Calm, Forward, Straight

Calm, Forward, Straight

Sunday, May 27, 2012

In the Arena # 124 - Redemption song....

An almost perfect Saturday. I could have used about three more hours squeezed in - (my most recent to do list is outrageous) but I'll take it. After feeding, walking and cleaning up after all the other residents of Edgewood Farm while savoring a tasty iced cappucino, I hitched up Orange Crush for our weekly mowing session.

We were soon interrupted by a visitor, one of my landscaping clients, who dropped by to pick up a load of Val's Super Dirt (composted manure). After a quick tour and filling his buckets, we chatted. I thought that the clouds of mosquitos would keep the conversation brief...

It turns out that my client was very well placed in the banking world before his semi-retirement. If his palatial beach "cottage" is any indication, this is true. He gave me lots of encouragement about my plans for the property, and offered to be a resource to help find financing when it comes time to build my house. This will be a fair exchange for my continued never ending consulting on his landscaping, (consulting is when people get my work for free) so the numerous bites were worth it. Who'd have thought horse manure would have anything to do with high finance?


Once the grounds keeping chores were completed, I threw Val a few flakes of his new hay. I gave up on forcing him to eat the last bales of this winter's hay. For a week now he's pushed it around, stomped on it and yesterday dropped a pile and peed on it. I got the hint. With him munching in his stall, I dragged the ring.

Apprehension built as I rode around. I try always to have a positive attitude, but falling off the other day just sucked. I had, after a long time, gotten to the point that I was excited to ride again. I looked forward to it. Ending our sessions was disappointing - I wanted to just keep on riding. We were finally working on the canter for heavens sake. My fall set me back six months confidence-wise.

By now it was hot enough and I was sweaty enough to make pulling on my breeches challenging. As I groomed and tacked up, I focused on my breathing, as well being a stickler for Val staying put. At first I had to physically touch him, but as we moved along all it took was a step towards him to make the correction. My experience has been that Val starts out with small tests of my leadership. If I let those go, it escalates under saddle. Things go more smoothly when I patiently correct him, as many times as is necessary, on the ground.

We worked on the buckle for quite a while. Forward seemed to have gone out the window. We had to do lots of transitions to get Val moving off my leg at all. It's likely that I may have been asking for forward with my aids, but saying not forward with my posture.

I could feel the negative impact the fall had on my body, as it took forever before my whole seat was down in the saddle, not perching. I used to think that perching was more like being in two point... your butt physically out of contact with the saddle. Yesterday I (finally) realized that you can perch with your seatbones and pubic bone too, while technically being on the saddle. If your butt muscles aren't relaxed, it's not possible for your "triangle" to be in contact. My not being on my seat is the main reason I fell off.

The revelations about seatbones continued. While focusing on maintaining outside rein contact through the turns, I zoned in on the outside seatbone as well. Our turns were better balanced and deeper when I really felt my outside seatbone. I'm not sure if this meant that both seatbones were finally equal, or if more weight was on the outside, but the results were good.

Now on to the main event. We got our act together enough, that I decided to ask for the trot. In out most recent rides since working on the canter, I've been getting canter departs when asking for the trot. This is exactly what we were working on when I fell off last week. My first ask resulted in the canter. I let it go a few strides, and returned to the walk. I made sure I was not holding my breath, not anticipating cantering, and asked again - this time with very little aid - instead visualizing the tempo and feel of the trot. Voila! Perfect relaxed trot transition.

Kate at A Year with Horses has been such an inspiration to me. Her thorough and honest assessments of her riding never fail to resonate. Lately she has been posting about softness, bracing, and how the quality of aiding can either lead to softness, or result in bracing.

Struggling with the trot transitions yesterday helped me realize I had been way over aiding, because when I just literally thought the trot - no leg, no voice and no whip - I got the most beautiful soft transition. I'm sure now that my over aiding + perching + bracing resulted in Val being confused about what I was asking of him lately... "When she gets all bent out of shape like this - I'm supposed to canter!"

