Thursday, January 26, 2017

Non-riding horsey time

I was having a lousy friggin' day, let me tell you. Woke up still feeling the tail end of this stupid chest cold. I wasn't coughing too much, but my lungs still felt bad and some kind of phlegmy grossness was making my stomach feel sick and kind of killing my appetite. My mood was in the gutter from that, the current political situation, stress from business stuff, family stuff, this upcoming trip down to the gift show... Ughhhhh.

As my lesson had to be cancelled yesterday due to arena flooding, I figured I probably wouldn't get a chance to horse until the end of next week, but this afternoon I decided that, NO, I will go HORSE today!!

I went out to my coach's stable, at her house. There are two boarder horses there that aren't really being worked with much, so I have free rein (har har) to work with them and ride them whenever I get the chance. The pony is still coming off an injury, but the horse is sound and fine -- just bossy! Both of them need some work on their manners. The pony is young-ish and still quite green. She's actually been broke and re-broke because she sat unridden for so long! The horse is not green, but hasn't had much done with her in the last few years, and will totally bulldoze you and disrespect your space if she gets anxious or impatient.

I did a little work with both today. First I checked out the footing to see if riding seemed feasible, but it was pretty deep snow with a hard crust on top that was hard to walk over and punch through, so I opted not to ride. No problem! Time for grooming and a little in-hand work.

The pony was first to greet me at the gate, and seemed like a sweetie (I hadn't actually handled her before), so I decided to grab her first. I got her out and led her around a bit. She was looky and distracted and whenever I stopped her on the lead, she'd pop her shoulder over into my space, which from what I've read is a foal-age holdover and a go-to for young horses who feel insecure. Well, that wasn't cool. So I'd elbow or shove her over each time, and after some leading, turning, stopping, etc., she got the message and stopped doing it.

I brought her inside and groomed her in the cross ties, then went to work on her mane as she had some SERIOUS elf locks going on. I got almost all of them out, but her mane has such a greasy and coarse texture that it was only going to happen all over again. My coach came in while I was working on her and advised that we just cut it. With that okay, we went for it and I did a pretty rough trim. When she's a bit more chilled out about being handled, and if/when my mane comb ever turns up, I'll pull it to thin it and make it look a LOT better!  We trimmed her forelock and tail a little bit too.

The pony is super cute. She's a chestnut with that same flaxen/dark gray mixed mane and tail that Razz had, though with a lot more gray. She also has an Appaloosa blanket pattern. I think I was told at some point that she's Appy/Arab? Anyhow, super super cute. Around 14hh or a touch under. Definitely big enough for me to ride once she's totally healed up and we have good footing again. Right now she does a little antsy pants dance in the crossties and is kind of a pill, but she's not an ass about it -- just doesn't seem to know better since she hasn't had a lot done with her lately.

After I was done with her and led her out, she got a bit rude about trying to get to the field so I spent another 10 minutes working on lead line manners. She stopped being pushy and gave me her full attention, so she got to go back out with her girls again.

Afterwards I brought the horse, Rogue, out and did a good 15-20 minutes of JUST lead line manners. Same deal. My strategy (stolen in part from Warwick Schiller videos, haha) was to teach her to walk politely on a loose(ish) line by walking, stopping, and if she didn't stop when I stopped, at or behind my shoulder, she'd have to do something demanding -- like back RIGHT up ten feet, or turn sharply and spin a few times. When she caught on that, if she paid attention and stopped when I stopped without trying to get ahead of me or crowding my space, she could just relax, she stopped being such a jerk. It took almost NO contact on the lead line, either -- just needed her focus and she was great!

By the time I was done with her outside, all her buddies were in, so we decided to try cross-tying her. We put her in the back crossties, where there's a wall behind her and where the horses generally tie better because they feel more secure with something behind them. She was TOTALLY chill. I think it was mostly because her buddies were in, but I do think the PAY ATTENTION TO ME lead line work helped. Got her in a more cooperative zone instead of just thinking about what SHE wanted. I managed to groom her and even do her feet -- all with a little paint mare reaching over her stall door and pestering her -- without her being bad at ALL. She moved over when I asked without me having to get aggressive, and really just stood there SO chill! I put the lead line on her and unsnapped the crossties and just stood beside her with her totally calm and chilled out and not trying to go anywhere. I could tell the lead line work had gotten through to her, as the one time I had to give a slight tug on it, she backed up politely right way. Hilarious.

