Calm, Forward, Straight

Calm, Forward, Straight

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

At the Barn #45 - Murphy's Law + another prize!!!

Guess what I did yesterday...
I made it rain.

Guess how I did it...

No, I didn't wash and wax my truck, or water my garden, or even do a rain dance. I went on an all day hay run. And returned with trailer full of lovely orchard grass.

Just as I got back into town and prepared to unload the trailer - holy cow - no way - the sky opened up and wet stuff fell out!

I'd be willing to bet - if I had tried to take my flatbed instead of the horse trailer, it surely would have rained all day :)


I love prizes. A lot. Winning prizes makes me giddy :) So, a few weeks ago I entered a contest, and won some excellent Yes To Carrots hair products from Eagle and Jessica at Thoroughly Yours. Great products btw.

And, since I was on a bit of a roll, I entered another contest at Ashley's fun blog A Process of Learning - starring her horses Ella and Poppy. Stop by and check her out :)

For Ashley's contest I had to write about my horse cleaning challenges... the biggest challenge being when Val sleeps on poo pillows. And we won! A bottle of Absorbine's Showsheen 2 in 1 / shampoo + conditioner showed up on my doorstep last week. Thank you so much Ashley! I haven't tried it out yet, but will definitely review when we do.

Now we both have new shampoo ;)

Sunday, June 26, 2011

In the Arena # 82 - Control issues

From the Farmette # 2 - 24 hour news cycle

One of my favorite things about riding / horsemanship is how I am consistently reminded about the many aspects of my personality which need improvement. Patience (lack of), self control (lack of), ability to tolerate frustration(lack of)... it's a long list.

Friday started off cool, overcast and breezy - perfect for riding - oh I wanted to play hookie (sp) from work. By the time I made it up to the barn however, it had cleared off into a sticky and sweltering afternoon. Well too bad - I was at the barn, last ride was on Monday, we were going to ride. (add stubborn to that list) When I finished grooming I was soaked. I tacked Val up, applied plenty of fly spray - and off we went. Sort of. He was less than motivated, I was uber uptight, and we degenerated pretty quickly into a no steering, no forward, balky mess. No unicorns or rainbows here. I dismounted and got my sh#t together on the ground (had a little big 'ol hissy fit).

The upshot - I was hot, uncomfortable and most importantly feeling overwhelmed with non-horse related concerns. (more on those later...) I was neither able to control my body or my emotions. I couldn't concentrate, and basically had no business being on my horse. I also couldn't leave things with Val like they were, unresolved. After much deep breathing (and a few tears) I remounted and salvaged our ride. We did some very nice trot work, especially the 15m circles - round in both directions - and I worked on relaxing my ankles while posting. Add some crisp transitions and we ended on a good note.

After work comes pampering. A cool rinse + minty fresh liniment, drinks from the hose, green grass and then it was dinner time - the best time of the whole day (besides breakfast time). Thank goodness horses are patient with us humans, that's all I can say.

Sweaty all over 

Fun with the hose

Refreshingly handsome!


Yesterday's ride went tons better. Until the gun shots that is. I had just worked through some reluctance to pass close to the neighbors property when blam blam blam - extremely close by gun shots happened unexpectedly. Val and Cowboy both bolted - expectedly. I stayed on. I think my very stern hollering to the neighbor convinced Val that I had the situation under control. 

Me "What the hell?! I'm trying to ride my horse over here!"
The neighbor, "I'm shooting a snake! Water Moccasin!". 
Me, "Did you hit him?" 
Neighbor, "Not yet!"
Me, "How many shots do you need?!"
Neighbor, deciding to have a sense of humor, "Maybe a few more!"

I dismounted and led Val over to the very closest spot by the fence and waited. After each gunshot I fed him a cookie. Training opportunity = bribery. ;) Once the neighbor finally dispatched the snake, or ran out of ammo, I led Val back to the mounting block. He swung his butt out so I force marched him around a few times. We proceeded to have a lovely ride. I focused on draping my legs while still giving effective aids, and we achieved the start of some bend - I could just see Val's inner eye. More successfully round 15m circles, work on our big walk, and turns on the forehand. Attitude is everything in riding.