I hugged my horse, told him what a gooooood boy he is, and ended the ride there, on a very positive note.

preferable to working...

also preferable to working...

Thursday, May 24, 2012

In the Arena # 123 - Getting my head around it...
At the Farmette # 8 - No rest for the weary...

There have been two rides since my less than elegant dismount last week. The bumps and bruises have healed, but I'd be lying if I said that I didn't feel some trepidation when mounting up again.

I threw on the bareback pad a few days later for the first ride. Val wasn't particularly calm. I reckon I wasn't either - surprise! Nonetheless, it was a decent ride. One little scoot, and then things went smoothly. I focused on sitting deeply, in my horse.

The next evening, after doing some effective ground work, I impulsively led Val over to the mounting block and hopped on, sans tack. I'm lucky Val is relatively comfortable even without a pad. No shark fin withers on my boy, so no wither wedgie. We motored around the arena, relying on legs and seat only. An un-pulled mane comes in handy sometimes. It was a divine ride. I felt close to my horse, physically and mentally.

The plan is to do a real schooling ride this weekend. Tacked up, and revisiting the trot / canter transitions with equanimity, and intention. After processing what happened leading up to my fall, I believe the issue was me being thrown (no pun intended) by sticky transitions, becoming frustrated and most importantly getting off of my seat. When the shenanigans started I was already unbalanced. A good but hard lesson to learn.

The rest of my week centered around the weather and the garden.

There have been the most intense skies happening along with the numerous thunderstorms lately... thankfully, as we were getting a little drought-ish in April. Seems like we may be returning to a more normal pattern of late afternoon and evening thunderstorms relieving the excess moisture and energy built up in the atmosphere. A dicey pattern when ventilating your home depends on crank up vents on the roof...

In the gardens, weeding and picking off pests is a never ending process. One benefit to the early spring and moving my beds around, the tomato / tobacco hornworm caterpillars have struck out. Suckahs! Also, I found a newly hatched hornworm moth, wings not even pumped up yet, which was promptly relocated.

The hose came in handy to jet away aphids attacking my (delicious) sugar snaps. The radishes are harvested. Note to self - next time succession planting would be a good idea. My carrots are coming up nicely. I experimented with transplanting some of the thinnings - supposedly not possible to do. We shall see.

The mighty Kubota spent the weekend again, so I was able to turn all the manure piles. The new bed is going gangbusters. Thank you Val for making some awesome dirt. I swear you can (almost) watch the tomato plants growing. I have been saving those plastic-y feed bags, with the plan of bagging up composted manure for sale next year. I thought I'd turn them inside out, leaving a clear space to put some kind of logo label.

Enjoy some photo spam...

wee little carrots

no one needs this many radishes

this kind of cloud formation (wall cloud) usually makes water spouts...

isn't he lovely...

Friday, May 18, 2012

In the Arena #122 - If it doesn't kill you...

Val and I parted ways this week. Unanticipated dismount.

I've spent the last couple of days eating ibuprofren like candy, and moving around very gingerly. Well, if I don't sugar coat, I feel like I got hit by a truck - but it could have been so much worse. Happily, I had my helmet on, as I might not be capable of typing this, had I not. Helmets are good.

The first giant horse flies of the season? They were buzzing us during grooming. Captain Outburst next door shooting something out of his mower as he rode up and down next to the arena? His timing is uncanny. Me paying more attention to a visitor to the farm, than to my horse? Probably. Me blocking my horse as I tried to get a trot transition rather than the canter? Definitely. I had second thoughts about riding when both horses spooked violently at my visitor's dog as she arrived - Val bolted, losing his saddle that I hadn't quite girthed up yet. (Hated, hated, hated watching my new saddle hit the dirt!)

It doesn't ultimately matter. After a nice warm up, I rode out a warning buck, but a few minutes later lost my seat as Val bronced across the arena. I remember me coming down and him coming up, and then knowing I was about to hit the dirt, just like my saddle.

I landed on my side quasi rolling, but still very hard. I turned over. Everything seemed to move okay. My vision was blurry for a few minutes though (concussion?), as I collected my bemused horse. I remounted, and rode for a half hour or so on the buckle.

