Wednesday, December 25, 2013

And a Merry Christmas to all!

Business Bucky wishes you a Merry Christmas!

Model: Buckingham
Wardrobe Consultant: me!
Photographer: me
Finished on Pixlr Express

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A Review: The Night Circus

I don't really know where to start with this review... I can't seem to find the right words to aptly describe my reading experience with the Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. Erin has an incredible grasp of the English language and her writing so clearly embodies quality writing; with a complex vocabulary that boasts words I thought were made up, yet she manages to keep me comprehending the story. If I were to describe this book in a single word, I would easily choose: phantasmagorical (yes, that's a real word). The imagery that she transforms into prose from her imagination is truly remarkable; the reader is transported to her fictional story places where you can practically smell the odors... feel the familiarity, comfort and atmosphere around you... and visualize the setting in great detail.

The book is composed of 5 parts, and each chapter is short enough that a commute to work (or home) is the perfect chance to read. Each chapter focuses around a specific storyline that, at the start of the book, seem like they couldn't be further apart, or are completely unrelated. But, as you progress through the book, you start to piece together these seemingly unrelated parts, into a single story that converges beautifully. I found that when I started reading, I had trouble keeping track of each storyline and characters I was reading or what date and year it was. It was as if each storyline was a distinct root of a tree and as the story progressed, you moved towards the trunk where the story comes together--piece by piece, branch by branch.

I have not had a quality read like this in many years. Most books are written simply (and that's not a bad thing) and quite to the point. Or, they're written in such a fashion that I can't seem to understand what is being said (now, this is often 'bad') or there is a suggestion context. The intricate story she creates in her mind and then weaves together through words is complex and solid. It takes immense skill to create these timelines and stories of characters and then entwine them together in a fashion that makes sense and enhances the reading experience. The book starts out slowly and you can tell because as you're starting, nothing really makes a lot of sense and you're given glimpses into where she'll take you. You're introduced to the main characters and fed some basic background about who they are and a little of the role they will play--you're given the premise on which the story will be built upon, but nothing more until it's appropriate.

In addition to her careful plotting of pieces together, she manages to create a shifting atmosphere and impression of what's happening, for the readers. I felt the beginning of the book to be far more dreamy, light and fluffy but as the book progresses, even these dreamy places felt heavy and darker... like something (someone?) was lurking in the shadows. And as you spiralled towards the climax of the plot, things come together hard and fast. The dream is turning into the reality and you have to start paying attention to what's happening or you'll be in big trouble because you won't be prepared!

The Night Circus is a fabulous read for anyone looking for something different to read or an escape from the ordinary. And don't be scared off by the girth of the book... you'll get through it much faster than you might think.

And before I forget...

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Bit By Bit: 12 Days of (Horsey) Christmas: A horse, of course!...

Bit By Bit: 12 Days of (Horsie) Christmas: A horse, of course!...: The ultimate gift for any horse lover is obviously a horse to call your own. Of course, a horse is for life, not just for Christmas so this ...

Monday, December 23, 2013

Bit By Bit: 12 Days of (Horsey) Christmas: Fine finery

Us east coasters had somewhat of an interesting weekend... with our world turning into an ice laden wonderland... with no power and an outdoor skating ring. So, a little late but better late than never the 11th day of Horsey Christmas at Bit by Bit:

Bit By Bit: 12 Days of (Horsie) Christmas: Fine finery: The 12 Days of (Horsie) Christmas selection for today is this tiny, delicate horseshoe necklace from Stella and Dot. Made of gold fill and...

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Friday, December 20, 2013

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Monday, December 16, 2013

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Lesson #66: Don't Look Down!

First major snow fall for the season and we're supposed to ride the following morning. It's a slow trek out that way but we surprisingly make reasonably good time. I do love the winter out this parts though... it's so peaceful... kind of like those Christmas cards that you see in the mail sometimes.

We worked long and hard today, on leg and seat aids again to remove the tendency to resort to hands (i.e. reins). The exercises we used were shallow serpentines, full serpentines (with ground poles) and lots of circles. ADW's moved up today... he's moved from pony to sport horse! This beautiful (and diva of a gelding) is a Trakehner whom our instructor owns, loves (of course!) and trained from foal/colt. Her original intent was to train him as a dressage horse but her comments today indicated that he both hated doing it and wasn't physically well suited for it (i.e. his confirmation wasn't great for dressage). He's a bit of a fussy boy and when he's around his Hanovarian "brother" but he's wonderful to ride. First, he's a beautiful animal, a fabulous mover and impeccably trained.

It was super cold today (the night before, it was snow and -20-ish temperatures) so warm-up was a long time so that everyone was in good shape before we started to get into the real work. Our first exercise was lots and lots of circles around the arena to get them supple and "bendy". Once things were coming together, we moved to a shallow serpentine to work on bending as we're moving forward. This was not a concept I grasped, at first... it's not a turn of the horse so much as their bodies bending away from the forward direction and "drifting" in and then back out of the rail.

A shallow serpentine

To accomplish the bend, it was a matter of using your "outside" (without getting into great detail) leg to push, your same seat to drop, your opposite leg to keep them from drifting in and then a little bit of flexion through the hands. We had to switch this 3 times! I sure hope I got all that right :S

Then we moved to wide loopy figure 8's that looked more like 2 large circles next to one another and had to remember to change our diagonal when we crossed the middle and added 3 ground poles. I was a mess. I wasn't asking Ariel early enough to turn and she would nearly crash and then just pick left or right. It wasn't pretty and I spent a lot of time looking at the ground. I have a bad habit... even when I'm walking, I have a tendency to look down. This is even worse because I can't help but look down at the ground poles but then I get obsessed about it at the moment and nothing else happens.

Our last exercise is a 2 loop serpentine that crosses 3 sets of 3 ground poles that are laid across the long length of the middle of the arena; as if there was a set between F and K, B and E, and H and M--all along the axis of A to C (above diagram). This is tough stuff my friend. If I thought that the figure 8 was tricky and it took me way too long to figure that out, this one was a HUGE mess. Ariel was confused and I was physically everywhere because instead of 1 set of 3 poles for me to fixate upon, there was THREE(!) sets of three, plus I wasn't giving her the correct signals (or timing it well). She was pretty annoyed with me and threw up her head several times. Eventually, something clicked and I managed to get through it a couple times at the end (finally!) and we ended that lesson on a great note!

Posting Diagonal Jar Tally: 2* x $2.00 = $4.00
To date: $47.00
*I only counted the ones where I should have known better and not the ones where a bazillion things were going on at once and I would have been lucky to not be caught with the incorrect diagonal*

Bit By Bit: 12 Days of (Horsey) Christmas: Brush off

Bit By Bit: 12 Days of (Horsey) Christmas: Brush off: Welcome to day three of our 12 Days of (Horsey) Christmas gift guide. Although I personally cannot justify the expense of...

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Friday, December 13, 2013

Bit By Bit: 12 Days of (Horsey) Christmas: Arabian artistry

In the flurry of things going on lately, I totally forgot to tell you about my newest collaboration with another blogger... who also rides as an adult! We're working together on the 12 Days of (Horsey) Christmas!

Bit By Bit: 12 Days of (Horsey) Christmas: Arabian artistry: In keeping with the season, the next 12 posts will be gifts appropriate for horsey folks on your Christmas list. (Technically, ...

Monday, December 9, 2013

Lesson #65: Aiming for Zen

December 8, 2013

Yoga is by far one of the best training tools for riders. I’ve been doing yoga for many years now; when I first started, I was doing it during my lunch hours at work (wouldn’t I be excited if I was riding over lunch instead!) and I found my progress was really fast. My goal at the time was to touch my toes and I surpassed even that and ended up being able to get into Salamba Sirsasana (supported headstand) in less than 4 months’ time. Talk about progress at its best! The same type of schedule can't really apply for riding because for most of us, riding daily is just not feasible; be it due to location, finances or time.

