Friday, February 28, 2014

A Great Horsey Contest!

Living in the city makes it difficult to give me plenty of practical experience for my riding. I have to "practice" outside of my lessons so that they are worth the time. As physical as riding is, there is great benefit to take in and reading other people's experiences to add your your own repertoire. It might not work out exactly as you'd think but you might not have thought about something until reading another's opinion! Take for example her post about turning on a horse... she helped put the action into words and actions that I was able to attempt, on my own time. I have since incorporated it when riding Ariel and I've found her more responsive!

I'd like to introduce a great contest where Kathy Farrokhzad at Horse Listening will be giving away FIVE signed copies of her new book, Horse Listening – The Book: Stepping Forward to Effective Riding. The winners will be selected randomly from the comments in the post and will end on March 14, 2014. All you have to do is leave a comment of 50 words or less in her comments section about why you want a copy of the signed book by Kathy.

Check it out and good luck!

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Lesson #75: More Jumping

Today is the first day that I had a moment where I found myself grumbling "winter really needs to be over. I am so done with you, winter". I'm a winter baby and I'd take the cool weather over the hot, any time. But, I think I've had enough today. What prompted this flip of perspective? I skated to the stable today. There was recently a dumping of snow and then rain and then melt on top of that, finished off with a great old freeze. The driveway to the stable was a skating rink and getting Ariel from the paddock today was a careful dance to the stable door.

I didn't come up with ADW, so rode with the novice girls who have been riding since they were tots. A rattle to my confidence? You betcha. The only thing I can take heart in is that one of the girls (she's not even in high school yet...) is nearly half a foot taller than me so I feel like we're not that far in age.

Sheri sets up a bunch of standards and a few jumps. We continue to work on bending and turning; reminded that "even turns should be like circles" and shouldn't be sharp or abrupt. This is not as easy because consistently bending the horse can be tricky. Ariel is quick to tell me when I'm not doing something right... she tenses up and raises her head in protest. We continue to do this a bit longer and then move into a long canter around the arena. We focus on keeping our pace and not zooming around the arena like mad rider and horse. There are moments when my hips aren't relaxed and my seat is smacking the saddle instead of scooping through smoothly with little space between bottom and saddle.

Our next step is working up to simple jumps. I have the low x-jumps and the other girls have a variety of x-jumps and straight jumps. The first try I have a trot not fast enough and Ariel is so good to just hop over but it was both awkward and unhappy looking; increase the pace but keep it consistent right up to the take-off. I work on my crest release with a quicker recovery, following the landing because I'm often all over Ariel's neck. My crest release is better today because something clicked and I understood what I was to do: 2 point and extend your arms forward... what was I doing before? I was keeping my arms locked closer to an angle from my body and actually tipping forward. At least that's what I evaluated the error to me. But that being said, not once was I left behind today so something was right. I did have wobbly jumps and Ariel likes to cut corners and take the jump off-center but these are all things I should be able to fix... soon. As soon as I stop focusing on everything leading up to the jump and just focus on getting through the jump as a whole, not pieces.

A few things I found did help, when Sheri had me focused on 1 thing to fix each round...
  • Have a target you're looking at when you're jumping... don't look down. I have to remember my dragon boat steering days...
  • If I know she's tending one way, look towards other and be prepared to have the appropriate aids to counter that possibility.
The couple of things that I will incorporate into my workouts (which are only so-so, btw :( ) are 1) opening my chest so that when I give with my hands, for Ariel's head/mouth, I don't collapse my shoulders forward and actually move my arms/hands forward while keeping my chest open and proud. 2) I also need to loosen my legs and hips more... the desk jockey syndrome is really starting to take a toll.

Posting Diagonal Jar Tally: = 3 x $2.00 = $6.00
To date: $97.00

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

A Review: SSG 10 Below, Winter Gloves (Style 6400)

These gloves are incredible winter gloves, for whatever you end up doing. According to the SSG website, they were made in response to the successful summer glove; with the exception of adding 4 layers of warmth and waterproofing. I bought them on a whim prior to leaving for Iceland in 2013 because until that moment, I rode with whatever gloves I had and used them all year round. But it's ICEland... I didn't imagine it to be warm enough for those gloves to work; plus, we weren't allowed to bring any used equestrian equipment and I used that as an excuse to get new gloves.

