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.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Lesson #51: Indoor Canter Success Story

September 13, 2013

Finally, a vacation. I took Friday off from work to make my way out to Caledon for the weekend. But, I'll get into that later. My friday lesson was the third lesson ADW and I were riding in a single day. I rode Trinket this cool fall evening and as I mentioned last time, it is indoors. Sheri is back this Friday and we have her one more lesson before the end of September and while I am really looking forward to having Sheri again, I'm also sad that it would mean it'd be the last lesson we'd have with her at Greyden. But, as lessons with horses has taught me, things change and you just have to adapt... because you don't always have control over what happens.

We warm up with a good trot and Sheri asks me if I'm comfortable to get Trinket into a canter in the indoor arena. This is not a light question... this pony has a tendency to be heavy on the forehand and speedy while doing it. So, while you're being pulled further and further forward (this is terrible for a rider because you lose balance), she's getting faster and faster and also drifting into the circle so you're not only off-balance now (remember, riding is all about balance!) but you're losing control because you're falling inwards or struggling to not fall into the circle. I just say yes and figure if I'm not comfortable, I just pull back on the reins--not the most graceful but at least I can get accustomed to her gait.

We complete some balance exercises with the double post: up-up-down and 2-point while trotting to get our bodies into the right balance. We're reminded that the best way to determine the proper alignment is to get into a 2-point while walking. Doing this gets your weight in the right place over the saddle and to return to a full seat, all you need to do is keep your legs where they are and then sit down. Ta-da! Perfect alignment. Keeping it is a whole other story ;) In addition to this exercise, we do out-of-stirrup work. Ouch. Seated trot and posting trot. While both are more steady now, and I am able to stay on without too much jossoling around it still isn't my idea of fun. However, this is perfect to get me understanding the long leg position.

Anyways, because I already had two lessons at Cadogan Farms (more on that later!), I got quite a bit of practice cantering around and understanding how to mitigate the typical "issues" that come with cantering within an arena. To go deep into the corners and reduce the drifting in, I have to remember to apply the bending aids. So, when we're asked to get into a canter, I decide to go for it and hooray! Off I goooooo! I felt Trinket get faster and knew that I had to slow her down but didn't want her to get so slow that she'd break her canter into a trot. I sort of got Trinket under control and had her stop but my god... she stops on a dime and my body is still moving and I have an uncomfortable jam forward into the pommel *.*

Our final exercise for the evening is an x-jump that we had the option to take in a trot or canter. For some reason, I couldn't get Trinket into a canter during the turn into the jump so took it in trot. I think my frustration made things worse because it didn't matter how many times I tried it but the more frustrated I became, the less cooperative she became and she did her fast pony trot which discombobulated me too much to get through the jump.

But, my highlight of the lesson was certainly the indoor canter on Trinket! It's a first with this mare and I'm very proud that I managed to keep enough control around the corners and push her into the corners too.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Lesson #50: Bending Towards Fall

Sept 6, 2013

The seasons are changing. By the time we were ready to ride, the sun had set and it would be impossible to ride outdoors as there is no lighting. Fall is in the air, literally! In addition, we start our fall season with a new instructor, Jennifer. And for me, to make things even better, I'm assigned Aspen!!!! Woohoo!! He even looks pretty lively tonight so I hope that things will go well.

Jenn starts us with a good warm-up of trotting. We do a lot of work to hone our preciseness such as turning, transitions and bends. We haven't worked much on bends before but I remember reading about Present Tense's experiences with a bend, back in December. There is a good article about what bends are, and how a rider is to aim to accomplish them. I suppose I didn't really realize that all these things can (and should) be broken down for further analysis.

While we don't get into specific details about the technicalities of bends, Jenn elaborates for us the reason we have to do it and if the bend is present. It's kind of like getting the feel for things when we were starting out. We accomplish the exercises by cutting the arena in half and focusing on touching the tangents of the circle and bending at these specific tangents. Looking at the picture now, I realize I was placing my legs in the wrong places. Next lesson!

I've got the "bends"!
We continue to work on our 2-point position over the x-jump and Jenn refers to "crest release", which is something that we haven't talked explicitly about before. That's only partially true... Lenka refers to "your hands should be further up on the horse's neck" which is basically referring to a type of 'release'. We never go into detail but it's new for me in terms of technicality. We are asked to do a "short crest release" and a "long crest release". Next time I think I'll need to take better note of what my body is feeling and where things are. After all, I'm starting to think that much of what is happening is slight unless we hone in on the details.