On to news of the farmette. Fixing to have ten tons of peppers. Weeding, weeding, weeding. Still no rain, so lots of hand watering. I found some blossom end rot on the first little green tomatoes. Usually a sign of lack of calcium exacerbated by drought conditions / uneven watering. Solution - powdered milk. Who'd have thunk? :)

So - there is some really big news. I think I have found a way to live on my property sooner rather than later. In a decent sized travel trailer one of my landscaping clients owns. I've been eyeing it for a while. The owner mentioned the other day that he would be moving it soon. I took a chance and asked what he was doing with it and he offered it to me. Super affordable price and terms. 

This changes everything. As in I'd be getting out from under paying rent + mortgage thereby saving a bigger down payment for building my house - which will likely need to be huge. As in no more commute to the barn two or three times a day - fuel savings and more riding! As in just about all my stuff will have to go into storage - time to seriously minimize.

It's a ton to think about. Lots of decisions and logistics to work out. First step is inspecting the trailer. Then I'll have to figure out the storage situation. I'll probably need to get a small out building for studio space and extra storage. And I have to make sure I can be comfortable for several years in a tin can. With two dogs :)

There is even more news that I'm not at liberty to mention yet - stay tuned... (I think I need a drink!)

Monday, June 20, 2011

In the Arena # 81 - Hanging loose on the second longest day + a farmette update

Well... Val had a mini vacation since our trip last weekend, and I've taken a little break from the blog. It has become blazing hot, and the flies are out of control. One way I can tell? My horse gallops to the gate when I arrive, practically begging me for fly spray. And once I've sprayed him, he happily blows and snorts, while the flies promptly start chewing on me.


In the meantime, the garden is going to town, despite our almost total lack of rain. We have had exactly two twenty minute thundershowers since the first of May. My well is struggling and the grass is getting crispy. As a result, I'm resorting to recycling water. When I twice daily refresh and clean Val's water bucket, instead of throwing out the old water - I transfer it to a big bucket placed in my wheelbarrow, wheel it up to the garden and small bucket it onto the plants. Can you imagine what life is like for women who must daily carry all the water for their household for many miles? Sometimes on their heads?! I believe that I didn't take water for granted before - but I know I don't now.

A milestone... I harvested my first tomato - a sweet little cherry(!) Bigger milestone - last Monday I sold my first produce to the local farmer's market. Nearly two pounds of organically grown basil. Grown with organic practices - I'm not interested in becoming officially organic. I feel that designation has been co-opted. No chemical pesticides, no chemical fertilizer. Hand weeding and removing pests by hand as well. There has already been an attack of some voracious tiny caterpillars. Total eradication isn't possible, but I've kept the numbers within what the plants can tolerate. As I scouted out and picked the little buggers, pictures of my tobacco farming grandmother came to me. As she patrolled her garden, she would dispatch (smear) caterpillars between her thumb and forefinger, quite handily. Especially those fat pale ones that hide in the mushy places on corn cobs... I remember how repulsive that was to me as a child. Now I see the practicality and economy of motion. But I still can't go there - I just leave them out in the hot sun to sizzle :)

I'm calling my mini farming venture Pie in the Sky Produce Co. This year is just exploratory, but next year the plan is to increase the amount and type of produce... hopefully contracting with a wonderful local restaurant as well as selling to the market.


The wind switched this afternoon bringing cooler temperatures, so Val and I had a very pleasant evening ride. My focus was to continue the work we had done at my trainer's - keeping my body relaxed and free while using light but persistent aids. Val is not at all interested in exerting himself in the deep sand of our arena at the moment, but I remained neutral in my seat and my emotions (so hard!) while insisting that my reasonable requests were answered, followed by lots of praise. I got him listening to me, moving off of my leg with some nice turns on the forehand. I was very pleased with our simple work.

Side note: My trainer had mentioned at my lessons that she was wearing plain cotton (not full seat) riding pants now and found her seat was much improved. Not the first time I've heard that sticky seat riding pants aren't necessarily helpful. So I rode in my plain cotton riding pants this evening and I concur. So much more mobility and freedom in my legs. And bonus - I don't need a shoehorn to pull them on when I'm sweaty and it's totally humid in my burning hot tack room - a serious struggle some days ;)

Any big plans for the longest day of the year?!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

In the Arena # 80 - Well worth the wait + letting it all go

No computer access since last week, so my apologies for the sparse posts. Also - thanks to our new followers. The weird blogger issues from a few weeks ago made it difficult to find out who you are until recently. Will be catching up on reading posts and comments over the next few days. Oh - and p.s. - I think my use of the term horse p*rn the other day (that's what I call my horse magazines) caused some major traffic. Yikes!! Am I going to have any regrets due to this naive mistake?!


