Saturday, March 30, 2013

From Reykjavik, With Love

Saturday is the last chance to squeeze in a "regular" day for us seeing as people seemed to start taking their Easter vacations on Thursday. In the Frommer's guidebook for Iceland, there is a section for "Suggested Itineraries" where various stays are outlined for travelers. Having seen a very fulfilling  1-day schedule which takes one to some of the "must-see" spots in Reykjavik, I decided that today was the day to execute it. Though we started the day later than we should have, we managed to head into town and check out this cozy little book-lined bohemian cafe across from the Culture House/Museum.

Grái Kötturinn

The menu is simple and satisfying: I order pancake with ham, cheese and cream-cheese and ADW has a more traditional eggs and bacon type of breakfast. The coffee here is some of the best I've had in the city and we even tried a carbonated fizzy malt drink.

We head out to the Culture House/Museum next. This museum/house is built in 1909 (I think?) and features transcribed and bound books of the 14th and 15th centuries; stored under low light  and behind glass. The exhibit even goes into the process of the vellum book binding of the Icelandic medieval times.

As ADW probably has worms with a penchant for processed fatty meats, we head to the best known hot-dog stand in the country: Baejarinns Bestu Pylsur to grab a snack. I don't think he's ever going to get sick of hot-dogs...

We browse some of the main tourist streets to pick up some more souvenirs for friends and family and make the effort to drop by the Hand-Knitting Association of Iceland where tourists visit to purchase hand-made traditional Icelandic sweaters and other woolen goods made from Icelandic sheep wool. If you're going to get yourself traditional Icelandic woolen gear, this is the place to go because their products are genuinely hand-knitted in Iceland and use authentic Icelandic wool--which is special in its own right.

The main Christian denomination of the Icelanders is the Lutheran sect and the most prominent church in Reykjavik is the Hallgrímskirkja. This towering architectural monument is one of the most visible and impressive sights in the city. While you either hate or love the architectural aesthetics, their elevator takes you to an unbeatable view of the entire city and surrounding area. The fee to go up is really reasonable and it seems that you can go whenever the church is open--even when the church store/ticket office, is not. I'll be stitching together a panoramic view sometime when I return.

Tomorrow we round up our trip by saying good-bye to the city of Reykjavik to head to our final tourist destination of Iceland: the Blue Lagoon. This geothermal spa is one of the top visited attractions in Iceland and boasts incredible therapeutic spa treatments for those with psoriasis or other skin conditions. Two of the Ottawa girls we met said that they came out and their entire bodies felt soft like baby bum. I feel that this is a necessary event as Icelanders are known for their outdoor geothermal pools, and are known to frequent these types of establishments even when it's raining or snowing out!

(**NOTE: I know, I promised lots of photos but the wi-fi is a bit spotty tonight. So, I'll definitely be getting something together once I return home :) )

Nearing the End of Our Trip

Since I've been busy blogging, I thought it would be good to give ADW a chance to post his thoughts on here too...
Iceland may not be the first destination to come to mind when planning for a trip during a long Canadian winter, but while many Canadians headed to warmer climates in anticipation for our own spring and summer, we headed to the North Atlantic island known for its Vikings and volcano eruptions.

I would describe Iceland as powerful and majestic, yet peaceful and understated. The beautiful landscapes - including mighty waterfalls, dormant volcanoes, and lumbering glaciers – remind us of the amazing geological forces that shape the face of our Earth. At the same time, this sparsely populated island does not have the same frenetic pace that we are used to in North America and allows one the time and peace to properly take it all in.

There are three highlights from the trip in particular:
1)     The horse riding trip through old lava fields was better than I had anticipated. For the last three months, I have been taking lessons at Greyden working hard on improving my riding skills, all the while restricted to the confines of a small arena due to the chilly winter weather. Finally, on our Icelandic horse riding tour, I was able to utilize these hard earned (albeit limited) skills out in the open and be a true horse rider! I was able to control my lively Icelandic horse, ride the Tolt, and experience the canter for the first time while riding through some truly amazing scenery. I’m really glad that the riding lessons have paid off and allowed me to truly appreciate our riding tour.

2)     Hiking on the glacier was a great experience. When I was younger, I had actually visited the Columbia Ice Fields and walked on that glacier, but I never truly understood what it was that I was walking on. Little did I know that glaciers are actually slowly moving, immense structures of ice that carve a path through the land. This time I was able to understand that I was walking on a true force of nature.
3)     Ok, so this is not a specific “highlight” per se, but there is no tipping in Iceland! I have never been to a country where no tips are expected and I like it. A lot. I have no problem paying for good service because I believe good service should be rewarded, but I do have a problem with the entitled North American attitude that a good tip is expected regardless of the service. I am particularly irked when I pay using a card machine and it prompts me to enter a 25% (!!!) tip. The service here in Iceland has been impeccable and I have no major complaints. I really appreciate that our servers and tour guides take pride in doing a good job without expecting a tip afterwards. Kudos for helping us have a great time and I wish we could import this attitude to North America.

