Calm, Forward, Straight

Calm, Forward, Straight

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

In the Arena #146 - Serendipity, or You can get there from here...

Sometimes the very best things come out of a seemingly random chain of events.

Last year I ran across Mary Wanless' name in a comment on a blog. I googled her. The book excerpts on Amazon were enticing, so I ordered Ride With Your Mind - An Illustrated Masterclass In Right Brain Riding.  A life changing book.

Round about the same time, my partner in crime N - we rode with the same trainer for years - attended a clinic in Va. N was noncommittal about her initial clinic experience with this trainer, who as it happened, focused on biomechanics and was a student of Mary Wanless.

For her birthday, I sent N a copy of Ride With Your Mind. It blew her away too. At some point the book rang a bell, and she remembered the clinician and found her website. N set up a lesson early this year, which was super helpful. So have the subsequent visits. As it turns out, L has been a student of Mark Rashid for many years as well. Bonus!

Two weeks ago (a birthday present to myself), I drove to N's home in Va. We caught up, shopped and had a nice dinner out. Hit the road Sunday at o' dark thirty for (another) three and a half hour ride to Maryland.

At this point you could be thinking "she must be crazy driving fourteen hours round trip for a riding lesson." And you would be right. About the crazy part. But - ever since delving into biomechanics, I've been overwhelmed by a feeling that this is the right path for my riding education. The key to unlocking dressage for me. I think have a good understanding of what I should be doing and the outcome I want, but the signal often gets lost or disconnected between me and my horse.

Some people, especially you young bendy ones, naturally have correct position. And some trainers, while they might be terrific riders, aren't always the best at conveying knowledge about position and the body on horseback. No fault of their own, they just haven't had to think about how they do what they do. In RWYM, Mary mentions a BNT at a clinic of international riders where the frustrated clinician eventually resorted to yelling "Ride better!"

Back to the story. We arrived at L's tidy farm. Well kept premises and horses are always a good sign. The first part of my lesson involved assessing body and position. Tom Terrific, a patient grey ottb, was my mount. Oddly, I wasn't nervous or anxious at all.

Once L had gotten me sorted - legs under me, core engaged, hips rotated in, thighs bearing weight, kneeling feeling in my knees, calves with feather contact, feet pressed toward the outside of the stirrup and almost no weight in my stirrups... sound like a lot? It was. The core engaging part is complex. There are inner abs, and outer abs. The inner abs push out while the outer abs push in - kind of a core sandwich. Pardon the very unscientific explanation, but that's what it felt like to me.

L helped me pinpoint the affected anatomy and how it felt, and then it was time to ride. To try to ride. Of course things went to hell in a handbasket once I focused on anything in addition to position...

While bringing my attention to the moments when I coordinated everything and how it felt, L urged me to come up with key words that I could associate with the feeling when my body cooperated - a shorthand checklist for examining / correcting my position. She frequently had me assess how much (percentage) of my attention maintaining position took up. That was enlightening and needs improvement.

N was up next. It was so helpful to watch her ride. She worked on influencing her mount's stride with her seat and refining her posting technique. As usual - the horse never lies. When N got herself together, her mount immediately responded by picking up his back, reaching into his (bitless) bridle and producing a lovely and visibly higher quality trot.

At this point I had the epiphany that the seat is everything, there is so much more to the seat than I ever realized, and my seat needs an overhaul, stat.

The lessons concluded with an exercise designed to bring attention to the engagement of the core + breathing. We blew up a (new) balloon held in our mouths (no hands or teeth) and kept it inflated using our core, while also inhaling and exhaling. Now either I am a stone cold champion at this bizarre skill, or was cheating and didn't know it. We'll have to wait and see at the next lesson. ;D

N and I are planning monthly visits through the summer, and then hopefully caravaning our trailers up for a three day weekend or two this fall. L was so fun and comfortable to work with. I can see myself learning a lot with her. Well worth the journey.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

In the Arena #145 - Someday is today...

I've kept up with your blogs dear readers, but have neglected my own. I have taken stacks of pictures and written numerous posts that stayed in the draft pile, but stopped short of hitting the publish button. The day to day details seemed trivial while I've been wrestling with the bigger picture.

Here's my attempt at catching up. Organized somewhat randomly, and hopefully not too incoherent.

Gardening requires lots of water, most of it in the form of perspiration...