Anyways, some new stuff for a new season! :)

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Lesson #49: Neglecting Sleep

September 1, 2013

It's caught up with me: my lack of sleep for the entire week. It was evident on Friday and even more evident today. My equitation was miserable today and I'd say, it affected my work. Lenka really tested us today but that doesn't matter, because it was evident that stuff wasn't going right and I have to work on certain things in order to get it right. One of the most evident things today was that when you speed things up, weaknesses and errors become even MORE evident. I'm not at the point where I'm some super star who can race around naturally as everything I do still requires effort and work.

I ride Nikki today and there are a few things that I am reminded of: Nikki is small so my leg position is not where it is with other horses so I have to make adjustments to where I place my leg because Nikki's not lazy... she's specific. It's like pronouncing your words appropriately when you're speaking. She's also quick to take excuses if you give them to her and she will do what she feel is easiest if clear instructions are not given to her.

To work on strengthening inner thighs, we do work without stirrups. This is an easy step up from bareback since your "goody bits" aren't being jammed into the horse's withers or their spiny backs. However, it takes a great deal of effort from your inner thighs to keep from falling off. We work on seated trot then the dreaded posting trot. I didn't think it was possible to do but it is; you don't get as high as you do with stirrups but you are still able to ride if you have your inner thighs engaged properly. This, is the proper place of effort! For the remainder of the lesson, I try to focus on keeping my legs engaged there while maintaining the contact of the lower leg and the weight down through the heels but not actually relying on your stirrups. I am finally starting to understand what it takes to ride properly but by no means am I close to actually having the stamina to do it or the ease of slipping into the right posture with little effort.

The lessons peaks with this exercise: ~20m circles in the canter. I've seen seasoned riders make it look like a walk in the park. It is not by any means easy. I'm still working on just riding the canter and add in a small circle and the need to control and maintain the aids, to the whole equation and I present you the mess that is Deb. The following have become my issues: my hands are too low, my body is collapsing forward, my lower leg position is shot to sh*t and I can't stay balanced--I look like a sack of potatoes. I manage at least one good go at it and am quite pleased that I was able to accomplish this: small achievements some days.

Now, my next work up to the actual achievement? More supporting exercises and MORE SLEEP.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Lesson #48: Do Things with Purpose

August 30, 2013

I'm back from skipping a week of riding and it feel great to be back. It's just me tonight and no ADW to join me as he's returning from Calgary. It's the start of a long weekend and the end of a long week.  It's humid and raining today so we end up riding indoors. The day light is also getting shorter and we're finding ourselves in the dark during our lessons.

This lesson is spent indoors as it is raining and nobody likes to be all wet while riding. Our usual warm up is started to get our rhythm right--consistent and in control. Sheri tells us that the best way to get into things is to get into a consistent rhythm so that you can move forward. It's kind of like getting your land legs back, after disembarking a cruise. I notice that with Indy, my legs are secure and I use my inner thighs to keep myself balanced. This is an interesting discovery on my part: it's part of the eventual aim of a proper posture and correct muscles being engaged.

We continue to practice some work with posting and seated trot and also work on the balance by double posting up and once down. This is tricky to consistently do because if your leg position isn't right, then you fall back down. We work up to some very tricky exercises that really test your ability to quickly transition from one gait to another and direction as well. This is not my evening at all. I have trouble initiating the canter over the two ground poles and cannot canter through the X-jump at all! My posture is all over the place and I'm literally falling over Indy during transitions. What's wrong?

I reflect on the way home and I come to realize that I am genuinely tired for this lesson. Part of it is me just going through the motions and not really being "in it". Riding requires you to be actively living the moment and not thinking about what's happened or what will happen but to anticipate just a few moments before, in order to make a sound decision about what you'll do. That's the problem: because I was such a zombie, I wasn't in the moment and my mind was wandering around and I was drifting off into la-la-land all evening. It's time to ramp up my schedule and really buckle down on what needs to be done! After all, I have to work, in order to continue to do what I like to do in my spare time (at this time, anyways...) and so I've got to really pull myself together and not waste time.