I have really enjoyed my time in Iceland and although it is not an in-your-face exciting place to visit, it has won me over with its majestic scenery, amazing experiences, and great culture. This is a place I would like to come back to visit again in the future.

And because ADW is a keeper of factoids, here's a list of facts that he compiled because he thought they were interesting...
A few interesting facts about Iceland:
-     99% of the electricity here is generated by clean sources. 20% from geothermal heat and the rest from hydro-electric
-     The water here is extremely clean and tap water tastes as good, if not better, than the bottled “spring water” that we can buy back home
-     Reykjavik is considered to have the best hot-dogs in the world, and yes they sure are tasty!
-     Icelandic is the name of the country’s language, but it is actually the same ancient Norwegian language used by the first settlers over 1,200 years ago. Icelanders can read ancient Norwegian texts, but Norwegians can not since modern Norwegian has evolved while Icelandic has remained the same
-     Iceland reads and publishes more books per capita than any other country in the world
-     The world’s first openly gay prime minister was elected in Iceland in 2010
-     Many people in Iceland believe in hudulfolk, or hidden people, which include elves, gnomes, dwarves and trolls. Sometimes when driving in the country side, you can see small little colourful homes in the hillsides which are made by people (I’m assuming) for elves
-     Iceland has no standing army, but it is a NATO member. It is currently Canada’s turn to defend Iceland and we have six CF-18’s currently based at Keflavik for a 5-week rotation

We're almost done our trip and I'm sad to be leaving tomorrow but rest assured that there will be at least 1 more post before we leave here--with plenty of photos!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Icelandic Vikings and Their Steeds

I took up horse-back riding lessons a few months ago and I've been hooked since. I spend most of the week looking forward to going and after I complete my lessons, I spend the following days thinking about when I'd go next. So, on this vacation to Iceland, it's not a surprise that I took the opportunity to ride an Icelandic horse. You might wonder why this breed is different than the ones you're seen. The Icelandic horse is a unique horse breed that was developed in Iceland by the Viking ancestors.

Vikings first brought over their Scandinavian horses to Iceland in the 9th and 10th century when they were settling in Iceland. These horses are long-lived and hardy. Take for example, my horse today, Litll Kall (which means "little man") who's 20 years old yet moves like he's well under 10 years old! As his name describes, he's a little dude and he happens to be the smallest of the entire herd here.

Despite their small size, they are considered horses by their human guardians. They are sturdy looking little horses that have well-proportioned heads with straight profiles and wide foreheads. Their neck is short and muscular with a long back. They also all seem to have these full flowing manes and tails that make them look like movie stars with a permanent stylist.

Blesa was ADW's equine friend for the day

That's Blesa who's a young horse (7 years old) who's mane and tail was not anywhere near as long and flowing as Litll Kall's which looked like his head-toss could turn heads to be mesmerized at how lovely he is.

Litll Kall and I waiting to get out into open space
Most of the horses we ride back home typically have 4 standard gaits: walk, trot, canter/lope, gallop. The most notable thing about Icelandic horses is not only their little size or flowing hair, but the fact that they can naturally perform their famous gait, the tölt; which is a 4 beat gait that is very similar to a really fast walk pace. Unfortunately both ADW and I had epic photographic failures today and while it was our most enjoyable day, it was also the one which we had the least number of photos and videos to show for it. However, with this day and age, almost anything can be found on the internet. With the magic of the internet, I give you an example of the tölt. Look at him go!!

After experiencing the non-gaited horses typically ridden, this has got to be some of the most fun on a horse I've had. These equine friends are lively (see, not stubborn or lazy), fun and safe to ride. Their
tölt is a funny rocking side to side motion that is incredibly smooth to sit through.

We took the Viking Tour with Íshestar which is a ~6 hour intermediate ride broken into 3 hour blocks. The first half of the tour accompanies a much larger group of beginners and intermediate riders where we eventually split the groups into 2 and the intermediate riders work on getting some faster saddle time with their new little Viking mounts. After this first section, we return to the facility to drop-off the beginner riders and have a short lunch before getting ready to head back out again. We're lucky today because we're the only riders on this tour!! How excited were we when we heard we're getting a private tour with another guide.