They are an amazing investment for both Iceland and this winter. I used them this winter when I go out to grab Ariel because the number of times I didn't, I regretted it. Considering I bought them 3 sizes too big for me, I found them a bit unwieldy to use for anything that required more fine tuning of my fingers, but otherwise the grip was great and I didn't feel like they were getting in the way of doing what I needed to do. Imagine if I got the right size!

They are very warm without being hot; though I don't think I'd want to ride with them. This is more out of personal preference than anything negative against the gloves themselves. You see, I prefer to ride bare-hand regularly (I know it isn't really ideal...) and so I haven't done so with the exception of the one time this winter that I wore them when it was like -12deg C (that's without wind-chill). Otherwise, I find them good for doing the other stuff like getting tacked up and fetching the horse. 

The fit features work for me b/c I don't have to fiddle with any straps or velcro closures... it's a simple elasticized wrist and it slips easily and neatly under my winter coat sleeves. It's fast to pull off or on when you're in a hurry and need your bare-hands for better tactility. I haven't had the opportunity to make use of the waterproofness since I don't ride outside in the winters but I have had them washed in the washing machine (no dryer) at whatever cycle my mom decided to use and they came back to me like brand new, every time!

The inside is a soft fleece lining that is comfortable on the hands and keeps you warm. I've even used them for non-equestrian related activities like shovelling snow and the grip is great and I don't need to fuss with anything because they're otherwise like normal active winter gloves. They retail for around $30CDN, depending on where you go and the cost is reasonable for comparable models.

Overall, these are possibly the best winter gloves I currently own ... be it for winter equestrian activities or otherwise!

Disclaimer: I have not received any financial compensation for this review. These gloves were bought on my own accord but all opinions are my own.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Lesson #74: Focusing on Jumping Details

While I get on Ariel today, ADW is riding a new gelding named Molson; whom (surprise surprise) Ariel doesn't like all that much. Today's lesson was focused working on our mindsets with respect to jumps. The last lesson I was clearly focused way to heavily on having everything "ready" as we are getting up the actual jump that I was getting to the point where I didn't quite know what to do once I got to the jumps or I wasn't paying enough attention to what the horse was doing. And simple as it is, it just wouldn't come together.

So, the plan is, to recondition our minds to perceiving jumps as "just another stride". Sheri set-up 3 sets of standards: 2 and 1 along the long sides of the arena. We went through everything in a relaxed yet controlled posting trot and remembered to encourage them forward coming up to the pole so that they don't decide to add in a step or skip or the like. And guess what? It works. I eliminate the extra skips and jumps once I remind Ariel to go forward as we get closer to the ground pole.

We go round and round without thinking too much about what we're doing. Gradually, the stakes are raised by arranging each pole into an x-jump and then into a low straight jump. There were some pretty bad jumps and some really good ones. In each instance, I re-examine what I am doing wrong in addition to Sheri's pointing out items that were visible to her. Things to continue working on (in, what I figure are, order that I need to focus on):
  1. maintain weight through heels--this is key for balance and even MORE important while jumping
  2. relax my knees so as not to "death grip" Ariel's shoulders
  3. sit up straight/don't lean forward or a number of things go wrong like heel/foot placement
  4. keep my shoulders broad and open with my chest facing "forward and up"
  5. aim for crest release about half way up the horse's neck
I have great news! Next month, I start my 2x/week lessons and I'm going to be using my extra vacation days to ride during the day so it'll be a much welcome break from working a 5 day week.

Posting Diagonal Jar Tally: = 3 x $2.00 = $6.00
To date: $91.00

Saturday, February 15, 2014

A Review: Reaching the Animal Mind

I picked up this book with the intention to better understand the positive reinforcement branch of operant conditioning. Operant conditioning was coined by the behaviourist B.F. Skinner. Skinner believed that internal thoughts and motivations could not be used to explain behaviour; basically his theory explained how we acquire the range of learned behaviours we exhibit daily. It's insightful to see these theories applied to creatures big and small.