I haven't fallen off for a couple of years. I've come a long way I guess. My reaction this time wasn't doubting my horsemanship or fearing my horse, but obsessing over what I could have done differently. Even though my former trainer isn't in the area for me to get lessons from, she generously makes herself available for telephone debriefing. Thank you E.!

Our conclusions were that falling off is inevitable, and more importantly, cannot be prevented. Falling off is a moment in time - the horse isn't obsessing about so neither should we. Our horses deserve 100% of our concentration and attention when we work with them. Anything less is disrespectful, and occasionally dangerous.

E. gave me some good advice (again) for how to move forward with our trot / canter issue, namely never let your horse know that what he's doing isn't what you wanted. Don't get upset. It's more productive to go with the wrong gait and then ask for the downward transition. Never let them see you sweat. Keep a light heart.

Bright side. I didn't break anything, or miss any work. It wasn't as bad as the anticipation - nothing ever is. If statistics mean anything, I'm a lot farther away from my next fall, than I was the other day. :)

Probably need a new helmet

Wish my ass had stuck to the saddle

Hand needed attention

Shiner on my hip

Later that evening - it's all good...

Monday, May 14, 2012

In the Arena # 121 - Flying by the seat of my pants...

More piano memories... I was ten years old. It was my turn to perform at a recital of the Leschetizky Society - a big deal. I was nerve racked as usual. I remember sitting down on the bench. I remember starting to play Chopin's Raindrop Prelude. Then I remember the hearing last notes fade away, and taking a bow. Nothing in between. As I sat back down beside my teacher, she leaned over with an astonished look, and uncharacteristically whispered in my ear "How did you do that - that was the best you have ever played?!"

How did I do it? Faithfully practicing the basics. Scales, scales, scales. Boring, boring scales. Memorizing the piece hands separately. Breaking it down by the phrase, then by the note. There is no substitute for getting the basics down. Period. Once you have the fundamentals - I'm talking muscle memory - then you are free to infuse the music with your soul.

So - how does this relate to dressage? I am struggling to learn how to ride. Gently, tactfully, effectively, graciously. At the moment (for the foreseeable future) my focus is the basics. Balance, contact, consistency. The training pyramid. It doesn't always make for super interesting blogging. The pace of progress seems glacial.

That being said, over the last couple of weeks we've begun to work on the canter. Impulsively. A little voice in my head (self doubt) suggested it could be problematical. I've spent plenty of time cantering on other horses, even bareback on the beach. Casually, not correctly. I've only worked on the depart seriously on one of my former trainer's school horses. All I had to do was think canter and he knew what was up. I had to ask correctly mind you, but I only had to be responsible for my own flailing limbs.


Last week we rode twice. Tuesday was a bareback ride, working on steering and stretching out my hips. A nice, easy, calm, ride.

Saturday (my birthday) dawned absolutely gorgeous, and despite a jam packed schedule, nothing was getting in the way of my horse time. After reading Val at Memoirs of a Horse Girl's recent post  which had some great video of she and Harley jumping a cloverleaf pattern over cross rails, I had the bright idea to lay ground rails in the same pattern, an X basically, and use them to spice up our trot work.

We began with an excellent warm up on the buckle, walking over the rails. Val was all about the new X, from the moment I dragged it into the arena. He could barely contain his attraction. I picked up a trot, working my way over to the X. He sort of hesitated a few times before crossing them, so on the next go round I really gave him a squeeze with my legs. Any guess where this is going?

Val cantered a couple of collected strides, rocked back on his haunches and (way over) jumped the rail, cantering on afterwords acting very. proud. of. himself. I was shocked. Mostly because it's been cough--ty some years since I've jumped, and I was usually over-horsed and petrified when I did it then. And, as Val (blogger Val) pointed out, dressage saddles aren't ideal for jumping. Super glad the video didn't capture that moment!