We set out and we ride onto the 7000+ years old moss covered lava fields at tölt, walk and the occasional sneaked in trot. There are dozens more riders and horses out than usual, says our guide Alexa. Normally the paths are pretty empty but today, we are encountering equine and human traffic all over the path. Many adults and children take part in this initial spring outing and they are riding with several horses in tow. Horseback riding is a very popular activity in Iceland and many people enjoy time with their equine friends. Apparently it is customary for riders to take multiple mounts with them so they are able to change the horse, to give them regular breaks.

Many riders were out today, getting ready for their first spring rides

We continue our way through the ash and gravel paths and on the first major uphill, we're given the opportunity to ride the canter/gallop. I get these immediate flashes back to the times in the arena where cantering is still something I'm working on and makes me nervous. I figure, I'm out here once and likely the worst that can happen is I fall off and tumble through the cushiony moss fields. So we go. And what an exhilarating experience that was! Letting Litll Kall free to race up the hill at full speed was one of the most incredible feelings during this trip.

It wasn't until this point when I noticed how beautiful, peaceful, majestic and stunning the views are. Íshestar is only 20 minutes outside of Reykjavik but it's amazing that it feels like we've driven well out into the country to enjoy this ride. The views are truly stunning as you see the moss covered lava fields around you, being backed by huge expansive snow-covered mountain ranges in the background. To be surrounded by this view was breath-taking and swept me away from everything that living in a city is about.

We get some mini riding lessons from Alexa about riding the tölt properly as well as an opportunity to understand some Icelandic rituals such as the fall horse and sheep corralling. Icelandic horses live incredible lives here: they are working and food animals for the people but are also given extraordinary treatment of an annual 6 month vacation where they're set free to roam the highlands/country during the spring and summer and then rounded up again in the fall. This type of activity is unheard of in North America. Icelanders actually have this annual event where people get out and get inebriated with Brennivín and meet people; many of whom meet their spouses this way. I hope that one day I'm experienced enough to return and take part in this horse/sheep round-up. It sounds like an incredible experience outdoors.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Hot Water, Cold Water and Laws

We take a change of pace today and embark on a bus tour for a shortened version of the popular Golden Circle Tour. Instead of taking the full tour which would take much longer, we visited 3 sites today: Geysir, Gullfoss and Þingvellir.

The first stop is the area where we find Geysir and Strokkur. Geysir is the original fountain geyser which all geysers have been named for. It's no longer as active as it used to be so we do not expect to see any eruptions from it. However, we do have the opportunity to witness one of Iceland's most famous geysers, Strokkur. Strokkur impressively erupts for us every 4-8 minutes around 20 m high. Both Strokkur and Geysir are fountain geysers found in a part of the Haukadalur geothermal area where you would find other geothermal features such as mud pools, fumaroles, algal deposits and other geysers around it. The most notable feature is the steam rising out from the ground.

Strokkur erupting

After I return home, I'll be editing a video clip of an erupting Strokkur. It's impressive to watch because a large bubble forms over the centre and seconds later, the hot water of the geyser goes shooting through the air. It's truly an impressive occurance of nature to witness in person.

Our next stop is the "Golden Waterfalls" called Gullfoss. This natural waterfalls is another stunning display of water interacting with the earth. In some ways, similar in appearance to Niagara Falls (the Canadian portion because let's face it, it's the better side) but in its own ways even more majestic and amazing. The waters are not clear because of the sediment that is carved up from the glaciers making it murky brown--though today it looked pretty clear to me. This waterfall has an interesting history of a young woman named Sigríður Tómasdóttir who fought to keep the falls natural.

ADW at Gullfoss

Gullfoss down stream
Our final site is a UNESCO World Heritage Site called Þingvellir. The site is of a historical, cultural and geological significance for Iceland. First, this area is near one of the more active volcanic areas of Iceland, Hengill which is part of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge--the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet along this long mountain range. It is here where we realize that Iceland is actually widening (or perhaps splitting down the middle) because these two plates are actually moving away from one another. Historically and culturally, this is the site of the first parliament structure of the Icelandic people who had been meeting here regularly, to sort out laws, disputes and other matters.

Iceland is widening due to the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates

We weren't given a lot of time to look around and really discover the area but it's another UNESCO Heritage World Site. Perhaps later in the week when we have the opportunity to rent a car and drive the Golden Circle ourselves.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Land and the Sea

Being on vacation and getting up earlier than I do while I'm at home just sounds crazy. I love to sleep and already have difficulty getting up most mornings so this sort of thing always sounds a little strange for me to do. Despite this, ADW and I get to the lobby and meet our guide, Valdi, who tells us about the tour planned for us today: a drive through about 2 hours east of Reykjavik to Eyjafjallajökull, then a little further east to the Sólheimajökull glacier; specifically to a tongue that extends down from its mother glacier, Mýrdalsjökull, Iceland’s fourth largest. The tour is expected to get us onto the ice field and learn about the glacier itself and the effect of the Eyjafjallajökull eruption in 2010 on the glacier and its surroundings. We are also expected to make stops at the picturesque waterfalls of Skógafoss and Seljalandsfoss.