Karen Pryor's ethological expertise gives her an edge to train animals, that is traditionally out of reach from the "old school" trainers. She understands basic biology and behaviour of the animal and is able to leverage that information when training. It's interesting to read her experiences with dolphins of varying species, fish, octopi, dogs, ponies (presumably horses too), cats and even humans. The chapters are made up of mini stories and exhibit examples of what she is trying to convey in both detail and a particularly honest tone; she lays out her thinking process as well as her outcomes--successful or not. She gains a reader's attention and trust quickly... as if she's telling you the story directly!

Her subject is, as the title outlines, reaching (deep into) the animal mind; humans included. Her initial foray into the training is kind of accidental and developed based purely on her innate scientific mind, if you will. She doesn't have a formal graduate degree in animal behaviour or the such but she's keen and observant and thinks critically of what she perceives. The concept of her training is derived through the animal's natural behaviours and then positively reinforced, to encourage those favourable behaviours. Her story telling method builds through small blocks (much like clicker training!) and aids the reader to understand. To further enhance the stories and observations, she has a website that lists references and resources about the chapter topics as well as videos of exactly what happened.

The best part about it? You can take something away, after completing the book and start your own clicker training. And if you don't, you have a renewed insight into the mind as well as animals as thinking, reacting and feeling creatures. The training success is incredible; animals learn at an astonishing rate. I have enlisted Buckingham on my clicker training trek and we are working on a few novel tricks and "good behaviours". Yes, Buckingham is a cat; and he's completely trainable. Most cats already have many desirable behaviours but when you want to have some fun with the little guy, clicker training is by far the best way to teach a cat. After all, when has punishment ever worked on a cat? Good luck to ya.

Clicker training goes beyond just telling an animal to do something because you said so... you develop a teacher and student relationship where you are asking him to think about what it is that you want of it and then associating a cue with that behaviour. He is happy to do it b/c he successfully learned it on his own and received something from it--he's basically playing! And what creature doesn't enjoy playing and then getting treats from it?

Karen doesn't just stop at how to accomplish this technique through plenty of examples but she looks into the science/biology behind it. She seeks out members of the academic arena to better understand the way the clicker training works and you have proof that this isn't just some whacky hippie science based on anecdotal observations. In my opinion, the only way to be sure that you're not just imagining things.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Lesson #73: Don't think, just jump

I start the morning by going out to the paddock to get Ariel... I call her this time and she turns away and actually moves away from me. Argh. I want to ask if she was trained to come when called because lately, she's been moody (then again... she's a mare) and not particularly interested to coming in to work. Today is no different, unfortunately; so I trudge out into the ankle deep snow to bring her in.

It's good that ADW is riding Quinn today because... no more ear pinning with Ariel! Ariel and Quinn seem to have some bizarre lesbian relationship but known not to like the other horses (particularly the geldings) and usually ADW is riding Bonspiel whom is Ariel's arch-nemesis. ADW chuckles that we're all very accepting around here and we start our lesson.

The aim was the crest release which is one of the critical aspects of proper jumping position. We start with the flat. Lots of trotting over the poles at a consistent rhythm and at a good tempo while keeping them horses nice and relaxed--i.e. stretching forward. Sounds a little like my piano lessons. Anyways, Ariel is very much in heat (*sigh*) as she presents herself to one of the resident geldings while in the cross-ties so she's tense and agitated (not to mention super slutty) during the warm-up.

The perfect picture:

It takes some time to get her together and we work on focusing on keeping the rhythm consistent. It takes a good chunk of the lesson to get this done! Argh. Despite this, we continue to move forward, building up our goal for the lesson by working on various aspects of our jump position. We start with a low X jump and so that helps us focus on positioning and less to worry about with the actual jump itself. I am finding that I am either too heavy on her or my upper body position isn't right. But it isn't as evident until we move up the X jump and then the jumps seem to feel like they're much higher than the previous one! I start to over think things now... to the point where I'm mentally checking all my criteria and by the time the jump is there, I'm not quite prepared and clearly have my mind on all the other things. But, when you jump, all the basic stuff should be second nature already and thinking about all that just gets in the way.