Sometimes I complain about not seeing the progress and thus feel like I'm stuck. But, reviewing my posts, I recognize that things are in fact progressing (albeit slowly) but pieces at a time. Kind of like how our lesson was teaching us that miniscule changes add up to the bigger picture and that we need to pay attention to those little changes. ADW and I spent the entire lesson in trot while focusing on leg aids, seat position and body awareness; it felt like a lesson spent practicing our forming full sentences with the alphabet. Having done yoga, the concept of body awareness and recognizing that minor tilts or adjustments of one’s body can mean the difference between doing the pose properly versus not.

I was practicing the leg aid and dropped seat bone to ask Ariel to turn. I have to remember though that she will eventually ignore these signals if I don’t release after she’s accomplished what I’m asking her to do. Lucky for me, she’s still very responsive. It takes little for her to turn a nice small circle.

Next, we use the flexion I was practicing last lesson but this time, we use flexion during turns by flexing the opposite way to straighten out on the long side of the arena. The motion is rather miniscule and has nothing to do with pulling but rather twisting (in a way) so that their heads turn just ever so slightly into the direction you're asking. This is certainly helpful for turning Ariel around when she's likely to be mostly distracted with something outside or otherwise.

Our next topic is body awareness, broken into two parts: upper body and lower body. Horses move forward freely when the rider's hips move in alignment with the horse; their gait is smooth and liberated. And when you want then to stop or slow down, you inhibit this motion ever so slightly: your hip motion becomes ever so slightly less fluid with the horse. Seated trot is incredibly trying in this area because your lower back and abs are absorbing the motion so you're not bouncing around. Sheri tells me to loosen my lower back (which apparently is INCREDIBLY difficult to accomplish even for experienced dressage riders!) so that it follows the motion of Ariel. I get one or two strides once during the entire lesson. I see when I am not accomplishing this when Ariel raises her head in protest and slows. But it's really interesting because she's so responsive that the slightest incorrect adjustment is felt by her and she isn't afraid to tell me. That's the lower body and is particularly obvious; unlike your upper body which I'm reminded to keep still yet soft. Sound absolutely contradictory yet? For those yogis out there, you know what I'm talking about! Pull and push simultaneously--that's what your yoga instructor will tell you too. During the lesson, my wrists are sometimes rigid and tight or my grip is death gripping the reins--all times where Ariel is quick to tell me by raising her head up and slowing down. Or instances where I find myself pinching with my knee which causes her to either stop or make her gait particularly stiff and bouncy.

I completed the class feeling pretty impressed (and zen!) about the nuances of a rider's body in communicating with the horse. It's literally a language we're learning to speak with our horsey friends but intricately with our bodies. Onwards with the week so that I return to Gosling Stables!

Posting Diagonal Jar Tally: 3 x $2.00 = $6.00
To date: $43.00 

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Lesson #64: Technically Difficult

December 1, 2013

It's cloudy, rainy and cold out. All conditions that enhance the challenge of a good lesson. This is all the more reason to consider well, your fitness regimen outside of lessons.... similar to the way I endeavour to practice the piano daily so my biweekly lessons are fruitful. I did a few days where I completed 15-20 minutes of yoga stretches and sun salutations if I couldn't fit in much else.

I have to go to the paddocks to fetch Ariel; I like doing this because it gives me the opportunity to see her before she has to work. It's great that she's trained whereby she approaches you when you head out there, and seems happy to come in. Once all tacked up, we make our way into the arena. There's a new horse today, Romeo. He's a really pretty dark bay.

We actually spend almost half the lesson warming up because we have to; the arena isn't heated and since it's cold and wet, it takes longer for us (horse included) to get warmed up. So, to make use of the warm up and not just have us mindlessly going in circles, we are asked to turn our horses with our seat and legs only. I have Ariel turn smaller circles at the far ends of the arena and weave throughout the arena. At walking pace, it's easy but as you move into a trot, you have to really be diligent about having things come together. To turn on (say) the right rein, we drop our right seat bone and push with our left leg. The purpose... the dropped seat gives the horse something to "pivot" around when they're turning and the outside leg is simply pushing them over. I manage some pretty nice circles.

Stopping without reins! Here, we're isolating our hips and tilting our weight from being evenly distributed on our 3 points in the seat and shift the weight into the back. Our hips also become a little more rigid and there is less movement with the horse/saddle. Success! Ariel stops when all these wonderful aids come together.

Canter is still not familiar for me and I don't ride it well enough to be confident about riding it freely. When we work on canter, I remember to use both my legs this time, when initiating the canter. Ariel must be excited today because she takes off and we go speeding around the arena. I do notice that time and again, if I'm not properly focused, I lose my proper alignment and my knees clench Ariel and she doesn't like that. So I actively have to remember that there is no pressure coming from my knees. We ride the canter well today and I even accomplish a nice (approximately) 20m circle at one end without falling out of the canter and keeping pace. It was so satisfying when that happened because it must have meant things had come together well enough to keep her going.

Our last exercise is the X-jump posting trot. My 2-point still suffers and my weight is heavy on her neck so I have to remember to push my bum out and support myself with my core muscles. I think my anticipation for the jump is really getting me screwed. I struggle with the reins, I pull back or I look down. I find it more difficult to do this during a posting trot because you have to anticipate when you're going to get into a 2-point. To make things a little more interesting, Ariel likes to cut the corners and she's already cutting the corners before the actual jump! One time we almost trotted into a ground pole and she had to deek so she wouldn't trot over it. I almost fell off of her! The little devil! Sheri says, "add flexion away from the turn, while going into it". A little better but note quite yet. I'll need to remember to do that with this mare since she likes to cut corners.

A lot of new tidbits that we worked on this lesson. Many technicalities that most people are not familiar with and don't have any idea what it all means. But it's incredibly satisfying learning, practicing and incorporating these things into the lesson!

Posting Diagonal Jar Tally: 4 x $2.00 = $8.00
To date: $37.00

Monday, December 2, 2013

A Review: The Cat Whisperer

We've been out of internet at home for almost a full week now. I spend all day at work in front of a computer and have full internet access for over 8 hours a day; which is what I suspect, explains why I'm not clawing at the walls yet. I spent the weekend finishing my unexpected read: The Cat Whisperer by Mieshelle Nagelschneider.

You may or may not remember that I have a new fur baby and I'm relearning how to effectively care for your cat. Some of this new found knowledge is attributed to the fact that I volunteer with The Annex Cat Rescue for the past 2 or 3 years. And, it's very true that you can take the wildcat out of the jungle but you can't take the jungle out of the domestic cat. Buckingham is a well-mannered gentlecat just like his tuxedo outfit would suggest. But, he's still got those feline urges that make him unruly and silly, every now and again. I've picked-up a lot of practical knowledge about cats, but have yet to master some of the finer nuances of feline behaviour.

If you have a cat (or want to get one) and are keen to better understand the way they think, and make your life a feline heaven, you'll want to pick up this book to read. I remember when I was that kid when I could do nothing more than beg ask for that family pet and Mieshelle recounts her own experiences with cats (and other animals) to help others who are having trouble in their feline paradise. Mieshelle is a thorough writer about her subject of expertise; she has a life-time of experiences with cats and the way they are and her knowledge is based on experience and intense observation. The thing that many city humans miss out on (and modern humans in general) is that we have lost touch with working with animals. I see dogs dragging their humans down the street choking on their collar or humans who inhumanely declaw their cats, thinking only about what suits them or people who think their meat didn't deserve to be treated well before ending up on their dinner tables. But all the while, these people think this is normal or that this is the way it should be. Like the horse that has helped humans build history, cats and dogs played a significiant role to getting us where we are. But now, we're generally so far removed from them that we've all but forgotten how to listen to them and read them and build a real relationship with them.