But first thing is first: transportation. We are traveling by super jeep today:

ADW is beaming with excitement

The first notable stop is getting off the paved road to make our way to the (in)famous Eyjafjallajökull (to Americans, e-16) which erupted in 2010. Here, we see the remnants of the glacier and glacial lagoon that used to be found in this area. This stretch of the trip is our first taste of what a super jeep can do. We make a stop to stretch our legs while our guides deflate the giant bubble like tires so that they have more control while driving over the pot-holed terrain.

Deflating the giant off-road tires

We're told that when the eruption started, it blew off part of the glacier on top of Eyjafjallajökull and then filled in the lagoon--we are basically driving over the former lagoon!

We're all standing on-top of where the glacial lagoon used to be and that is what's left of the glacier!

What's left of the glacier

All the off-road super jeeps

Following this, we visit one of the most beautiful and best known waterfalls of Iceland, Seljalandsfoss. This falls is beautiful and you can get close enough to walk behind the falls for an unforgettable experience.


You can walk behind the falls!

We stop for a short lunch at the Country Hotel Anna where we are served meat soup with coffee. This is truly a delicious meal to warm the body and soul after wandering around the cold outdoors. Meat soup is a hearty Icelandic soup made from lamb and is similar to the beef and barley vegetable soup back home. The thing is, it's better.

Can you tell I'm really happy?

Following lunch, we head out for our glacier walk on the Sólheimajökull glacier. This is one of the smaller glaciers of Iceland and it measures about 7km across. At first glance, the glacier doesn't really look like a glacier because it's covered in a black soot--volcanic ash from the 2010 eruption. When we get our spiky crampons on, it's noticeable when you crunch into the ice and just stick.

All the glacier climbers getting geared up
ADW showing off his nifty ice pic

Our glacier guide making everything look easy

I'm ready to head out onto the glacier!

Our next stop is the last waterfall we'll be seeing on this trip, Skógafoss. This waterfall is thought to have been surrounded by a small forest but by now, it's treeless, like the rest of Iceland.


I couldn't resist. He reminded me of a miniature Aspen!

As our last treat on this excursion, Valdi takes us to the South shore to stare Antarctica straight in the face: we are facing directly south, on the black ash beaches of Iceland.

A picture with our guide Valdi and his super jeep

Doesn't this photo make you want a super jeep too?

That closes our excursion walking on volcanos and glaciers for the day and leads us to a casual dinner at the Sea Baron (Sægreifinn) fisherman's hut. This place is very informal and their menu is a live menu where you pick the skewers of fish or vegetables you want. They're famous for their lobster soup which is simply delicious.

Nom nom nom!

That's whale on the left and plaice

For anyone who's curious, the whale is just delicious. It's got the consistency that is a cross between beef and good tuna. The taste is similar to beef with a hint of fish and the texture is a soft and lean beef. It's some of the best meat I've had since coming to Iceland.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Adjusting in Iceland, Day 1

We arrive in Iceland early in the morning with the sun just peeking over the horizon. The red-eye flight is a reminder of how much I still dislike the actual “traveling” part of travel. I determine to get my internal clock up to speed so that I’m not left behind with things I want to do and hopefully I won’t take too long to adjust to the new time zone, which is 4 hours forward; it is just shy of 7:00am.

Getting through the Keflavik airport has more check-points than trying to get something approved in the corporate world. Biosecurity, regular security, customs… phew. When we finally get out, we were on our way by bus, through the lava fields between Keflavik and Reykjavik. The landscape is hilly and treeless with great snowy mountains lining the background. It kind of reminds me of the foothills of Calgary.

We arrive at our hotel Icelandair Natura Hotel adjacent to the domestic Reykjavik Airport. We’re exhausted and there is a huge line snaking in front of the checkout desk so we go for breakfast at the hotel restaurant (Satt) instead. A true Icelandic buffet style breakfast for more than $20CDN. Oy. I read that the food is expensive here but man, that’s pricey relative to back home. I soon realize the justification for the cost: there is an included 25.5% sales tax; however, the food is well prepared and most of it is locally sourced. There is even an opportunity to take an omega-3 shot from straight cod liver oil. Wooo-ee!

My body clock is still trying to adjust and by the time I make it to the hotel room, I’m pooped and I accidently fall asleep. ADW and I wake up with just enough time to squeeze in one of the museums of the city: 871+2 Settlement Museum. The museum is dedicated to a historic Viking site of an early settlement house found in 2001. The name signifies the scientific methods to date the time, when they expect it to have been built, give or take 2 years.