We are reminded that a jump is simply another stride you're riding and not to think too much into it. Especially with our goal today... our bodies should (if all else remains correct) fall together with the jump. Sheri reminds us to relax our hips and keep our chests open--kind of like walking with good posture, I suppose. I achieve this a couple times... but the other times I'm left behind and get ricocheted back and forth at and after the jump. Ideally, our bodies are meant to move with the horse at all times and a jump should be no different.

In time, I tell myself, I won't need to think about it and we'll just be able to jump.

Posting Diagonal Jar Tally: = 3 x $2.00 = $6.00
To date: $85.00

Thursday, February 6, 2014

A Student's Journey

I want to start off by saying that I had a great evening last night; I had a make up piano lesson. And let me tell you again, it was a great lesson. We've briefly talked about why I re-started, after a decade long hiatus; literally, I had not touched a piano since I quit in high school. I'm a changed student: I've taken to tracking my practice and aim for 30-45 minutes daily. Sure, stuff comes up and I don't always practice as diligently but that's the nature of being an adult student (with anything, really!).

I've mentioned that I want to learn to play a stash of new arrangements and some old ones, but upon further reflection, I have decided to re-do all the grades I did do... from 1 through 8 including the theory. I won't be taking the examinations again but I will be working through each grade as if I was going for an exam. This could take several years but it's like many of the things I've started doing... it always takes time and to do it truly well, you have to diligently work at it regularly because everything has layers and "cross training" will enhance the ultimate goal. Yesterday was the first moment that I had felt like I got any real traction. K told me that yesterday's lesson was genuinely fruitful and that it sounds like I had really buckled down this past 3 weeks.

K is a great teacher for me. She's something of a real "godsend" because she breaks down the layers of playing well and her goals for her students are thorough and robust. The only thing is, I'm terrified of her. LOL really. But I've been scared of every piano teacher I've ever had... it's performance anxiety with just one other person there. Sounds ridiculous, I figure, but that's one of the main things I struggled with as a kid so now's time to grab the bull by the horns and take it on. Hopefully my Toastmaster training will kick in at some point (aaaaaanytime now...)?

Going back to my revised goal, after I get up to that point, I will start thinking about whether it would be worth my time to work towards the ARCT status. There appears to be a varied range of different certificates and diplomas so perhaps I'll see which one works best to what I want to ultimately achieve. I think it would be reasonable (at this point) to easily say that once I get my achieved grades up to snuff, I"ll be looking at moving forward to complete my grade 9 and 10 and then seeing where the wind takes me. I will probably never teach (because I have no patience for people! I mean I was a totally miserable student) or perform professionally but to be able to accomplish something on my bucket list just for me? That's got to be gold. 

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

My Winter Riding Wardrobe on a Budget

I've been meaning to compose this post for a couple weeks now... especially with the last very cold spell. Since last winter wasn't as cold and snowy as this one, I didn't pay much attention to winter-specific clothing other than a down vest; I got that from MEC at clearance because I squeezed into the size 14 kid's version! Goooo me!! Anyways, I don't show and probably won't do it for a little while so my focus this chilly and snowy winter has been on schooling clothes that can double as outdoor active clothes. I know that this is already a relatively costly endeavour compared to some of the other activities I've done/do so I try to work with what I've got and consider alternatives for my riding wardrobe.

It's good that I'm active outside of horseback riding and I've amassed plenty of active clothing. I paddled and steered a dragon boat team for several seasons in my previous years but have since stopped, but I do continue to kayak in the summers for leisure. I also cycle in the warmer months and have a substantial arrangement of cycling clothes for someone who cycles once... maybe twice a week. Primarily, I am an avid yogini for many years and find enjoyment in this activity. However, these are all warm weather activities and don't accommodate for cooler weather. So, I have been riding with the same clothes I ride with during the summer; with one amendment: many more layers.