The book is broken into sections that a reader who is desperate for relief from their inappropriate urinating/defecating cat or the multicat household which has become a battle zone, can immediately zip directly to that section and read the subject in its entirety. She addresses common problems that cat owners have dealt with or are dealing with. And, if you decide to read the book from cover to cover, the flow in which she's laid out is logical and builds on the previous one and is appropriately chapter referenced where applicable. The writing style is casual and easy to follow. She uses plenty of examples yet inserts many detailed scenarios that might come to mind while the reader is reading. She also has plenty of papers and references footnoted throughout the book for those who wish to do further reading/research. Her primary objective is to help us humans better understand our feline friends and adjust the environment appropriately so that our cat can do what we want in a humane and practical manner without resorting to drugs. Many of the procedures are lengthy, repetitive and require a great deal of patience but that's exactly what modern humans are missing... real patience and let's face it: animals are great teachers for this.

But, there are few things that are perfect in this world and I found that as detailed as she often is, it felt like sometimes I was being told that I wasn't doing things the way they should be done. Things that in my personal practice, have not caused me any problems currently or in the past. I felt invisibly attacked--yes, a little sensitive on my part. She also had a lot of shameless self promotions peppered throughout the book about checking out her product page or her personal consultation page, to which I've just added to... hahaha. But, upon reviewing these sites, I think they are worth looking into because she has some very solid products which I'd seriously consider purchasing and her consultation practice is one which I'd also seriously consider if I was having unresolvable issues of my own. Most pet stores don't come close to providing any real substantial items like these and products are often cheaply made or poorly designed. Perhaps I'll do another review in the future when I purchase something (like that timed feeder!).

My opinion? The book is written simply and substantially complete with relevant content that the average cat owner could easily put into practice. Any new-to-cat-ownership humans should definitely pick it up for a read so that they can better understand their new feline friends. Simply put, get her book as a reference piece in your home if you have a cat because she's quite thorough and basic cat behaviour will probably not be changing significantly in this lifetime so unlikely any need for an updated edition. Otherwise, check it out at your local library and take it for a reading test-drive before you make a conclusive decision to purchase it.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Lesson #63: It's What You Do In your Off Time

The objective is to make it look effortless.

This goes for so many things, especially when there is an element of performance involved. Typically, I've found that many competitive athletic activities require the athlete's expression to embody the immense amount of effort that they are putting into their actions. This isn't the case with certain other performance derived activities. Two come to mind: dance and horse back riding. Just look at your prima ballerina spinning on her toes and leaping into the air in a sudden burst of energy. It's like watching hunter-jumpers sail over 4ft+ jumps and dressage riders 'dance' with their horses in the ring. In all cases, these fine athletes make it look like there is absolutely no effort exerted to accomplish those moves. "That's easy", is what I hear some people comment when they see these performances. Or, they don't make any specific comment at all. But, anyone who has done a form of dance or learned to ride will know that many of these feats are not innate for the doer and often take hours of repetitive practice of the same move(s) and many additional hours to condition those muscles to be able to work up to accomplishing those moves.

Today, I realize I am not doing enough to look effortless. Aside from seriously lacking sleep, I don't have anything else that really compliments the lessons I take once a week. This has become more evident since I realize progress is only going to progress at the rate I put effort into it. I stopped yoga and changed stables as well as only ride once a week and no longer have biweekly lessons too. My hands are all over the place and my balance for the 2 point is not where it should be when I'm going over low jumps. We did some patterns today with trot poles, an x-jump, canter, trot and 2point. All this was incorporated into a single round with 3 horses and riders moving through it sequentially. When I couldn't get Ariel to canter, I fell behind the rhythm. When I caught her in the mouth at the jump, I lost focus and similarly, couldn't catch up.

Like Sheri's said about riding... that it's about saddle time and actually riding. At this time, it's not something I can add to my schedule/life so I"ll have to find other ways to physically condition myself so I am better prepared for my lessons. Time to bring back yoga to loosen stuff and strengthen core--all things that deteriorate from 8+ hours at a computer. I'll need to get on that bike trainer to increase my cardio fitness too. I'll add a daily walk during the work week to keep me limber and arresting my developing Mr. Monty Burns posture

Mr. Burns "corrected" Bart's posture to emulate his, with forming clothes...

My schedule is going to incorporate a daily minimum 30-45 minute exercise of some sort and who knows, maybe I'll lose a couple inches and enhance my girly figure!

Posting Diagonal Jar Tally: 2 x $2.00 = $4.00
To date: $29.00

Monday, November 18, 2013

Lesson #62: Ride Each Stride

I don't know if it's just the stress of work and everything else that's going on but I woke up in a cold sweat on Sunday morning at 4AM thinking I had missed my lesson. As if I need one more pain in the bum, eh? I've been a little MIA, I'm sorry. It's been completely stupid at work though. But, enough about work! This is my little space for things that I enjoy doing and those which make me happy. Lately, work isn't one of them so it's going straight out the window in this post!

This is my second lesson at Gosling Stables and I'm really having a good time. Though, this was not one of my better rides. I don't know what was wrong with me but it was just a lot of discombobulation. It took some time to get my trot going at a good pace and the canter... it was as if I regressed several lessons!

I focused on the diagonals today so I wouldn't get caught for it as many times as I've been, since starting this endeavour! Sheri said our trot was in pretty good shape and that we would work on some canter. It's as if my brain went straight on holiday and I was asking for the canter with only my outside leg. And of course, all I got was a lot of speedy trot. When it clicked that I needed to engage the inside leg too, we finally took off and I was bouncing all over the place in on the saddle. Ariel was also speeding up and falling in at the corners. We were both a complete mess. Sheri told me to open my outside rein in the corners to help her rebalance herself and to remind her to slow down a bit with mild rein squeezes. Both worked but my butt slapping the saddle did not get better and Sheri was reminding me to loosen my hips and to allow my pelvis to loosely swing in the seat. For some reason, I was sitting very rigidly today.

Then I recalled that I should loosen my lower back and engage my lower abs and ta-da! Swinging in the seat again. Phew. I thought I lost it for some time. Much more control once I started paying attention again. Sheri reminds me that I need to ride each stride and have to be in control of what I'm asking and what Ariel is doing. The highlight, was when we got on the incorrect lead because I asked for the canter on a straight away and as I was bumping around and speeding about, Ariel did a flying lead change on her own! I thought I was going to fall off when she did that! The momentary mid-air suspension and change in lead was not something I was anticipating to feel. What a neat feeling. I think it was that moment with the reminder when I got out of my fog and something just clicked.

We finished our lesson with ground pole work (which I think Perry--ADW's mount for the lesson--was scoffing at). "Count the stride pace!" says Sheri. "Be sure it's consistent and you're not speeding up or slowing down and you go over the poles at exactly the same pace". I chuckled a bit in my head as I started to count to myself the strides... it's like my piano lessons! The one thing I suck mega at is keeping tempo. I'm constantly speeding up and slowing down and it doesn't even matter that I have the metronome going...

So defintely stuff to work on throughout the week and for the next lesson: practice keeping tempo and doing some stretches to loosen my hips up and remembering that each stride counts. It's kind of like what my piano teacher says about keeping tempo... "don't ever stop counting. You need to be counting all the time."

Posting Diagonal Jar Tally: 1 x $2.00 = $2.00
To date: $25.00

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Lesson #61: Details and Tricks

It's my first lesson during the day at Gosling Stables. I've been looking forward to this lesson for 2 weeks now. But, I'm a bit apprehensive because I'm riding with the advanced kids today since ADW is away on business. I'm apprehensive because I'm scared I won't be able to keep up.

It's the first for a few things today, including breakin' out my own grooming kit. I also have to go out to get Ariel. The weather up in these parts at this time of year is a bit harsh and it's windy and wet. I head out to the paddocks and when I see Ariel with the other mares, I know she eyes me too. She bucks at another mare and trots my way. It's as if she knows I've come for her. She walks right to the gate and I slip her halter on and head inside. She holds her head nice and high as if she's excited to be going indoors. I'm not sure if it's because she's expecting breakfast, a warm stall... but it can't be to work, right? She's very accommodating when I'm grooming her so I suppose that she's just as happy going to work as she is getting breakfast.