So - I've had just two lessons since last November - only one on my own horse. It's been exhilarating, frustrating, but mostly so challenging to be responsible for Val's and my dressage training... it was such a relief for us to finally work with my trainer again.

Friday was our travel day. After packing the truck and trailer - Val couldn't load fast enough once he sniffed out the extra special alfalfa kicker in his hay bag - we hit the road. I'm thankful for my fiberglass trailer. With temperatures in the mid nineties, Val was still (fairly) cool and comfortable. Our 3 1/2 hour ride was smooth, but best of all, safe. After arriving and getting Val settled in, I trailered a horse from another farm across town back to my trainers place. Dinner + a movie and day one was done.


We had three lessons, two Saturday and one Sunday. Started off with some groundwork refreshers. I have not been consistent in my space boundaries lately when Val and I are leading and hand grazing, so he has been disregarding my authority ;) Erin reminded me that when I correct him, I have to mean it. To put the absolute fear of god in Val if he steps one inch into my space, doesn't stop on a dime, etc. every single time! My inconsistent leadership stresses him out - he's much happier when I make the decisions. This work had immediate benefits under saddle - what a good boy!

Is it time to work? No? Ummm, cookies then?!

 On to our main objective - relaxation. We did numerous exercises that loosened me up.... ankles, hips, arms and torso. At one point I was dancing to the trot (doing the twist)... totally fun, and Val was loving it. I became very aware of where I hold my tension. It was amazing how Val's movement became freer, smoother and bigger once I let go and stopped blocking him. There was lots of blowing and snorting + grateful looks. :) Here's what I want to keep in mind:

What I thought I was addressing with more leg - sluggishness, lack of forwardness - was really Val trying to cope with me being tense and unbalanced.

No holding. No holding tension in your body, or more importantly in your mind. It blocks your horse - and if you keep it up - pretty sure it pisses them off.

No holding your aids either. Adjust him and trust him. Trust is not 95%, 98%, 99.9% - it is 100% or nothing.

You cannot prevent mistakes. You need to allow your horse to make an error, and then you have an opportunity to correct it. I had a major realization of how often I am guilty of this. It's an insidious form of not being in the moment.

Overall, the weekend with my fabulous guy was so wonderful. He enjoyed grazing, friends, attention, the grass... don't forget the grass! I can't wait to do it all again, but in the meantime, I'll be focusing on loosening up so we can boogie!

Nancy and Lad

Ashley and Howard

Bud and Val grooming - Lad watches longingly

Lovin' feelings

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

In the Arena # 79 - Oh, it was hot all right...

Well, not how you would think...

Temps did get up into the 90's right after our last ride, so we skipped out for a few days, sticking to hand grazing and ground work. Then the temps came down nicely (!) However with the cool breezes from the north came acrid smoke from a forest fire burning peat in the ground on the mainland. Trust me that it stinks! More groundwork... extended grooming sessions... mane pulling... tail banging... tack room cleaning...

Finally today we rode. After a whole week off, I guess I expected to be a little rusty. And I kept to a walk, as our footing is dreadfully deep. It is hard for me to push the wheelbarrow through it at the moment.

While warming up I asked for a turn on the forehand, and we somehow ended up backing into the electric fence. Poor Val. Often I think to turn the fence off before we ride because it's really strong and I fear touching it with my legs when we work on the rail. *warning - Darwin award material coming* Once I touched it with my shoulder while reaching in to pull the drain plug out of a tub full of water... reaching through the fence strands instead of going around - into water! Lazy + stupid. When my shoulder hit the wire it felt like a cigarette burn, or maybe a hot iron...

Anyhow - after the shock came "the great leap forward"! Thankfully I stayed on, and again a few minutes later when we got too close to the same spot. Interestingly, our ride really improved after the shock. Val listened better, and had more energy. Our school figures were very accurate, we got a bigger walk, decent contact - chewing and reaching on the loose rein, and a number of halts from seat, core and exhale / no rein.

What started out as a disorganized and frustrating ride, evolved into a success. The takeaway:

Give Val the benefit of the doubt - keep the aids light
Following hands
Consistent inside leg to outside rein makes consistently round circles
Engage the core and breathe

And apparently my seat is a little better than I think it is. Val popped up and bolted forward today. Only for a few strides, thank goodness, but I was right with him. He didn't react as violently as he could have, and I didn't freak out either. Good for the confidence - that :)
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