On our way to the city center

A shop in the city center

I don't know what church this is but it's a prominent building that can be seen from our hotel which is a 20-30 min walk away
**EDIT: the name of the church is Hallgrímskirkja

The City Hall. There's a 3D model of the entire island inside!

I just thought this was a funny looking piece of art

That store on the right 66 North (the English website is here) is kind of like the North Face meets Canada Goose

Crocuses spring up all over people's gardens

We wander the city centre and snap some photos along our way until we make it to a recommended restaurant called Þrír frakkar. Here we dine on cod chins and minke whale sashimi.

Fish Hash with Black Bread "Icelandic Specialty"

Fried Cod Chins "gratin"

The city is getting darker and my body is starting to sync up with the time as I’m getting a little tired, we head back by foot to call it an early night in preparation for tomorrow’s activity the Volcano & Glacier walk.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

And Off We Go!

So it's only an hour or so before ADW and I head to Pearson to fly out by Icelandair to Keflavik for our week long vacation. I've read a lot about Iceland from the Frommer guidebook and this little island in the middle of the north Atlantic sounds like a really fascinating place. I previously posted a video my brother sent me when I first told him about the news of traveling to Iceland and I've since found two more videos that provide a more formal in-depth approach to this island.

One is produced from the History Channel through their series "How the World was Made" and this offers a detailed geological analysis of the island and investigates about how this island was formed and what is changing about it. It's got a lot of good graphical representation of the volcanic theories as well as some aerial views of the island. Watch it here

The other is a geared more for tourists who visit the country and want to get a better feel for the culture and its people.

I'll try to get some posts up during my vacation if I get the opportunity to do so. Otherwise, I'll be posting my adventures and photos when I return. Until then, have a góða nótt!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

REPOST: Love & Poutine: A Recipe

Where ever I travel, one of the things I make a point to doing is trying the local fare. Food is an essential part of our everyday lives and not only does it sustain us, but it often is a cause to bring people together or a way to celebrate. Some of the most memorable gastronomical experiences took place while traveling with ADW. Which is what Amber's recent post speaks to.... :)

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Biosecurity Measures: pre-Iceland

March flew right by and I can hardly believe it's over. It's almost time for my vacation to Iceland! I had this booked several weeks ago because the deal was just too good to pass up! ADW and I will be heading out to whale watch, glacier walk, volcano viewing, horseback riding and checking out some of the other wonderful sights of Iceland.

If you've been following (or just look down at the word cloud), you'll know that I've taken up horseback riding this past year and I've been hooked since. It's pretty much all I think about. So, when the chance to ride in Iceland presented itself, I couldn't say no. That being said though, I have pretty much all the equipment a normal horseman would have... jodpurs/breeches, helmet, boots/shoes, half chaps, gloves and various tops. But, Iceland being an island has strict biosecurity measures that tourists must adhere to.

Anyone with contact to any animal species from their native homes and wish to bring their equipment with them must sanitize everything they own; fishermen, hunters and riders alike. Since I'm riding, I wanted to bring some of the equipment that I already own. I mean I don't know anyone who is happy to share shoes/boots or something on their head. Underwear is a given "no share zone". But the other stuff that goes "outside" seems to be acceptable. To me, this is not acceptable. I am cringing at the thought of doing so.

So far, we've been informed by Frommers that all equipment, including riding clothes, must be sterilized prior to going to Iceland for biosecurity measures. This means that all washable clothing must be washed in +40 deg C and dried in a super hot dryer. Boots/shoes must be washed with a detergent and then sprayed with a disinfectant: Virkon S. While Greenhawk carries this item in small packages and larger pellet containers, the instructions detail some hazardous prevention measures such as the need to wear a protective apron, gloves and mask while mixing the concoction! I also need a vet certification of disinfection if I wish to have this done here. Frommers and online sources have quoted a local company called who does this sort of thing primarily for anglers. The problem is the website is in Icelandic. Talk about not helpful considering most people looking to disinfect their equipment are not from Iceland!!!

In addition to all these seemingly annoying barriers to my entry into this beautiful country, owners in the country are not permitted to import any used leather based horse tack such as saddles or bridles. So far, I've spoken briefly with my small animal vet and she's told me that typically, customs has veterinarians who visit other countries (and who likely visit farms) to not visit any animals 2 weeks prior to the trip and 2 weeks following. While it's likely not too big of a deal, it would be ethically wrong to throw caution to the wind and say that there's nothing to worry about. I mean can you imagine the possibility for instigating an infamous plague: Canadian couple decimates majestic wild Icelandic horse population.

Totally not cool.

Which means that I've got some more research ahead of me and possibly some pain in the bum responses I'll be getting...