I have to remember to be careful to ride with a light rein because she doesn't like a lot of pressure in her mouth. In the class too is Ariel's nemesis: Bonspiel. For some reason, they really dislike one another and given the opportunity, would probably kick each other to smitherines. It's a good class though. We work on some technical stuff to initiate the impulsion from their hinds during trot but collect it. It's probably quite elementary at this point but it's difficult to accomplish! I'm asked to squeeze inside leg and half halt the outside rein during the rising portion of the posting trot.

We get some canter going and I need to keep her in check because a few times she speeds off. I sit tight and remember to do a few half halts to remind her that I'm still there and bring her down a little bit. The best thing about this mare is that she's responsive to leg aids. What a pleasure to ride with your legs instead of your hands.

We work on transitions up and down with the aim of having a timely response to our aids. Ariel's being a teeny bit grouchy today and isn't responding as quickly to as light a touch. But, Sheri mentions that today, my hands have not been steady and were bouncing a bit and not consistent which probably meant I caught her mouth. I probably shouldn't have raked as much of the yard yesterday just before riding.

Cool out involves bareback walking out and I ride her with just my legs and let her a loose rein. This mare's got next to no whither and thus has the most comfortable bareback ride! I am actually looking forward to getting to ride her with bareback and trot!

I also learned today, I'm riding a "trick pony"! Not the kind that is used in vaulting or trick riding... but that she knows how to do things for treats! She can 'smile', 'kiss' and 'bow' for treats!

Posting Diagonal Jar Tally: 2 x $2.00 = $4.00
To date: $23.00

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Two Reviews: The Hunger Games

I'm so far down the rabbit hole on this one I'm not sure I can really get into anything else until I'm "allowed" to get into the second part of this trilogy. Going from deciding this is a lame story for kids, to thinking about the characters and their motives while I'm raking leaves... seriously. So far down. But, despite this, I'm moving right along this month. I picked up the Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins more out of curiosity than anything else. It seems like a lot of what I've been reading lately has not been planned! But, that's part of the fun.

The Hunger Games was written several years back but has become a huge hit and was made into a movie. I probably don't need to hype it up much more than that since Jennifer Lawrence has become a household name. This series was written for youth, but, it's surprisingly gruesome and violent (granted, that's up to your imagination) and gained a wide following. I finished reading the book in a work week. As usual, this fictional story took time to pull me in; it didn't take long though. Collins uses a first person present perspective through the eyes of the book's protagonist, Katniss Everdeen. Because of this style, she writes simply and to the point; we are in the mind of Katniss experiencing each moment as she is. This is not a story telling but rather, a live account of a character's life. We're brought into the story through the eyes and thoughts of Katniss.

The story is set in a dystopian future where the people live in Panem--the remnants of North America. The rich and advanced live in the Capitol, enslaving the surrounding districts by exploiting them for specific purposes. This keeps each of the districts in some sort of oppressed state where they live to provide and work for the citizens of the Capitol. We are provided little background about what happened for the world to arrive at this state of opposing wealth and extreme poverty.

I'm not sure if Collins had the intention to talk about specific themes in the book but my take of the primary theme is that it's a satire of reality television. The games themselves are staged and controlled in a way which the gamemakers analyze and create situations to improve ratings in the Capitol. Though all the districts are required to watch, not for entertainment but because they are forced to, in part of the punishment of their Treaty of Treason, the people of the Capitol watch purely for entertainment. They have no connection to the tributes whereas those in the districts are hoping that their tribute won't die. It's a matter of survival for those of the district and for fun, in the Capitol. The lives of those in the districts is hard and real whereas those living in the Capitol are seemingly frivolous and fake. Even in one part of the book, Katniss reflects about the absurd values that those in the Capitol have about appearance.

I couldn't read the book and not watch the movie--especially since it was released on Netflix. The movie was pretty true to the story of the book but as expected, could not capture the first person present perspective and as someone who read the book before watching the movie (never ever read the book AFTER watching the movie!), I found it shallow and lacking depth of character. In addition to this, the camera angles and styles the director chose was making me sick! I suspect it was done to capture the first person perspective of the action but I was eating dinner watching it and had to sit further away during chase scenes so I could keep my meal down.

Nevertheless, I am excited about the second installment of the trilogy and am anticipating my literary palette cleanser before falling back down the rabbit hole ;)

Monday, November 4, 2013

The Royal 2013

It's been weeks since I've ridden outdoors and it's the start of a new fiscal year at work. Fall is my favourite time of year because the bugs are gone and the weather is comfortable. And right after Halloween, it's time to visit the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair and see the animals, food and farming. This year, we've chosen to watch the rodeo and this time, I'm prepared for photos with a zoomy lens and great seats! Amber Marshall is co-hosting with Ross. Who's Ross? I don't know because I can't find any information on him! :(

We started out checking out the Angus competition with ADW drooling all over the place thinking about steak and hamburger...

Angus calf

Now onto the big show! :D

Amber & Ross

Bareback Bronc

Pole Bending!

Trick Riding

Guy Mclean, Aussie horse whisperer

Barrel Racing

More Barrel Racing!


The most dangerous sport in the world

I hope these photos gave you a sampling of the day ADW and I had at the Royal :)

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Lesson #60: More Leg!

Today is the last lesson that ADW and I are taking at Greyden. It makes me sad that I won't be riding there any more because I've grown attached to some of the horses, like Trinket. Although this mare is difficult to ride, she's one of my favourite ponies. There's something about her that I am drawn to. Tonight's lesson started out with the usual warm up of trotting around. Already, I'm caught for my first missed posting diagonal.

The class is focused on bending. We use 20m circles at trot to prepare for our bending. I try to ride with a lighter rein with Trinket because the last lesson with Trinket proved that she responded much better when I wasn't heavy with her face. She kept her head up and moved forward. Today she seemed a bit dull and didn't really seem to want to get into doing much. I had to encourage her frequently, even in trot. And, as expected, in corners she'd get even slower and I needed to use more inside leg to tell her to continue to move forward and bend too. More leg!

To incorporate bending and keeping moving, we did trot poles at angles with the goal to continue in the same pace at turns and to keep moving forward. This proved to be a particularly challenging exercise because Trinket was predictably slowing when turning. More leg!

To finish up the lesson, we're moving into canter. I find myself falling forward again with my upper back rounding over and my hands dropping and Trinket getting into a pony trot. I ride the pony trot better than I have in the past but it still isn't something that I'm excited to do. When she gets into a canter, I realize my weight is almost always in the balls of my foot and not in my heels. Hence, the flopping forwards. I always have to readjust myself once I get into the canter but this is becoming a problem because she takes this need to adjust as an opportunity to either transition down into a trot or switch her lead. Both are equally frustrating because I can't seem to get a full go around of the canter. We try several times and eventually get it. I had to really tell her to get into a canter because wouldn't listen to me asking. More leg!

To keep her from drifting into the corners, I'm reminded to use my inside leg to push her out. Learning to get her to do things from leg aids can be challenging too... as many schoolies sort of just tune you out. So the nudges I give her aren't enough. More leg!

We finish the lesson with leg aid riding only. It's tough but I get through it by getting her to turn with my legs only. Granted, it's only at a walk but I'm sure I would probably be in big trouble if we were trotting (or faster) with only leg aids. But, riding is not about the hands; it's about riding with your seat and legs. An incredible performance can be seen in Heartland episode 18 of season 5 when Amy auditions for Dark Horse.

Posting Diagonal Jar Tally: 3.5 x $2.00 = $7.00
To date: $19.00

Saturday, November 2, 2013

A Review: The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared

This book was not originally on my list and I haven't heard of it either. It came as a recommendation from my former manager as she said it is "light hearded, whimsical and funny". The only other information available to me was the back cover of the book that read "A reluctant centenarian with a life much like Forrest Gump's (if Gump were an explosives expert with a fondness for vodka) decides it not too late to start over...".