My coach said she'd never seen her so cool with being crosstied, and that we should try moving her up to the ones near the door where they don't usually stand as well. This was a good test as it was also right beside her stall where her dinner was waiting for her! And even in those ties? A peach. It was amazing. When I led her up to them, I still maneuvered her a little on the lead, forward, back, etc, to make sure she knew she still needed to focus on me. Then I clipped her in, and the only thing she tried was to repeatedly turn her head towards the stall, like "Hey lady, my food's in there!" I still had the lead line on and would gently tug her head back to keep her focus on me, each time. Once she stopped and was standing nicely, I went into her stall and grabbed a couple of handfuls of hay, and then came out and gave her some good scratches while I hand-fed them to her in the crossties. I want to make sure she starts to associate cross-tie time with relaxation, focus on me, and a positive interaction.

After I unclipped her, I moved her around a bit again so she didn't get to just barge right into her stall -- and she didn't even try it! I made sure she backed up out of the way, then I went in first, and then asked her to follow me in. I made her stand nicely while I unclipped the lead, and THEN she went for her hay.  After she had a bit of it, and I was back out of the stall, her head was out BEGGING for attention!  What a suck. She got lots of petting and scratching, and was trying to eat my phone while I took a few pictures of her. For a sometimes-big-bully, she's a real sweetheart. <3

This was just what my day needed!!

Friday, January 20, 2017

Numb hands, cold hands, warm hands?

Had a good ride this week, back on Monday. (It's now Friday.) Nothing really stood out about this one, for good or bad, just a decent ride with some of the usual quirks. My two point needs more practice; my legs aren't as strong at it as they should be, and I'm still tucking my butt defensively underneath me. Same old. Canter transitions are still much better than they used to be, though I do need to be more consistent about getting the right lead. Right as in *right*, not correct. I have no problem getting the left lead.

My ability to sit the canter more consistently is improving, but I do start bouncing a bit when I get tired. The leather half chaps help a lot more than the insulated ones, so I'll try to wear them unless it's quite cold.

I also noticed I was using the balls of my feet to help push myself up in my posting. Ack. Oops. Need to fix that before it becomes (or continues to be) a habit.

One bit of extremely helpful info this week: set up for an upward transition the same way I would for a downward one. Half halt, balance, get the horse together, even slowing if necessary, THEN ask. I like this approach! It worked really well. Will take some practice to get used to it.

So, in my previous week's ride, I found my gloves too bulky, and between the cold, my gloves, and holding a whip, I was losing circulation in my whip hand, and eventually just took the gloves off. This week I rode with no gloves and had cold hands. Neither of these scenarios are ideal, exactly. Ha. So on our trip back from Niagara Falls today, I went to Greenhawk in Barrie and tried on EVERY pair there. Opted for some Elation brand leather summer gloves. While they won't be *warm*, exactly, they're better than nothing. They're nice and stretchy and supple and feel like they'll be very pleasant to ride in in any kind of weather. And as long as I don't destroy them, they'll be good to show in as well. Looking forward to trying them out on Monday.

I sneaked a little sort-of-shoulder-in at the very end of the ride during cool out. I have no frigging clue how to *actually* do it, but sort of guessed at it and it kind of worked. I put the aids on that seemed to make sense to ask for that. She was moving straight down the track with her neck and shoulders bent to the inside slightly. The shoulders would need to come more off the track for it to be the actual movement, but it was an interesting little experiment. I figure we'll get there when we get there, in lessons, but it seems like it would be a satisfying movement to learn.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Rather a lot of tack...

...for someone who does not own a horse.