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Detritus Catastrophe

This has been a long winter. It even snowed earlier this week and it's nearly spring. I got started on some gardening related activities indoors this year: I got worms! I've started vermicomposting and it was pretty easy at the get go. I would take some kitchen scraps and bury them into the bin and then close it again and go to bed. It was really low maintenance and they were going through the vegetation pretty quickly. In fact, it seemed like they were even multiplying quite quickly.

Captain Obvious was at first a bit put off with this new addition into the house and was not particularly helpful; especially when I told her how much my pound of worms cost. But, she soon realized that they would have to multiply and then I would have more and more offspring coming to age. Which meant that I would in essence obtain more and more worms and might be able to make a side business of this!

The other day, she gave me some broccoli that was kind of off and we both shrugged and added the food into the bin. A few days later, my brother came home and told her that things smelled a bit iffy. She didn't notice but told me to check anyways. The bin smelled pretty bad and I noticed that the worms were trying to crawl out and there was condensation on the bottom of the lid.


It was all out war with this rotting vegetation which has now ruined my worm bin! I spent the better part of the evening clearing out the old stuff (even tossing the castings I did get :( ) that was wet and/or dead and then creating a new bin with newspaper and a spray bottle. 

My next steps will have to be to monitor the worms that I do have left since I don't want them all to die and I really need to figure out how to do this right. I will get around to photographing my efforts but at this point, it feels pretty futile since I'm struggling to keep them alive. Seems like keeping non-mammilian pets is not something I'm excelling at.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Lesson #21: Crazy Town

Friday March 15, 2013

Today's main focus was to get the canter down some more. I started the class riding Indy and found that he was a bit of a lazy bones! Which is a rare occurance because he's usually raring to go. Apparently they had a special dressage clinic the day before and so it was likely he just wasn't feeling it. For the first time, I thought that this boy was being pretty lazy!

Even getting him into a canter was trying as he is usually particularly forgiving for a beginner rider like me. Instead, I spend a good deal of time trying to figure out why my canter aids aren't working. It was really frustrating because it didn't seem to matter what I did because he just sort of trot a little faster and then let me struggle up there! Sheesh.

A few times I felt Indy launch himself into a canter but nothing quite took. I was pretty tired after several go's. So, I thought to change things up and switch with ADW and get on Aspen again. After all, I didn't have too much trouble with Aspen before. He seemed to listen to me when I told him what I wanted of him.

While we were practicing our canters, the other girls from the class before were in the process of breaking down the jumps in the centre and moving then aside. I suspect they were getting ready for a jumper clinic or something. I mounted Aspen and he got right back into his old tricks and lowered his head as he was walking and when the other horses got going, so did he! The worst thing was that I didn't prompt any of his actions and he did just as he tends to do: follow. Buddy picked up the trot, Aspen picked up the trot. Buddy started cantering and Aspen took-off, cantering! Every time way before I was ready and he was cutting corners and just ignoring my rein aids! I thought that Indy was a chore... Aspen was clearly giving me a little perspective!

I spend the remainder of the class being dragged around by Aspen doing whatever it was that he felt like doing. I'm pretty sure that Jason had to laugh seeing me go in circles with Aspen.. while Aspen was the lead. I really have to be tougher with this kiddo next time I ride him. No more nice guy! I mean who knows what might happen if I was less aware of what was going on!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

All Grown Up?

I've lamented how I miss the "good ol' days" when I was carefree and without a single care in the world; you know, like most kids. I suppose you could say that I'm all grown up now... with an adult life, adult responsibilities, adult problems and adult expectations. While I was doing all this "growing up", some of the characters I held as role models (I use that term loosely) have not changed a bit. But, what if they did change? How might their lives look today...?

This young man, Jon Cozart is a hoot! Not only is he talented, but in this video, he touches on some real life issues that affect us in some way and broadcasts it through the stories of some Disney's most memorable princesses of the 90s. Check out some of Jon's other vids!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Lesson #20: Let's Get Technical, Technical!

Friday March 8, 2013

We've spent the majority of our past lessons where we learn the basic aids and then get a feel for what it feels like, to ride. And, it's been some of the most satisfying times because of the fact that you don't have to worry about the little bits here and there. It's like what Sheri tells us about just getting a feel for what it's like, "to ride". While it's important, for our old adult bodies that don't bend the ways that kids' bodies do, to get a real feel for things, it's equally important to refine one's technique. So, Sheri went into detail about understanding a horse's stride while you're riding at the various gaits. We focused on recognizing when each leg moved during the trot. Posting diagonals were the starting point and then we were asked to determine which foot was falling as we were either sitting or rising.