The author Jonas Jonasson is a Swede with a twisted and creative sense of humour. The plot he doctors up is twisted and ridiculous all while inserting itself in actual world history very nicely. This isn't a novel that has an overarching theme throughout the book, imbedded in the characters and plot; it's simply a book that requires some knowledge of historical events, an imagination and a sense of humour. Our story is centered around the main character Allan Karlsson--a centenarian who's as alert as you or I but bored of his life in the old folk's home. So, he decides to leave. He doesn't have a plan or a specific desire to go anywhere. But, when in his life has he ever?

As the reader follows Allan's journey of a series of unfortunate events, for others; we are also taken back to the days when he dined with Mao and Truman. For someone who is well versed in basic modern world history, this is either a sheer delight with the unusual story that unfolds, or is a blasphemous piece of prose that doesn't take history seriously. I think it's fun to see how Jonasson takes some liberties with what might have actually transpired between these historical figures and Allan Karlsson while maintaining the actual historical outcome.

The story itself doesn't have any specific purpose other than to entertain. I'd say if you're looking for something of a light and fun read with no real objective or outcome, this is one of those books. It's amusing and will, at times, make you laugh out loud or stare in disbelief at the absurdity of the events unfolding before you.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

My Pet Mummy

No need for many words. This year, I have a lot of fun stuff that's made things really great. To help me celebrate, ADW and Bucky have put together a little something for everyone...

Have a safe and happy Halloween!

Model: Buckingham
Wardrobe Consultant: ADW
Photographer: me
Finished on Pixlr Express

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Lesson #59: Rein Like a Surgeon and Ride like a Rebel

It snowed today. Not here in the city but when I made my way out to Erin, there was snow covering the ground. Looks like it's pretty official: we've moved indoors to ride now. I tacked up to ride Trinket and this is the first time since the last lesson I had successfully gotten her to canter after determining the problem that I was having. That, and the fact that she had a show the day before so was probably a little pooped that time I tried to ride her.

The other student is riding Lakota and I find out that Lakota is very keen on a very light touch in his mouth and that is one of the reasons he kicks up such a fuss when you don't do that. I was riding him with too much rein pressure because we had a miserable time. I decide to try similarly with Trinket and be more aware of my rein pressure in her mouth. And guess what? She isn't pulling me down and forward and she just seems happier in general. Looks like this mare is keen on a light rein touch as well... she just acts differently than Lakota or Nifty. She makes me do all the work when she bites down on the bit and pulls me forward and doesn't kick up a specific fuss.

Today was a successful ride where I got her into a canter. We were working on the usual trot and this time I checked my posting diagonals as often as I could remember. Her trot was pretty good today and despite looking a bit tired when I found her in her stall, she was pretty go today. We worked on a few circles in seated trot which helped me get my seat into it. When we started working on canter, I had to get my head into the game. I had to think "canter" when I was asking her. She didn't do half bad; we got into the canter a few times even though once or twice it was the incorrect lead. I continue to have the same issue with tipping forward when I ask her and as she gets speedy. I know I can do this properly because I remember the feeling of sitting up straight and being prepared to do it.

During one of the canter stints, I lost my stirrup and Lenka told me that my posture was MUCH better. I couldn't stop her while she was zipping around and I was struggling with my stirrup. I probably should have just let go of the other one too so I wasn't so unbalanced and just let her go. Lenka reminded me that... why did I lose my stirrup? (oh me me! pick me!) Because my weight was not in my heels so I was pinching up with my knees and then my leg was coming up and oops! It popped right out.

We're finishing the lesson with some low level jumping. We start over an X with 2 point in the trot. My turns need some work and my 2point as well. I am told that I need to have more of my butt "sticking out" and weight in my heels and to remain in the 2 point for at least 1 stride following the landing so not to land heavily on her back. We try to exit it into a canter. With Trinket, we always end up heavy on the fore hand and I'm struggling to get back up right. It's becoming more of a problem because I can't get her into a canter like that either. Lenka says to add more energy into the trot and a cluck as she lifts her front over the jump. I'm not successful today. We move to the last exercise with 2 X-jumps that are radiating out like it's 4:00pm. Sure, we get through both jumps ok but I'm unable to get Trinket into a canter following. I have to work on pulling myself back up too.

Posting Diagonal Jar Tally: 2 x $2.00 = $4.00
To date: $12.00

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Lesson #58: Bucking Bronco

I had a challenging lesson. It is needless to say that I didn't quite prepare myself for what transpired but I didn't do too badly either. I rode Lakota and it's only the second time I've ridden this gelding but I already know he's obstinate and cranky when it comes to working. Last time, he pinned his ears back when I asked to canter. He has a beautiful smooth floaty canter that is a pleasure to ride when he's willing.

Today, we have a new instructor and she starts us on getting into a working trot. I have to really push Lakota because he just doesn't seem to want to do anything. He ignores all my aids and signals; I really have to kick him to get him going. Eventually we sort things out and he starts listening to me--albeit reluctantly. Our trot isn't as quick as it should be so I goad him onwards into a more engaged trot.

But, Lakota is not excited to work and I spend a lot of effort pushing him forward. Eventually, we work out a temporary truce and he begrudgingly agrees to get into a trot. However, when I insisted on getting into a canter... this initiated war. I now have Lakota bucking and kicking in protest of this request. This goes on with ears pinning and a head shaking about. I am really not enjoying this right now. Thankfully, I didn't realize when he had bucked and stayed on just fine. Then the kicking was mostly startling more than anything else but he was still moving (check). Next obstacle: he is lifting his head up and back and losing the rein contact as a result. I am told to continue to shorten my rein to give him soft contact and regain control while continuing to push him forward. More kicking, head shaking, ear pinning and mini-bucking.

I do eventually get him into a canter but by then, we're both unhappy with one another and I'm pretty tired. I had been applying a considerable amount of leg by now and I am in need of a rest. We do a few more laps of my argument with Lakota and call it a day. Not the most progressive of lessons but definitely one where I learned some unusual tricks to counter a horse like him.

Posting Diagonal Jar Tally: 4 x $2.00 = $8.00

Friday, October 25, 2013

Diagonal Jar

I've been training Bucky since the day that I found him. He's been a royal pain in my arse but he's always so darned cute. Take last night for example: he snuck onto the table as I was showing ADW out. I heard (because I've developed super sharp hearing now) him on the table; the table creaked, actually. So I raced over and saw him on the table with that guilty look on his face so I clapped loudly and he zoomed right off. Someone's in trouble now.

I grabbed our furry little friend and sent ADW off and took Bucky to his room and closed the door. That would be it. Animals learn by association. A little late, yes, as some of you might say, but I felt justified for catching him in the act. One day he might just learn that he's not supposed to do things like that. One can only continue to try.

Anyways, training bad habits out of any living breathing creature seems easily transferable between different animals. Humans are technically animals and if you tried to touch a hot stove with your bare hands, you'd learn pretty quickly that it's hot and you shouldn't touch it.... or at least be wary of it. That said, I am going to introduce my posting diagonal jar to train an incorrect posting diagonal out of me. I know what a posting diagonal is therefore, I should be more aware of my posting diagonals during lessons. Time to train this bad habit out of me.

How is the jar going to work?

When I am called out for a posting diagonal during class, I'll count that and multiply the number of times I'm called out, with $2.00; with the total going into my posting diagonal jar. The lesson posts will include both the tag (posting diagonal jar) and the tally at the end. At my next riding anniversary, I will summarize the total and then look to donate to a specific charity which helps horses (or cats, if I can't find one that is geared to horses).

Note: updated cost after further reflection

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Worm Bin Winterization

I don't know about how the weather is where you're at but just north of me, they're getting snow. It's not even past Halloween yet! "Winter is coming" is the motto of House Stark (Game of Thrones). The words behind this motto is one of warning and constant vigilance. It's very reassuring for someone like me, actually. We don't get a winter quite like the characters of the story but regardless, us Canadians have a lot of winterizing to do before the frost sets in and the snow starts. I have been slowly working in the garden to clean up and get things ready for the winter and for next spring. I wanted to try my hand at planting garlic for next year and I have planted 10 bulbs and cleared out the remaining legumes. I still have a little left for clean up but the major items have been cleared up and I've also take in my vermicomposting bin.

