Calm, Forward, Straight

Calm, Forward, Straight

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

In the Arena # 126 - No time left for you + words to live by

" important it is to build softness of intent and feel, and correct breathing, and good posture, into your life, every day and in every circumstance.  

Horsemanship cannot be separated from your life - it's all the same thing - and you can't be and act and hold yourself differently in only your horsemanship and expect it to be effective.  

If you build it into your whole life, it'll then be there and available in your horsemanship without your even having to think about it."

Apologies - for the long post + photo spam. I've had little time to blog. It's taken me days to finish this.

So I looked up from the grindstone to see that half of 2012 is already gone. A good time to assess, and revisit the game plan... (was there ever a game plan - my head is spinning)

There have been many ups and downs for Val and I so far this year:

Tangible progress over the winter - establishing connection and contact. Followed by saddle fit issues which stopped forward in it's tracks. Then months of bareback rides while I played the saddle search game. More improvement! Saddle success - new saddle bliss carries us into experimenting with the canter. (!) Gradually we find ourselves in all canter / all the time mode... aaaaand it's just a matter of time before I hit the dirt. (insert needle scratches the record sound effect here)

I know that my dressage struggles go deeper than physical limitations, constant delays in setting up our new arena and lack of proper any instruction other than books and the internet for several years now. Practicing is great, but it needs to be correct practice. Not trying to sound whiny. I am so thankful for what I have, but I feel stuck and a little bit frustrated.

Riding well / being a good horseman is something I want to achieve more than just about anything. Sadly, I do not have natural talent at horsemanship and riding. Believe me, I wish I did. A good work ethic, enthusiasm, and a tendency toward perfectionism are what I have an abundance of.


Val and I have worked four times this week.

One ride, which started off with a 180 spinning spook. Stayed with him, ignored the scary area, and continued the ride. Position - sitting in the saddle and loosening my hips, steering - not with the inside rein,  and contact - more and consistent, were the focus. Val came back to me,  even clowning around picking up and swinging the cones when we halted at them. It ended up as a productive ride.

We also lunged for the first time in ages. Not traditional lunging standing still in the middle of a circle, but lunging where I moved with Val. He was very attentive, gave me some lovely big walk and volunteered the trot work. Glad I tried this method. Very satisfying.

Finally, we went on two trail walks off property. Down the road to the woods trail, and then over next door where there is some good grazing as a reward for bravery.

The first walk went very well, just a little looky. Yesterday though, we had to have a come to jesus meeting on our way out the front gate. My dog Sweetpea jumped up suddenly as we passed by the trailer, and Val overreacted, stomping on the back of my barn shoe, tearing it, and glancing off of my foot. He needs to be aware of my location in every situation - no excuses.

Val still isn't 100% about my leadership. He still doesn't trust me completely when the chips are down. Death dealing noises from next door... geriatric dog behind a sturdy gate... leaving your buddy in the next door paddock for any reason at all...


The quote above is from Kate's blog A Year with Horses. She recently attended another clinic with Mark Rashid. I don't know how she manages to ride two horses in a clinic, and finds the time to capture the essence of the experience and share it, but she does. Thank you Kate.

I believe it pretty much sums up what is lacking in my dressage efforts, and is also a road map to my goals.

And now on to the photo dump...

They are well overhead now, a few days later. Yep - I planted way to close together. I will never learn.

First full sized tomato. What does it remind you of?

Porch garden is in full bloom

Sweetpea eats a sweetpea

Maybe I see why Val was scared...

The land of plenty...



  1. Good thoughts for all of us, and sounds like you guys are doing productive stuff. Love the sweet pea eater . . . my dog won't eat peas, even sugar snaps, but loves carrots. We're a long way from tomatoes here . . .

  2. I imagine it can be frustrating not to have feedback and encouragement as you practice. But, frankly I think that you should give yourself a pat on the back for being able to practice without an instructor, relying only on books and the me that's amazing! I admire your energy, perseverance and focus, always working towards your goal. Val and you will get there...I am absolutely sure of it.

    Your garden is wonderful!! So lush. And even those pictures of Sweetpea can't take away the cuteness of her. :-)

  3. When I was a kid we had a rottweiler and a garden. Somebody started feeding the snap peas to the dog and he figured out he really liked them. He liked them so much he'd go out to the garden and eat the pods off the plants! We went without peas that year...