The trot is a 2 beat gait where diagonal pairs of feet fall simultaneously and when you're doing the proper diagonal, you'll be able to easily gauge which hoof is falling. Sheri tests us on when the hind foot is falling and it's a fair bit trickier than I thought! My diagonals were all over the map and it made for difficulty to determine the hind foot falling. I'll need to work on that. Next time silently say to myself which foot is falling as I'm doing something.

We also learn the "half halt". We use it to slow a horse down and get him to collect his gait so that the energy is directed to the hind more. In essence, the gaits get shorter. This aids we're employing are difficult! While post trotting, the rider is meant to squeeze the inside leg while squeezing the outside rein. Let me tell you, this has got to be impossible! Sheri further explains the purpose of each rein in these instances and it's not what we originally thought... I do not remember having done it successfully even once during the evening. Check, something else to work on.

Finally, something that I've been picking up a little more quickly: the canter. I've managed to initiate the canter with Indy and fly through the arena but I also recognize that this boy is easier to get together to do this sort of thing. Riding the canter is not the issue... it's the transitions that are killing me. I'm sure I look like a sack of potatoes those moments where I'm trying to transition up or down. Going up has been challenging because I tend to lean forward and I'm sure my hands are totally out of whack. But, the decreasing the transition has been even worse! Legs flying out of stirrups, hands jossling and the uncertain seat. Getting collected coming out of a canter is the next thing I will focus on too.

All in all, a perfectly technical lesson that I soaked up like a sponge.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Sometimes You Just Gotta Dance

This week took a lot out of me. All the working and thinking and worrying and forced socializing! I went out with a bunch of wonderful ladies who all happen to be extroverted chatters. Yes, Happy International Women's Day and all that jazz! But, for someone like me, who's way far on the introverted side, this situation was challenging, to say the least! And that's just the least challenging piece! As usual, work has been testing my patience and I have been struggling with not slitting my wrists at my desk when nobody's looking. But, I made it through, my friends and I'm here to share with you something that my good friend Amb posted up a few days ago. You really can't help but smile big and giggle a little when you see this.

It's got nothing to do with the fact that I adore horses and ponies. I mean really, just check it out and tell me you didn't have a smile creep across your face. I dare ya!

And, if you wanted to cheer someone else up, check out to make your own pony mix for a friend!

Happy Friday everyone! and bon weekend!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Horsey Talk #2

I think we've accumulated a bunch more information since the last Horsey Talk installment back in November; and now we needs some 'splainin'. I'm by no means extensively experienced so I only share from my experience.

Posting Diagonals: the posting (or rising) trot is a 2-beat gait that horses do where diagonal legs move together: front right and back left move forward and then switch. The posting diagonal is essentially when the rider is rising when the outside front leg reaches forward. Outside leg? The leg closest to the wall or outside of a circle. This rising gives the horse the chance to bring his back leg forward without the riding on his back to aid his balance. In the instance where he's going straight ahead, rider gets to pick. Check out this video:

Canter: this is a natural 3-beat gait that is faster than the trot but slower than the gallop. The three beats just mean that there are 3 footfalls per stride. In Western riding, a similar gait is called lope. The rider sits during the canter.

Canter leg aids: I checked, and there are several ways to initiate canter but what I've been doing is just the standard leg aids where I pull my outside leg back a bit and then squeeze both together.

Half halts: an application of the restraining aids, asking the horse to "almost halt" and bring its hindquarters under itself in the process, then immediately applying the driving aids to maintain the gait. We've been using it mostly to slow the horse down.

Cavaletti jump: this is a basic training jump that where the ends are formed in an X and at one of the joints is where the bar is attached. The jump is then variable for 3 different heights by turning it.

2-point position: the rider supports his or her body using leg and stirrup, keeping the heels down, and lifting the buttocks out of the saddle while keeping the head and shoulders up. It is called 2-point because there are two point of contact with the saddle. It is typically used when jumping.

Forage: this is the term used for the horse's primary portion of the diet: the vegetation that they graze upon. This can be grass, hay, haylage, silage, alfalfa etc. It is a low quality foodstuff with high fibre.

Looks like I picked some tricky ones this time! I had some trouble explaining some of those terms. Hopefully I did them justice. If I didn't, let me know!

Monday, March 4, 2013


Hello readers, ADW here!

I must confess that I have a fascination with space. Ever since I was a young boy, I have wanted to be an astronaut. One thing on my bucket list is "Go into space", and I'm seriously hoping I will have that opportunity some day. Now that I have been properly introduced by my better half and invited to share my own thoughts on this blog, I feel like I have a space (pun intended. Har har!) where I can share a bit of my fascination.

Today, I’d like to discuss the size of our universe. I have often marveled at the enormity of our universe and dreamt about the many mysteries we have yet to uncover. Space is big, and there are likely lots of amazing things we have yet to learn. 