I'll go through the steps I took, to get things ready:
  1. I made space for my bin in the basement. It is returning to its old spot.
  2. The bin was cleaned up by washing the exterior with a powerful spray of water and sifting through the compost to ensure that everything is still healthy.
  3. I do the clean up outside.
  4. While sifting through the compost, I am looking for ear wigs (ugh) and other critters that are not desireable to be found in a worm bin. I pull these out and dispose of them back into nature.
  5. I washed the outer bin that acts as a catch all and the lid.
  6. I notice a lot of mites in the bin. These look like tiny brown specks all over the walls of the bin. I make the effort to wipe down what I could see and get rid of as many as I can.
  7. All washed parts of the bin are left to try and then put back together and brought inside.
My worms seem to be pretty happy but the quality of compost is questionable in my mind. I see that they have eaten most of what's there and there is really only very fibrous items still remaining but the paper doesn't seem to break down enough. I envisioned that there would be a lot more "dirt" and less of the broken down paper bits. I'm not sure what I should be seeing here but I thought it should be more homogenous. I've since mixed things around and added a dry layer of newspaper shreds. I haven't had to wet down my shreds anymore because the moisture from the bin is enough to get new paper wet.

Next steps? It's becoming more self-sufficient but now I have to do some research about what the ideal compost should look like and what I need to do, to achieve that.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Get Up, Stand Up

I used to be that kid... you know, the one that would hide and give up for fear of failure. I was forced to learn to play the piano, get extra math and English tutoring as well as being pushed to excel academically. I did none of these things well, I admit. And, I'm still uncomfortable with failure but with age, I've gotten better at accepting both--a certain level of 'failure' as well as redirecting the fear to something that will help push me to succeeding. Sometimes brilliantly and other times not so much.

No, I didn't have a sudden near-death experience to illicit a fire under my arse but I've been left with my own thoughts about success and failure in a broader term and realized that I can sit here with the fear keeping me seated; or I can get up and do something about it and take control, and either work to excel or stare fear in the face and make the active choice to do what I can and still fail anyways. But, at least I tried.

What am I referring to? I'm on my way to my first piano lesson (again), tonight. Renewing my musical relationship, is on my "bucket list" and naturally, with the way things have been going, I've taken the decision that I want to revive my dormant memory and skills as now's as good a time as any. When I was being coerced to take it, I struggled with always being much less capable than my (younger) brother; he picked up the sight-reading and the tempos and scales like a duck to water. I, on the other hand was like a cod fish on land: totally out of my element. So, I mentally gave up. I figured it would be sufficient to muddle through to complete my RCM grade 8 and stop. I didn't have any interest to do more but figured that at least I 'accomplished' something. This uncomfortable sense of 'accomplishment' I garnered though, stayed with me in the back of my mind reminding me that I didn't really deserve to feel good about being able to say I completed my grade 8; I could barely sight-read. I have not touched the piano in over a decade now and we have two pianos at home: a grand and a small upright.

But, as my friend Dave reminds me, "You're an adult now. You can play whatever you want.". So, my decision is to start up bi-weekly lessons with a local teacher at the Piano Studio Etobicoke. My game plan is to hone and develop my abilities so that I am able to play the new scores I bought yesterday at Song & Script Music Store. I've always wanted to be able to play some of the greatest songs both classically and on-screen or stage and this is my chance to get back 'on stage'.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Lesson #57: Bliss

We visited a little slice of heaven on Friday (Oct 18, 2013) in place of our regular weekly lessons at Greyden. This facility is stunning: the stable is built into the rolling hills of the property and is bright, clean and solidly built. The indoor arena is also HUGE. I don't know the exact dimensions but I would happily guess that it is twice the size of Greyden's. It didn't take a lot longer to get there but the route we took is slightly different. Our instructor's specialty is dressage herself but she also teaches hunter-jumper. All the disciplines that I really want to work towards because I'm interested in (what I'd consider) the highest level of horsemanship: eventing. Not only do you have to be an incredibly proficient rider in several different areas but the relationship bond between horse and rider must be unshakeable.

I know. Are you swooning like I am? I've been on cloud nine since Friday and haven't been able to stop thinking about our experience. I even got up on a Monday (MONDAY!!) morning with pep in my step on my way to work. Sure, I fell asleep and missed my stop but who cares? I'm feeling like a million bucks! I even greeted my coworkers with a cheery "good morning!" to which they grumbled or ignored me. Again, not something I do but I didn't care what was going through their minds b/c I floated in. So, onwards to my lesson!

When we arrived, I was assigned a chubby Appaloosa mare named Ariel. She's a cremello colour which almost looks white to me; and she's got these bright blue eyes and spots on her extremeties. It's nice to be riding a horse that isn't a pony; she's approximately 15.1 hh which is perfect (though I do love a 16hh+ horse) for me. But, like most animals, she's got a mischevous glint in her eye and dirt all over her back, loin and croup. Time to get working.

We put ourselves together and walk into the arena to put ourselves together and mount our steeds. We're reminded that because these horses are not "schoolies", they are sensitive to aids and we do not need to excessively ask. We have our usual warm up of trotting around this big arena and wow; Ariel only needs a teeny squeeze and off she goes. I consistently forget about my diagonals and have to be reminded to check. I should actively check regularly and see if I can feel when I'm riding incorrectly. That said, we do quite a bit of trotting around and I start to realize that I'm pretty unfit and I tire and my legs and my cardio systems remind me that I need to continue to work on that. Cycling Sunday mornings, here I come!

Next, the canter. I've been experiencing issues with getting Trinket to canter in both the indoor and outdoor rings lately. I shift my outside leg back and she takes off like an F-16. No pulling down, no deeking about and no dropping down in speed. We canter around several times and I can hear the air whistling past me and I continue with a giant smile on my face. Since the ring is large, I don't feel like the walls are too close to me and we both comfortably lap around several times. To slow down, I remember that I should be sitting up straighter and making myself slightly more rigid and gently squeezing my reins to tell her that I intend to slow down. There is no fighting: she drops out of the canter and we're back in the trot and I barely have to pull back before she slows further to a walk.

Our final exercise is a small x-jump which we take at the trot but these girls and guy actually jump over the jump even in trot. My 2-point is weak here and I find myself either leaning onto her crest or pulling on her just before the jump. I'm reminded that when she jumps and I'm in my 2-point position, she'll come up to me so there is no need for me to lean so far forward--just stick my butt back and out. I still need to find my 'sweet spot' here as I progress forward. One day this will just come together and I'll be moving forward to getting into a showing/competitive state. Until then!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Lesson #56: You Lift Me Up

It's Thanksgiving weekend for us Canucks and it's the weekend of the Erin Fall Fair. However, ADW and I don't get to go to the fair but we do get up Sunday morning to go riding. It's rainy though, so we end up indoors; and it doesn't really bother me anymore, to ride indoors, because I feel like I've gotten more control over things and speeding around doesn't seem so darned scary.

I'm assigned to ride Trinket. But, I receive this news with a bit of apprehension. I have been having trouble with Trinket to get her into the canter for several lessons now and I can't seem to figure out what's wrong with me. Yes, me. Not her. I've learned that animals are a lot smarter than we give them credit for so likely, she's perfectly understanding what's being asked of her but she isn't doing it for some reason that I haven't yet figured out.

I speed around trying to initiate canter and every time, I get close but it doesn't seem to follow though. I am falling all over the place and leaning forward more and more. It's an incredibly frustrating stint. Lenka even tells me, "you ask her nice once... and if she ignores you, you demand it of her. Kick harder and I don't care how you look like". I kick as hard as I can when I try for the umpteenth time and she only manages to speed around. *sigh*

Lenka asks if I want her to give it a whirl and see if she can figure out what might be wrong with her because my aids are right and I'm asking for the initiation in the corners. It's when I stand holding onto Trinket do I realize that Lenka is a lot taller than I am and getting on a pony looks kind of funny on her ;) Regardless! She also kicks and pushes Trinket to get into a canter but she can't seem to stay in it. This time, she tries something different: she lifts her head up with the reins while asking. And off she goes!