The time I haven't spent in the saddle this spring, I have spent in the garden. I attempt to grow organically, so keeping everything weed and bug free is time super consuming. Plus "we" make all the dirt. The garden beds are filled solely with composted manure that I haul, turn and rotate in and out of four giant composting piles. It is good dirt - for reals.

The proudest accomplishment of this year's garden efforts so far is (drum roll....) carrots.

carrots are the feathery ones

Miniscule seeds sprout into delicate seedlings which must be thinned repeatedly (are un-transplantable) and the darn things can't tolerate any weeds. These better be the best (insert the f-bomb here) carrots in the history of the world. They're already the most expensive.

Also planted squashes, gourds,  cantelopes, eggplants, cucumbers, beans, sugar snaps, greens, beets, radishes, peppers, herbs and of course tomatoes. The tomato total is eighteen, a considerable cut back from years past. All heirlooms - red, yellow, chocolate, purple and green. (!)

various beans

sugar snaps... yum - vegetable candy

squashes, cukes, cantelopes - hoping for vertical growth

greens, tomatoes, basil - all waiting for the sun

Still in the honeymoon phase of this years efforts - check back in when the temperature manages to stay above 70 degrees and the mosquitoes arrive.

Putting our best foot forward...

The farrier was here not too long ago. Great news - my interim trimming minimized Val's usual flare, and the white line / separation issues have resolved. Success ! :D

my trim

I got more instruction from W - this time focusing on hoof balance. My conclusion is that you can read all the books you want about how to trim hooves, but every horse is different. Their anatomy, conformation and movement habits are individual. Experience is so important when deciding how to trim. So is knowing your horse well.

Thankfully - W is very encouraging. I have so much appreciation now for what a difficult job being a farrier is. Working on Val, I get all trembly, my back cramps up,  and I pour out sweat, as much from nerves as anything. Can't imagine trimming multiple horses every day...

We also found the exit hole from the abscess. Bonus! It was located underneath (caused by?) a large toe callous. What a relief to know the source of the mystery lameness. What a relief to not be an abscess virgin any longer. I can whip out a duct tape - diaper booty with the best of them now.

 If you haven't got anything nice to say... (an excuse for not posting)

Val was out of commission for six weeks from his mystery lameness (now not so mysterious.) Then it rained for most of six weeks. Lack of sunshine and persistent cold windy conditions had me losing my mind just a little. I might have gotten in touch with my inner Haagen Daz lover. Bad news for rocking my breeches. Hello power walks.

Last year this time we were riding so much. The last month it's been hard to get two rides in per week. Now I have to build Val back up - slowly. The lack of work decimates his topline. He gets hollow behind the withers and our saddle fit goes to hell. It's like we're starting over, again. I get discouraged and feel like whining... then I think about friends, blogging and real world, who are facing serious illnesses, loss of soundness and end of the life decisions with their partners.

Recently I got the sad news that Teddy, a favorite tb schoolmaster from my former trainer's barn, is not long for the world. He's thirty now, and not coming into the spring well, after a move to upstate New York from SE Virginia. Medical issues plagued him over the winter, and he's getting bullied in turn out. Breaks my heart.

I learned more from Teddums than any other horse I've ever sat on. A plain bay 14.3 thoroughbred, too little for the track, he was kind and unflappable, but infuriating. He would not respond to anything except the correct aid. Unless he heard my trainer and she didn't spell the request. I spent many lessons (nearly in tears) where getting him out of the arena corner by the gate (staring longingly at his mares) was the only accomplishment. I also sat my first (and likely only) piaffe on him.

If that wasn't enough - my former boarder, sweet, funny handsome Cowboy, suffered a serious colic last week, likely a casualty of the crazy inappropriate weather. His gut twisted, and the six hour long trip to emergency medical care came too late. He had to be put down at NC State.

RIP Cowboy. I hope you are enjoying top herd status, first dibs on the eats, and freedom from cruelty, ignorance and neglect. After everything you went through down here, you deserve it.

These events have forced me to reassess my equestrian goals and priorities. Top of the list is take nothing for granted. To enjoy and make the most of the time I have with my horse, because none of it is guaranteed. To get out of my comfort zone and overcome the fears that are holding me back.

Someday is today.

Light at the end of the tunnel...

I spent my birthday (so old now...) last Sunday doing something very exciting and thankfully horse related - the culmination of eighteen months of researching and organizing. Details to come in my next post.

there has been some saddle time

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