English saddle
2x girths
5x English saddle pads
Western saddle blanket
Leather English bridle
Spare reins
Spare stirrup irons
Spare stirrup leathers
Nylon Western bridle
Nylon halter
Rope halter
2x lead lines
2x fly bonnets
Shipping boots
Shipping head bumper
Full grooming kit

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Side by side

Left: December 26, 2014
Right: September 17, 2016

My leg's a little ahead of me on the right side picture (my stirrups are maybe a hole too short, instead of way too long like they are on the left!), but I've since improved on that. Would be interesting to see a third image in the progression.

All the same... Biiiiiiiiiit of a difference!  :D

A tale of two rides

I wound up riding M twice this week, and it's amazing how much just a little more saddle time can make a difference.

My back was finally feeling mostly better by Monday, though it still really wanted to crack if I stretched it out in certain ways (though it wouldn't actually crack, which is either a good or bad thing?). I had scheduled a lesson but my coach wound up having to be out of town last minute, so I went out and rode anyway. I put in a good 45 minutes.

I felt a lot better than I had the previous few rides, that was for sure. I had some problems, but they were more the result of rustiness than back stiffness. All my bad habits came out to play! My left arm and shoulder were popping forward, my hands weren't as low or steady as they could have been, and my stirrups were bouncing home on my feet, especially at canter. My right leg was inching up at canter, as well, so that my stirrups that side was rattling around all over the place. I couldn't see myself, but I suspect I was collapsing my right oblique at the same time, since that's my MO as well.

Still. Still. My transitions felt pretty good, and my accuracy was still showing improvement. I was able to mostly sit the canter instead of just weirdly perching like I had been. I had some definite bounce, but it wasn't awful. I played with my rein lengths a little, letting them be out a bit longer in warm-up to give her the option to stretch down. Once we got moving I shortened them up, and caught myself in the mirror a couple of times with her very nicely framed up, nose on the vertical, stepping under. I played a bit with taking more and pushing more. The stronger my legs get, the better this is starting to work for me!

Despite being a bit wobbly, I decided to do a little bit of no-stirrups sitting trot. My with-stirrups sitting trot was NOT good, so I decided to drop them and suck it up and make myself bounce around a lap and a couple of circles each direction. It was a bit dicey, haha, but I did it anyhow.

Yesterday (two days after that ride) I had a lesson. Everything felt MUCH better! Although I was still popping my left shoulder forward. There was no mention of me collapsing to the right, so I think that is getting a lot better. I tried riding in a shoulders-back harness, but it didn't do much for me. I think maybe it needed to be tighter to do the job. If I try it again, I'll give that a go.

There were two things that went unusually well for me in a neat way! For one, my canter seat felt pretty effortlessly stable. I had no bounce at all for the first ten minutes or so of the lesson. I think this was actually helped a lot by being back in my good leather half chaps, as it was warm enough not to need any extra insulation on my legs. A stable grippy lower leg meant my seat wasn't budging at all. Neat when you experience how interrelated all these things are. It's one thing to know it intellectually, but so cool to actually have it just *happen*. Not that I never bounce while I wear them, haha, but they definitely helped this time. I did notice myself bouncing a little more later in the lesson when I got a bit tired or if something was distracting me. It was easy to catch myself, though, and pull myself deeper into the saddle by thinking about keeping those legs in place. I also managed to avoid the bouncing stirrup effect, largely by thinking of pushing down into my right heel slightly on the 1 beat of each canter stride. They definitely weren't bouncing home this time, and my right leg wasn't riding up.

The other cool thing was M really collecting down into her downwards transitions. It was a very cool feeling, like she was coiling up like a spring. She was REALLY stepping under herself for these! It felt so neat! The upwards transitions were great too; she was very ready and precise. At one point, she did something I found really funny: we were doing a walk to canter transition, and I was getting ready to ask but wasn't *quite* there yet. She started a canter stride, then kind of halted in the middle of it, like "Er, is that what you wanted?" and then walked a step or two, then we actually cantered off. Roxanne said she was so under herself in that moment that she sort of caught herself by surprise. So neat having a horse be THAT on the ball!