Lenka tells me that I need to lift Trinket off to initiate the canter. The thing is, the more experienced girls ride and show her so I'm sure that a good portion of the error is attributed to my lack of developed skill. Trinket leans on the bit and pulls herself along with her front instead of motoring through with her backside. This can't be good that her hind end is a little on the weaker side. I do remember this comment during another lesson and it makes sense now. But, I'm glad that I've figured that out! Hopefully I can continue to work with her to get at least myself up to par so that my weight is shifted back into the seat and onto her hind end.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Lesson #55: Frustration Rising

Sometimes things don't get better and you just continue on the bad path you've started down; this was one of those kinds of lessons. I rode Trinket again and I had a good deal of trouble getting her into the canter. The last few lessons have been a real test of my patience and self confidence getting into the canter with Trinket. But, it hasn't always been like this. I worked up to the point where I was able to canter her indoors in a smaller space with control. It was a very satisfying accomplishment as I slowly worked up to the ability to do that. But, today was rough because she didn't get into the canter despite me pushing her.

Instead of the usual posting or seated trot, we focused on extending and shortening our trot. Lengthening a trot has a horse cover more ground and the strides are literally longer. This seems to also mean that they go faster. Shortening is more 'march like' where they are covering less ground and it's closer to them marching. When we were lengthening, we were asked to push them forward and to post with an exaggerated post but going away from home. Shortening the trot was done in the direction towards home and in a seated trot.

Our next exercise was trot poles laid in a closer measurement where we are required to shorten their stride so that there is one foot fall between each pole and no poles are missed. This is not as easy as it looks and if they're not careful, they can stop on the poles or miss them entirely. Following this exercise, Jennifer lengthens the distance between the poles and says now we are to extend our trot and still end up with a single foot fall between each pole. Not easy. If you don't lengthen enough, they have two foot falls between each pole and that's wrong. So, you need to have them really move forward and reach for that next step.

From there, we get into something different: gymnastics. Jennifer was basically asking for the horse to do a line of multiple jumps and moving through it into a canter. First few times was a trot through it and we ended up in canter b/c there was so little space between the jumps that they had no choice but to canter out. What a neat feeling! You have no space for a half seat or anything and you stay in the 2-point for the entire line. She even goes as far as to triple the jumps and the horses have to leap leap leap canter.

After going through with trot, we're asked to get into a canter to go into the jumps as well as continue out of it. This has become another lesson like the last few, with Trinket. I am frustrated because she won't start into the canter and seems to be able to get out with a canter but not after pulling me so far forward that I am pushing against her crest/whithers to get back up. I'm clearly being pulled down far too much. The canter has become a really frustrating experience for me as no matter what I try, I am being pulled down and the canter is becoming non-existent because neither of us are able to get into it.

I finish this lesson feeling frustrated with the situation and unclear about what I need to do, to get myself back up and her moving into a canter. But, I have had quite the experience jumping through those gymnastics!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Lesson #54: Anniversary

October 4, 2013

It is literally 1 year to the day, when NR and I started riding at Greyden. A lot has happened since then and I feel like the best thing to do is to review how far I've come. We've got a new instructor tonight and since the lesson focused around what we know and what we can do, I thought it might be beneficial for me to review the things I've accomplished, to date, and to review goals and direction.

In order for this comprehensive list to be relevent, I"ve checked out the Equine Canada handbook of Rider Level Program, Levels 1-10 for the English Discipline. It appears this is a rudimentary manual for all English riders to aspire towards before deciding to specialize in a specific area of English riding. These areas could be anywhere from Dressage to Eventing to Jumping.

There are extensive requierments within the manual and at this point, I am comfortably past level 1 and nearly completed level 2. I have a few items to master in level 2:
  • Know how often the ferrier should visit a horse (I'm sure I can find this information online somewheres...)
  • Be able to tie a quick release knot (I tied one of these when I was a kid but I can't remember and we never need to do it in the school right now)
  • Know the reasons for cleaning tack and the method involved (I would know this if I didn't miss 'spa day' back in May)
  • Preparation and accuracy between the letters. Riders are not necessarily proficient at canter at this level (my canter is something I continue to struggle with)
  • Riding 20m circles of the correct size (i.e. going to tangent points) (I ride some sort of circle... but 20m exactly? I'm not sure)
There are some items in level 3 which I have familiarity with but there still is a lot that I haven't gotten through yet. But, for 1 year of weekly riding, this isn't too bad!

In terms of my lesson today... I need to work on the canter with Trinket because I have a tendency to be heavy on her forehand which only makes matters worse. My shoulders collapse and I lean forward to initiate the canter which is exactly what you don't want to be doing. With this mare, doing that makes it difficult for her to initiate the canter since she tends to be heavy on the forehand anyways; all that is accomplished is that she speeds up in the trot and I just bump around uncomfortably!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Lesson #53: Front Heavy

Sunday September 29, 2013

I've got a long day ahead of me but what better way to start it than to be riding! I'm on my own today, to get everything done. The lesson with Trinket is a good start to the day. Since it's an outdoor lesson, we work on getting our gaits going and Lenka challenges us to a sort of "course" with trot poles. We're asked to start a canter and then transition to a trot and then trot over poles and then re-initiate the canter and then trot over some more poles and completes with a canter. Easy enough to comprehend what is being asked but I certainly had a good deal of difficulty getting through this. My initial canter worked just fine and I even transitioned down into a trot. But, getting back into the canter was a total nightmare. I was struggling and Trinket was only going faster and faster. Nothing worked despite my urging and pushing.

Lenka pointed out that I was leaning forward and my shoulders were hunching forward. It isn't that Trinket is not listening... but she tends to be heavy on the forehand so when I tip forward and my weight gets onto her front end, it must put her out of balance and make it difficult for her to initiate the canter. So, instead of am bumping around in a seated trot with my posture totally out of alignment and my shoulders rounding forward with her pulling me down and forward.

This is certainly not my most graceful moment on this mare so I do try to continue to push forward and try again but I also recognize that I will have to do something about my own posture to get this right. It isn't her... she's clearly capable of doing a canter but I would say that she's probably not feeling balanced enough to initiate it and nobody wants to trip.

This was a frustrating lesson and I hope that my luck will be better next lesson.

The rest of the day was me driving out in the country to get to Stratford/Sebringville. It's such a wonderful drive out that way and I have a great time driving out on country roads on my own. It was a great break to be out on my own zipping around in ADW's car ;)

The best part? I'm on my way to do a food pick up this afternoon. Starting with my trip to Sebringville/Stratford to pick up my half Berkshire pig carcass. That's right folks, I'm going to pick up ~100lbs of delicious heritage pork. I always say, pork is supposed to be fatty. If it isn't, why aren't you eating chicken or something even less fatty? There's nothing wrong with fat. Especially when the animal is raised naturally and happily. I arrive and pick up 2 large boxes of my pig and head home with an additional 100lbs in the back.

I won't get into too much detail as I'll save that post for another day but the farm that I went to is called Perth Pork Products and they raise several heritage breeds that taste like the pork that used to be eaten. mmmmm mmm delicious!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Flying Lead Change

I realize that I forgot to outline what a flying lead change is, during my post about my latest stay-cation vacation. We learn what a flying lead change is but I didn't explain what that might be, for the rest of you. The lead change happens in mid-air during the canter. The canter is the third gait of a horse and it involves 3 foot falls and follows this sequence (in a circle):
  1. outside hind
  2. inside hind + outside front
  3. inside front
The objective of proper leads is primarily for proper balance of the horse and is very important if you're doing jumping and less so if you're riding a straight line. The concept is similar to trot diagonals.

Here's a thorough video about what it is...

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Lesson #52: More Bending

This was the worst traffic experience to date. So much so that we didn't arrive until 8pm--which is when our lesson starts and so we had to request the horses to be tacked-up upon arrival. I don't prefer that because of the fact that if I'm riding a horse I'm not familiar with, I prefer to get to know them better during the grooming and tacking up. Like today... I'm assigned to ride Lakota. He's a relatively new horse and hasn't been in any other classes prior.