We halted. I gave Val a big hug and cracked up for a few minutes, then got back to work. On nearly every request for the trot from then on, I got the canter, and I had to abandon the rails for a while. Eventually, after numerous walk / trot transitions where he received lavish praise for his self control, we got back on track.


Just got in from my ride today, which was one of our most productive to date. It was very windy, the tarp canopies were flapping like mad, yet Val's mind stayed on me. I focused on breathing, from the minute I began grooming. Great warm up, smooth transition into contact, accurate school figures, supple, reaching horse. We had a few offers of the canter, but I schooled the halt / trot transition until we both got it right.

I had two revelations during this ride. One is, hey - shorten those reins! - shorter than you think you should, a little shorter. Give your driving aid, feel the reins elastically through your elbows (thumbs on top pointing to the bit) and then - you have contact. Val chewed the reins out of my hands while stretching long and low several times today. What an awesome feeling.

The other reality check was leg on does not mean leg on.... leg off... leg on again. Keep your damn leg on and aid from that position - don't remove your leg to aid - it really irritates your horse!!


My no one on the ground / without trainer status take on the canter-fest issue is... I definitely don't have the basics of the canter depart down. Some of it may be that Val is delighted to canter. I am as well, but we are restricted by occasionally deep footing and limited space to work in until my real arena is completed. (long story for another post)

Most likely though, I am inadvertantly combining / confusing / mangling the canter depart cue. One solution will be getting Val out to the beach and letting him rip - straight line cantering. Firm footing, no need to balance in tight turns, plenty of room. Possibly this weekend if weather permits and my riding partner can join me.

The horse is out of the barn now... ;)


Monday, May 7, 2012

In the Arena # 120 - Putting on the big girl panties...

A pair of rides to report on (finally).

We fit in a nice session on Tuesday while waiting for the farrier to arrive. Our warm-up was very effective, and brief. My focus was on soft, even, continuous, elastic contact. I rode a good deal of the ride with my eyes closed, which helped me concentrate on the feel of the contact. On the open eye parts, I kept my head up, looking through Val's ears where I wanted to go.

We did a ton of transitions, and worked a bit on leg yields as well. In a freshly dragged arena you can definitely see the results of lateral work. I tried to make space for Val to move into by opening my inside leg and rein, and having the feeling of a halt before I asked for the yields. I have a feeling that these will improve at the trot, as many things do when there is more energy.

Our trot work is (still) about more forward without nagging aids. I was very pleased with our school figures - there was fluidity and smooth changes of rein. We finished off with a few walk / canter departs. (dessert!) I even had time to clean all of my tack before W. arrived. Val took a nap on my shoulder as I cleaned. His head is soooo heavy!

On Sunday, guess who showed up? If you said crazy horse, you'd be right! I think he arrived along with the big winds, and the king of super loud cussing next door. (yes, I am once again complaining about my neighbor - I cannot wait until I can afford to screen him off with plants and/or big fencing!)

Val went from ants in his pants during tacking up, to full on nut job who reared and bolted twice, yanking the reins out of my hands and nearly tearing my finger off. (not even kidding) As much as I didn't feel like dealing with it, I knew there was no way I could avoid addressing this behavior, for his or my sake.

We did a some leading work around the arena. I quietly demanded Val's full attention on me - not the swishy trees at back of the property, or the noise and distractions next door. When I had that, I led him to the mounting block and got on. I made sure that I didn't block him with the reins. Lots of quick transitions. Keeping my seat "fat", all three points in contact with the saddle at all times - no perching. Also hugging lightly with my legs. After it was over, I was really glad we rode.

I haven't kept up with blogging as well as I want to these last few weeks. Keeping up with my (actual) responsibilities is super challenging these days. Besides riding, there have been several marathon yard work, weeding, planting sessions topped off today with an all day hay and feed run. (300 miles, 36 bales of hay, 6 sacks of feed, 8 1/2 hours) Plus a few snake encounters - only nice ones.

Oh, and I made a decision about what to name the farm. We're located adjacent to one of the last remaining maritime forests on the east coast, so I think it will be Edgewood. :)

kiss my grass

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