I also had a chance to go over some of the leg position stuff that I've been puzzling about a bit lately. Apparently I'm not in a chair seat, which is good to hear! The stirrup bars being set further forward on a jumping saddle mean that having my legs hang straight down from them, they're still going to be slightly ahead of my hip, and that's fine. I'm riding correctly in the type of saddle I'm in. The other thing is, I was wondering if I was correct to weight the outside of my stirrup bar on the flat, but then even out the weight for two point and jumping to avoid rolling my ankle. And that was correct, so that's cool! I don't need to go so far as to weight the INSIDE of the stirrup bar over fences, but it is okay for my toes to angle outward more than on the flat in order to have the security of the ball of my calf in place.

My left turns need work but I'm feeling generally pretty good about my riding right now, from that lesson. On a left turn, trying to simultaneously push my left shoulder back and down, rotate my upper body to the left, lift my left hand slightly but keep my elbow in and my rein aligned instead of popping it over to a leading rein position.... Aaaaughgghghhhh I feel like a pretzel. I'll just have to keep stretching it and working it. So many things that started out feeling like I would NEVER get them have just come with time and good instruction. So, I have faith.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

I rode again three days ago. It was just three days after my first lesson back, when I was still very stiff and ouchy from the back *thing* that got me over Christmas. On the Friday I had taken a low dose of muscle relaxant and was moving reeeeasonably well, but for this lesson I went without. I wasn't hurting anymore -- just stiff and kind of locked up.

I got on early and had about ten minutes in the ring to myself before the lesson started. I did a lot of walk, and some trot and canter work to warm up. I didn't feel *that* off at first, but the horse felt VERY off, like she wasn't cooperating with me, or ignoring things I was asking. Our corners were terrible, and there were times we were about 4 feet inside of the track for no particular reason. Oops.

Turns out my feeling that the horse was off was actually at least 60% ME being off, but I couldn't feel it because my body and I were not communicating very well.

Things I was doing and not aware of:

-Leaning back a lot because I didn't have the flexibility to roll my pelvis under me the way I normally would to move with the motion

-Twisting to the right and popping my left shoulder forward and up -- the same old battle, but whereas I've been getting better recently, this time it was VERY exaggerated. Augghh!!

-Not using my legs very effectively -- not in any way I can specify -- I think I was generally out of sorts based on the above problems and it was affecting my coordination generally

-My hands and my rein tension were all over the place, which I think was partly a function of the stiff back and shoulders

It was a suuuper frustrating lesson because it felt like I had hopped into a time machine and gone back to where my riding was a year ago. After so much work. And even though I know it will improve as this back thing works itself out (I already feel miles better) the scary thought exists that "What if I have to redo ALL THAT WORK? Have I lost a year of progress?"

Even if I had "lost" all the physical changes I've made, including increased strength and flexibility, I still wouldn't be losing the knowledge I've gained since -- which is considerable!

Also, am I not in this for the process itself? Riding for me is very much an "it's the journey not the destination" experience. Heck, ring work is kind of the ultimate metaphor for that, isn't it? Running around in circles for 45 minutes to an hour, for the sole purpose of understanding and bettering yourself and your horse? Doesn't mean setbacks and/or plateaus aren't frustrating, though.

M was being pretty crotchety, though, all that said. She pinned her ears and looked pissed off before I even got the saddle ON. She wasn't just being girthy like she was the time before. Under saddle she was pulling at the reins until it turned into a game of tug of war. SO heavy on my hands they were hurtinng. And I definitely wasn't pulling on her; she was pulling on me. Not sure what the change in attitude is about, as she usually seems to jive pretty well with her work. It may be the Previcox causing changes that she's adjusting to.

I'm curious to maybe try my saddle out the next time I ride her, if I can. I find the jump saddles there might be putting my leg a little ahead of where I'd like it. Maybe that's just an excuse? But it seems to me like I can't get and keep my leg under me as far as I'd like it, and I do know that many jump saddles have a slightly more forward stirrup bar, to allow for a more forward seat. Also I just like how comfy my saddle is. Could be worth a try. I'm a little afraid I'll bring it and learn that it's a TERRIBLE saddle, or something, but I suppose that would be a *good* thing to know, not a bad thing.