I have been looking forward to this ride all week because I was sick the week before and wasn't able to make it out and with work... well, this was a welcome change! Today we work on 3-loop serpentines which takes the lot of us 2 tries to understand what is being asked of us. When we finally understood it, we were asked to focus on the bend of the horse so that they were turning ever so slightly on the bends and the straight aways were to be straight. Tougher than it sounds, trust me. While we did some cantering, the feature of the lesson was perhaps the turning refinement. The serpentines and 20m circles were our features as they are tricky to do well because you're asked to create bend, maintain a consistent pace and also to keep straight when you're supposed to and bend when you're supposed to, too.

We are reminded not to pull too much when asking for a bend or you just end up turning their heads in the direction you want without their bodies actually moving in that direction too. It's all very technical but I'm not at the point where I can explain that so I'm not going to try :P

Otherwise, not so much a big post lesson but one which certainly challenged us with understanding our bends.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Treehouse of Horrors

I have a thing for toys... and the Simpsons and all things bizarre. Kidrobot a line of Simpsons figures that I got hooked on, over the weekend while visiting Silver Snail. Fittingly, it's also close to Halloween and it's the Treehouse of Horrors series! After buying 3 random figures, I've decided enough guessing: I want to get the full set (minus the gremlin b/c he's a "rare").

Kidrobot: Simpsons Treehouse of Horror

If you've watched the Halloween editions of the Simpsons, you'll probably recognize each character above and chuckle a little bit to yourself. Well, I chuckled a bit when I got a response on a forum that a guy had some of the ones I was looking for but only after I bought from someone else. He called me "bro"... which reminds me again that this tends to be a guy's hobby.... *sigh*

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Perfect Escape

It's something I knew but my coworker confirmed it during a conversation earlier this week when he said "... you definitely seem to 'recharge' better with nature and/or animals". You see, I'm an introvert; apparently a severe introvert and I require "me time" to properly recharge after expending my energy on regular events like going to work for 7.5 hours--what a chore! And it appears that I get the most out of being around nature and animals. When I think about Buckingham's entrance into my life (and home), I can see how the dynamics of my home and myself have changed for the better. My parents don't know it but I hear them with the little dude and they sound genuinely happy. Me? I feel plenty better after I spend an evening (or short morning) with him. I know, it sounds a bit crazy cat lady, doesn't it?

Selina Kyle, Catwoman
Selina Kyle, my hero!

So, the prospect of getting out of the city and spending time surrounded by the Ontario nature and horses really appealed to me. I booked a long weekend at Cadogan Farm Adventures in Caledon, Ontario. This is a horse farm B&B where guests can choose to go and relax away from the buzz of the city, or they can take the opportunity to work with and ride horses.

Since I've started riding, I have fallen further and further in love with the countryside of Ontario. Unfortunately for us this evening, we've arrived late and didn't have the opoprtunity to get the full impression of arriving to our weekend home away. The home is stunning and huge: I'm excited.

Friday morning's first order of business was breakfast before getting ready to head out to ride for our assessment lesson at Trailwood Farms (just down the street). And what a breakfast it was! Our hostess, Gina had stocked the pantry with bacon, breakfast sausage, eggs, cereal, juice, bacon, coffee, tea, pastries and more bacon! What a fabulous hearty breakfast to start your day with.

We are introduced to Gina's head instructor, Wendy at Trailwood Farms. I am assigned to ride a chestnut thoroughbred named Sully; he's a big horse compared to what I'm used to riding. I believe he's at least 16hh. We start the lesson together and by the end, we're split up to work on specific things to further tune our weaknesses and strengths. It's nice to ride a properly sized horse and not a pony. Not that I have issues with ponies... but for some reason, a bigger horse seems to feel safer! We do manage to get into a canter and his canter is this nice smooth "da-dun da-dun" that just has you sailing through the air. However, little did I realize, that without me directing him more, he liked to speed up and drift into the ring during turns. Wendy tells me that I have to ride deep into the corners by pushing him into the corners so that he keeps proper balance and doesn't lose me in the process. I work on staying focused on doing what I wanted of him. We finish off the lesson with some ground pole work and then head out. Trailwood Farms is a beautifully maintained location. And their indoor ring...*swoon* it's truly a spectacular facility.

Our afternoon ride for Friday is on Cadogan Farm property but we didn't quite know what we were in for. This time, I'm assigned a sweet and quiet liver chestnut names Sadie who is a bit shy at the get go; she isn't running away from me but she's not exactly interested in me. This time, Wendy's daughter Nicole is riding with us too. She leads us to the interior of the property; as we walk over the small swell of a hill, we're greeted with this stunning open field with some cross country jumps. We're riding in an open field. What a chance! I'm not sure what's going on but it doesn't seem like Sadie is excited to do this with me... she's more interested to go running and jumping about on her own. We eventually sort out our differences and we take to our lesson and practice cantering and trotting. I'm cautioned that Sadie wasn't started properly (she's a rescue) so when she turns, she turns straight as a board and doesn't bend. So it's on me to get her to bend this weekend.

Uh oh! Sadie sees me with carrots...

Three times is bliss, I say. We finish dinner and head over to Greyden for our regular weekly Friday ride. With so much riding in a short period of time, I'm all limber and I remember some of the things we were working on earlier in the day. A successful ride.

Saturday is more riding in the morning at Trailwood and this time I ride a leggy thoroughbred named Mon. He's a dark bay and he's inquisitive and eager. He's also one of the biggest horses I've ever ridden before. He's stunning. But, he's distracted in the arena because the windows are open and he can see the fields and his friends. With a day like that, I wouldn't want to be working either! We eventually figure ourselves out and we have some cantering and transition work. It's more of a similar lesson on Friday except we ride with NR and Kent.

During our lunchtime break, we spend time on the stunning property and find some peace in the teepee set-up on the property. A lazy afternoon and the perfect rest before our next lesson back in the open Cadogan field! It should be noted that at this point, I'm not (not surprisingly) tired and only a tad sore and with a giant bruise on my leg from a stirrup buckle rub. But I hadn't noticed until late Friday night.

It is incredibly liberating to canter in the field again and we learn what a flying lead change is. Something new to work towards when we get better with our canters but for now, we continue to go with a controlled canter and the proper bend. We do some low level pole ground work where our horses are asked to trot over the poles in a specific order. Our last activity is to actually try a basic cross country jump at a trot. It's not the first time we've done a jump but it was certainly a different feeling when there's so much space available to you and your mount!

This is our last lesson for the day and ADW and I head to the Brampton Fall Fair to watch the demolition derby. Have you ever been to one? This was my first and not last! I admit, I didn't have high hopes about this and figured that we'd just go and see what it might be and head back. But I found it very amusing to watch and we stayed for 2 rounds instead of 1! These old clunkers were doing a figure 8 loop and going at full speed (as fast as broken clunkers can go!) and crashing into one another and drifting out in corners! It was hilarious to watch the cars do their bumper car thing and wheels went flat or flew off, bumpers knocked off and one car even rode up onto the barrier early on!

Towing off car 537 from the concrete barriers...

Our evening ends with a bon fire where we sit calmly staring into the flame. There's something very primal about fire and watching it can be hypnotic!

Sunday is our last day and we finish our time at Cadogan with a nice trail ride. When I mounted Sadie, I noticed how tired my body finally is, after 5 lessons in 2 days. And it's only at this point where I'm starting to feel a bit uncomfortable sitting in the saddle. I persist to ride but not as effectively as I was earlier :P The trail ride is a perfect way to end our time here since it's easy and gives me the opportunity to spend a nice slow walk with Sadie so that I can get to know her better.

Just after noontime, we part our ways and say goodbye to Gina and thank her for having us. It was an absolutely wonderful weekend and even then, I could still jump on a horse and take another lesson or two! I can't wait to have another opportunity to head out and ride some more at this perfect escape from the city.