  4. You and Val have come a long way and are making real progress. I know having a trainer is a good times. But think of all the trainers out there who aren't half as well read or motivated as you are with Val to work on what needs fixing. You know your horse and yourself better than anyone and will take the time and detective work to figure out a problem the correct way instead of simply going with the same dreary training scale of do this and that and it will make your horse perfect. No horse or person is exactly the same and a little give and take are essential to any problem. That's what I like about you and your work with Val, you're willing to listen to him and work it out between yourselves. I think that problem solving makes you a good trainer. Keep up the good work and don't get discouraged!

    I think that tomato looks similar to some baggage I'm carrying behind me!

  5. Natural talent (if there is such a thing) only goes so far. It is much more about working hard, being consistent and persevering. You've got that down in spades. (which reminds me of those tomatoes -- all I have so far are flowers; so jealous). It is helpful to have "eyes on the ground" watch you once in awhile. Would it be possible to take video of you and Val working and then send it to a trainer you respect for feedback? Just a thought. It seems to me that you are doing all the right things, with the right attitude but sometimes just having someone look at you yields valuable feedback. (I do the chicken wing thing without even knowing it).

  6. Kate -

    Hopefully you're a long way from clouds of mosquitoes too - they seem to go hand in hand down here. :)

  7. Wolfie-

    Val made that dirt himself. (and he's always making more) ;)

    It's a first year garden in that spot - year old cold composted manure. I can honestly say the tomato plants are gaining several inches per day, but also making tons of blooms and fruit. Commercial fertilizers just seems to make lots of foliage.

  8. Shannon-

    If Sweetpea had access - she help herself too. I ate most of them standing in the garden myself. I brought a few older pods in the house to shell, and she demanded her share.

  9. Annette-

    I got a camera, and have a couple of people lined up to take the video, as well trainer options.

    Getting all the parties together + having something worth recording has proven elusive so far. It's in the cards, just taking longer than I'd like - patience not being my strong suit. ;)

  10. I know it is frustrating to not have feedback from a good instructor. One thing I have kept in mind, since I can't afford any help right now, is don't be afraid to experiment.
    If you can't get the bend, turn, transition you want don't keep pounding away at what you know is the 'right' way. Try to feel your way through with other ideas.
    For me this makes me more open to feeling what I am actually doing instead of what I THINK I am doing - which I am really good at.
    I tell myself this is taking the place of instruction. Don't know if it's true or not but it works for me. :-)
    I think you are doing great - you are just in a frustration mode.

  11. Barbara-

    That is excellent advice, you are dead on - and I do tend to pound away - thinking rather than feeling. Developing my feel overall needs work. Thanks for the insight!

  12. I loved all the photos! And want to add that while having riding/training goals and certain numbers of rides in a week/month/year is one way to mark progress - none of it means much if you don't enjoy the journey and the process, even when things are not "there" yet or perfect.

    I think finding the heart and soul in each encounter (on or off the horse) is so much more valuable. And in fact, doing that gets you to the places you are trying to be anyway.

    From the perspective of the horse, each chunk of time we spend with him/her has its own value - or not, if we turn it into some kind of notch on a doorpost or step on a scale, etc.

    I agree with all the Mark Rashid quotes - but think when he speaks of softness and all the same thing he means it - it's all about letting go of rigid goals, our own egos/related desires, etc. The experience should be soft and full of breath and at least 50% if not more led by the horse. This is my interpretation only, and may stem from my own ongoing learning when it comes to letting go of trying to control everything! Including me being the leader with my horses - I'm trying to be a good partner, and that's a different thing altogether, imo.. all things I'm pondering at this stage in my horsewoman journey. :)

  13. In line with Barbera's comments - I found with Rosie if I made things have a purpose, like bending around poles, cones, or barrels she got the bending part. It made sense and was less work to her. She gets very bored of circles so I make it fun, games, brain work.

    When I'm trying to figure out why our steering isn't all that - I close my eyes for a few strides (at a walk) and assess my balance and position. Almost always I feel my body automatically adjust to correct.

    As far as trust and true leader - I'm not even real sure how that happened with Rosie and I, but it has at least when I'm on the ground leading her. Still working on the in the saddle leadership.