This year, I've been thinking about the "gaps" in my winter riding wardrobe without breaking the bank. I already have many t-shirts and a few long sleeve shirts that I usually pull over my tshirt; this past few months, I've gotten a moisture-wicking active shirt from MEC as well as a very warm and soft fleece pull over top I picked up at Le Baron, all during the Boxing Day week sales. We'll talk gloves another time because I've realized that having the appropriate gloves are key.

While we tack-up in the main stable, the horses are often in the adjacent fields and some of the tack is in the other smaller stable. I find myself trekking into the snow driftswhere there are few trees to keep the snow from blowing around and turning into snow dunes. To mitigate this, I put on my paddock boots and half chaps then make my way out rather successfully. No snow in my boots and I'm dry by the time I start lesson.

The only thing that has gotten to me though, is being cold. I layer my top and slip on wool socks, but my bottom and legs (particularly my thighs) are perpetually chilly. I tried to get long johns on underneath but clearly I've had too much fun over Christmas and things aren't fitting the way they could and so I'm considering winter chaps. Wiarton Willie says that we're getting another 6 weeks of winter so these will likely come in useful. Stay tuned for my post about how it's like, riding with them :)

Monday, February 3, 2014

REPOST: An Easy Way to Turn, in Horseback Riding

A great post came up this morning when I was checking my blog and what a perfect post! I've been working on bending and turning a lot, lately. We've been making some very tight turns and focused on bending. Like I've mentioned before, there is a lot going on during a ride so there is little time to really consider where your hip bone is or what angle your hip is or when your body is supposed to do "x". The article provides the opportunity for you to assess what happens to your body during a turn, but off horse. It really gives a rider like me, the opportunity to safely assess what's going on.

It's a short article so check it out if you've been trying to piece together what your instructor is saying when they say things like "... drop your hip bone... open that angle... turn your shoulders... look that way... etc" during a bendy turn!

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Lesson #72: Look and Plan

I like when we can switch things up a bit and do something different. Last week, we worked on a lot of bending on the flat and it was TOUGH. Today, Sheri changed things up and we got into some simple jumps. I have to admit, part of me dreads jumping because I'm simply not very good at it... and I almost always over-think things. Sure, it's kind of exciting... but when it comes right down to it, I am still learning and I don't like it when I accidentally catch the horse in the mouth when I'm not properly set up. I suppose it just feels like a failure and I don't like to 'fail'.

We start with our balance in the 2-point at the trot. Posting trot, sitting trot and double up and down posting, standing... we're basically working on our balance during movement. Next, add in ground poles in an oblong oval that is narrow enough where we ought to be paying attention to what we're asking and when; look and plan. This is not something that we are ever allowed to forget. In fact, it needs to become second nature in many ways so that our mounts know what we want of them. Last week, we learned that often we are required to look quite far in advance so that our mounts know what we want of them, otherwise they can only make a best guess. And often that best guess is what's easiest for them and not generally what we want--even if they're capable of something more challenging.

It's far from being easy at this point because there is simply so many moving parts that I am still working on putting together. But, I know when I focus and think about all the things I have to do, things are possible. After a few times over the flat, jumps are put together for us and we're asked to do them at the trot. Ariel is a total firecracker today (really, is that any different than any other day?) and she's being her usual sassy self and she zips towards the jumps because I think she actually just likes to jump! But, she's such a good teacher for jumps because she just goes ahead and gets set-up for whatever it is that is put in front of her and lets you figure out your own thing. Even after riding Quinn, I still adore this mare because she makes the ride so much fun! It was last week when I blurted out "I love riding mares!" to everyone's surprise.

Anyways, despite my need to continue to work at some of the things like my balance, equitation and reducing the over thinking part, I have a very fruitful ride and I let Ariel do her mini "spazz outs" periodically while maintaining our goals for the lesson.

Posting Diagonal Jar Tally: = 2 x $2.00 = $4.00
To date: $79.00