can make it back again. You're a really good rider, and I know you could handle it!"

Well. That's another post!

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Have had a few lessons since the last post. Not much time for in-between rides, though, as life stupidly hectic going in to Christmas.

We haven't been doing as much no-stirrups work, though based on yesterday's lesson I probably should do more again. I hadn't ridden in a week and a half because of holiday chaos, and going out of town, so I was feeling a bit rusty.

My last few lessons prior to that one, I was getting a bit nervous at the canter for whatever reason. I think tension and stress from running the store was bringing up my base anxiety, so things that would normally raise it a bit but keep it in a manageable place were instead getting into the yellow, more than usual.

Yesterday, I wasn't feeling nervous at the canter. But I did find myself riding in a bit of a light seat instead of letting myself sit deep and open my hips. I would manage for a few strides, but then revert to hovering a bit. Honestly, I didn't try that hard to sit deep; I was just happy that cantering wasn't wigging me out. It felt good, but I didn't feel like fighting my body at the same time. Take the little wins when you get them, I figure?

As much as I was a bit locked up, I suppose, it didn't feel like real TENSION. More like my body had temporarily forgotten how to get that awesome open-hips feeling. Or was too tired to bother. Either way. I'm not too worried about it this time. It's been coming back to me more often than not, lately, so I'm sure I can access it again once I get myself reoriented. What a crazy few weeks.

Had a cute moment with the mare the other morning. Went out to check the trough and she came up to me, frisked me all over with her lips, tried to pull the gloves out of my hand that was holding them, then started licking my other hand the way Syd does. Maybe a salt thing? Either way, it was uncharacteristically affectionate for her. Usually she's just tolerantly indifferent.

Oh, I didn't particularly notice it yesterday, but one funny thing that's been happening lately: she has mostly stopped walking off with me once I've mounted! Not that it's a BIG problem with her, but she usually takes a few steps and has to be halted. Most recent rides, she has actually just stayed in place and waited for a cue to walk! Woohoo!

One nice thing: I was discussing my fear of spooking with my coach, and brought up the day that M was extra spooky and I was worried I might come off. I said I was impressed that I HAD kept my seat. She said "You have a great seat," in a "well DUH" tone that I took as quite a compliment. :)

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!!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nLwML2PagbY

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.