  14. I'm wondering if Val is a little high? He seems like a good sort of guy. You know him best. I'm just thinking that if he has a lot of pent-up energy, he might be less focused on you and more apt to over react to disturbances. Is there a way he could blow off some steam before you work him?

  15. Jeni-

    We use cones too - they are very helpful with visualizing my intentions, as well as making things a little more interesting. I will try closing my eyes to feel if I'm centered.

  16. Terry-

    Good suggestion. I thought about that just yesterday.

    Val had dropped a bit of weight over the last few months, when last year's hay wasn't enticing to him. He went on a bit of a hay strike actually.

    Now he is plowing through the hay again so I adjusted the feed rations back to summertime levels.

    I'm betting that has contributed to him being a bit more reactive than usual. :)

  17. What a nice post to think about. I love the comments as much too.
    Billie stuck a cord with me about loving the *WHOLE experience, my take on her words.

    I do tend to compartmentalize and sometimes it does separate *OUT some very important aspects of my rides and times with my horse.
    GHM said it well...YOU are really the best trainer for Val and give yourself some credit and just try and not frustrate yourself.

    As you know, I am not fully into the arena yet. I have my times in there but I am blocked still...I tell myself, "I am waiting on a saddle"...but truly, I may ride on my softsaddle just the same.
    If my mare's focus is upon me and I am fair and she is painfree...I need to ride in the arena! I'm trying you know...focus is the key.

    Val and the greater outdoors focus is a little like me and my indoor horse. We'll get it.... just like you kept right on when the spin /spook happened in the arena...Keep on keeping on! It is just that the area is much bigger than the arena!

    That Tom was fantastic...It's a big Red Heart! Loved it! and Your Horsey drinks from a cup! OH!! Love that too!!

  18. Oh thanks too...for the side view of Val. Though his head was down, I could see his back. I am taking photos of Wa's back for the saddle fitter. I thought she looked wrong, but Val's back has that slight dip before the withers too.

  19. There is no such thing as a "natural rider". Riding a horse is not a "natural" thing for any human. What makes a good rider is a good work ethic, enthusiasm and a tendency towards perfectionism.

    I'm insanely jealous of your tomato. It will be another two months at least before I get a tomato out of my garden.

    Val is looking quite nice!

  20. Shannon -

    Thanks for the encouragement. Does this mean you've solved your computer problems?! Hope so. :)

  21. Okay, first of all, I am shamelessly coveting your produce. That tomato! What a BLT it could become!

    *** jealousy, rampant jealousy ***

    On to the riding. I completely understand the role of our stupid brains (specifically, the waffling, doubtful part of our brains) play when we're in the saddle. Derby, who is low man on the totem pole, is similarly not 100% convinced of my leadership. WOrking in my favor is the fact that he would dearly love to abdicate responsibility to me. I need to lock this down.

    Perfect practice is something Robert Dover and George Morris both emphasized at the clinics I audited. "Walk perfectly," Dover said, over and over. Morris talked about developing a meticulous and holistic approach to horsemanship - you can't let tack care or grooming slide, you have to mind details as much as you mind riding. To me, this means developing an "always on" approach, paying attention to everything when I'm around the horse. No slacking.

    Along the way, I'm learning to pay specific attention to the feedback I get instantly from Derby. When I'm in balance, he approves, moving softly off my aids. When he resists, there's a reason (not enough forward, crap contact, I'm out of whack.) When I lighten my seat and stay off his back, he rounds. Christy points this feedback out to me often and I'm really trying, trying to pay attention to it, especially when I ride outside a lesson. If I pay attention to what Derby is "saying" I can have a better ride, and train myself to be a better rider. Maybe something for you to try? It's really helped me.

    Looks like you're all enjoying the summer days. Keep up the photo dumps, I enjoy them! :)

  22. Winston doesn't usually pull so hard that I lose the line and he hasn't ever run off afterwards. My Friesian used to do that -- and he was huge and strong so it was a challenge. My arena isn't huge so I just kept hold of the line and ran with him (following him down the arena). Before long, he'd be at the end of the arena with nowhere to go but back to work and I would work his tail off. He figured out pretty soon that running off just meant more work for him and he stopped. Good luck!


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