First, let’s start by looking at the celestial bodies in our solar system… Our Sun is approximately 1 million times larger than our little planet Earth.

And our Sun is small when compared to other stars within our own galaxy…

At this point, the relative sizes being discussed are too vast for my puny human brain to comprehend, but let’s continue this exercise anyways because I find it fun, and it’s my blog entry. Below is a comparison of more stars in our galaxy. Some of you who are rabid Star Trek fans (like me) will recognize the name Rigel, famous for the planetRigle VII. Fans of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy may recognize Betelgeuse.

Next, we have a depiction of our very own Milky Way Galaxy. Within our galaxy, there are approximately 200 to 400 BILLION stars!

And within the universe, researchers now estimate that there are at least 176 billion galaxies, based on what we can observe with our telescopes! But, there are likely many times that number.

When you really try to think about how big the universe is, it can be quite humbling. This isn’t to say that what we do doesn’t matter, because I believe our actions matter within the context of our own world and the people around us. However, it does help to know that when something just isn’t going quite right or you’re having a crappy day, the universe will go on. Besides, chances are good that some poor alien in another galaxy, whose planet is about to be destroyed by a supernova, is likely having a worse day.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Lesson #19: Expanding Our Horse Communication Repretoire

Although my week was on the tense side, Friday night was completely and utterly relaxing. Not for one second did I worry about the traffic or weather. I was easy, breezy and beautiful like a regular CoverGirl. ADW got off work early and excitedly left me a voice-mail telling me he was going specifically to purchase apples, carrots and tuna. Apples and carrots for our equine friends and tuna for the barn cat who regularly temps ADW to take him home.

On the drive up, ADW tells me, with excitement in his voice and face, that Indy and Aspen are lucky tonight because Honeycrisp apples were half off, so he got two! The giant grin I was looking at was typical of ADW and his love of tasty fruit and value deals.

Indy isn't tacked up so I worked on getting him put together but he was A LOT of trouble! Bridling him was tricky and he was just not respecting me. He wasn't rude or a naughty boy but he certainly was making me work for things tonight. It's quite possible that his behaviour was retaliation; for me not noticing the sore spot on his back when I was grooming and going at things harder than I should have. I guess we were even.

Just skipping ahead for a minute, Indy eats the apple much like you or I would: in bites! There I was, holding his apple for him as he was taking one bite after the other and juice was leaking all over my hands.

We initiate the lesson with the usual posting trot to warm up. Sheri started the class with going over posting diagonals for ADW who had not been taught them before... with Indy and myself as the example. And, just as Murphy's Law would have it, Indy and I get simultaneous stage fright and we both sort of muck up our mini performance. Re-composing ourselves and getting back together, we manage to achieve the proper posting trot diagonal and the related change up.

Sheri continues her lecture about horse behaviour and reading our horses before getting out into the ring as our equine friends each have their own brain and therefore we need to work on proper communication and assessment of the moods. Afterall, horses read us, their riders, all the time. When we're tense, they in turn, become tense. She continues to go through some other behavioural things like applying the assessment we make: to our environment and our ride so that we ride safely and smartly.

She continues the lesson with technical breakdown of the posting and seated trot. She breaks things down for us about how different actions of our bodies (however slight) communicate to our mounts, what we want to do. While the untrained audience might not notice what's happening, a rider has many tools available to them in order to communicate with their horse, which are not verbal. For example, if you bring your elbows to your side, sit in your "seat" and tighten thigh grip, your horse immediately slows down, in response to this statement. While humans have an extensive verbal and speech vocabulary (even different languages!) to communicate, horses use mostly non-verbal cues--however slight. Because if he gets noisy, you're probably in trouble. As flight creatures, I expect this since noise in the wild could surrender their location to predators.

We move towards the canter next. Sheri tells us to evaluate our situation before actually cantering: are the horses busy, comfortable and relaxed with what's going on? Check. We usually initiate canter from corners as it gives them the opportunity to "push off" with the correct lead leg (I'm still trying to get clarity about what this exactly means...). At first, Indy is getting into the fast pony trot that scares the begesus out of me so that means I'm leaning forward, looking down and tensing up. I'm likely also not getting the leg aids quite right. Talk about sloppy! LOL. Oh well. I work repeatedly on the canter initiation and suddenly, it comes together and my hands are (woohoo!!) not holding onto the saddle for sweet life! HURRAH!!! Success at last. And for tonight, this is good enough for me.

The lesson is finished with a ride on bareback to cool-off. What a wonderful lesson. It's like what Sheri said the other day, sometimes you accomplish loads, other days you're just lucky to have stayed on the horse.