Monday, April 28, 2014

Lesson 93: I am the Circle Master

What a wonderful weekend. The weather is finally starting to come around from what we were experiencing for weeks. After tacking up and getting on the horses in the arena, we were told that we're (get ready for it!!!!) riding outdoors today!!! WOOOHOOO!! Sheri had just harrowed the outdoor arena and we strolled out into the sunny morning. What an amazing feeling to have the sun on your face while you ride. This also meant though, that the horses would be quicker than usual and on super alert. Ha ha ha, a small part of me wanted to turn around and head back into the safe arena. This meant that we had to be on guard at all times because animals running around and popping out of nowhere was entirely a possibility. No canter today so we could give them a good experience outside and readjust ourselves too.

It was certainly a readjustment! I had to keep Ariel in check more frequently with what I wanted her to do. She certainly was distracted at times with the other horses in the paddocks or the flat-bed truck that was delivering 4 huge round bales of hay into her paddock... That said though, we worked on lots and lots of circles today, at the trot. My aim? Get her head down into a relaxed frame while keeping pace and straight (who knew keeping straight would be so much effort). It was literally coming and going but I would be able to get her head into a good place and then it would float back up, in some form of protest "what are you doing up there?!"

That said though, there were things that I needed to keep track of... things that Sheri said were making her a nag:
  • close those hands!
  • keep the upper body straight and beware of forward leaning
  • my hands are the 'wall' that Ariel would hit if she tried to take the bit and tug downwards
  • more inside leg!
This means that I have to remember to amp up my cross training even more. Time to get cardio in there and do those sun salutations and hip opening exercises during those "non-yoga days". 

Posting Diagonal Jar Tally = 2 x $2.00 = $4.00
To date = $175.00

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Lesson #92: Work to Live

I love riding during the week. When work has been a real slave driver without remorse, heading out to the stable to see Ariel always makes all the stress just melt away. And it helps that the days are getting brighter for longer so I'm not arriving there in darkness.

When we started warm-up, she seemed a bit slow and not her usual spunky self; I even had to use a crop with her right at the get go. I hate using crops. I find them distracting and not particularly helpful. This did get her going but I sure wished I didn't have to. We worked on lots of circles at trot, throughout the arena. We did both reins and ensured that Ariel was traveling along the rail and doing as I wanted her to do. Once I was comfortable with that, Sheri had me go straight into canter on each of those circles. But, we went left large first, to be sure that I was in control and knowing what was happening. The canter was beautiful: well paced and flowing while keeping control and no falling in. Next, *gulp* right rein doing the same. The transition was smooth but keeping her under control was not quite where it should have been; Ariel was speeding around the arena at what seemed like full tilt and I was having a little bit of trouble bringing her back. But, having tried again, it was better controlled and I realized I had to keep my outside rein in check while using the inside rein to guide her. In essence, the outside rein was reminding her that she wasn't to fall in--only to bend towards the inside. At least that's what I garnered from what I did right. As a break, we walk around and Sheri has me doing various stretches focusing on my hips... scissoring my legs back and forth and lifting them up sideways. 

Having accomplished this feat, my next step was to start return to trot and circles... and the exercise is: alternate a large circle then 20m circle at the canter. Left rein again, to start. Not bad! I remember that where I look is where Ariel will understand that I want her to go. We make it wonderfully. Next, right rein: she is careening around again and when I try to make the 20m circle, I nearly lose it but I remind myself to commit to the direction I want to go and to LOOK that way and turn my body. And success! While the zipping around was undesirable, the 20m circle was exactly what needed to happen just because I committed to it.

I end my lesson with some sitting trot at the 20m circle. Sheri tells me that there is no stopping this time, to readjust but to keep going and tweaking whatever it is that I think might be throwing Ariel off. When she's lifting her head higher or getting a choppy trot, then I know that I'm doing something she doesn't like. But, when she lowers her head and/or snorts, then it means she's relaxing and I'm doing something right. It also helps when I take check of what my body is doing.. particularly the areas I know tend to be off... like my right leg and my incorrect right side tilt during turns. I've come a long way where my bouncing isn't as uncomfortable as it used to be, and I was told that at some point, everything came together and Ariel was framing for me!

Posting Diagonal Jar Tally = 2 x $2.00 = $4.00
To date = $171.00

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Feline Pageantry

Happy belated Easter, everyone! I'm so excited to tell you about something I've been preparing for months... Bucky's cat show! I've been told it sounds a little "crazy cat lady" and I suppose most outsiders might look in and think that but it was such a great experience and a lot of fun! The casual on-looker might think this is a bunch of crock full of childless single cat-obsessed ladies but this couldn't be further from the truth; handlers/owners were animal lovers who treated these felines like family.

My mom, +ADW and I accompanied Bucky to the All About Pets show in Toronto for a single day participation. This was going to be a challenge because naturally, cats are homebodies and are most content with what's familiar to them and rarely will place themselves out in the open making them vulnerable to attack or otherwise. This show was to be challenging with the birds, reptiles, dog and other cats.

My main objective was to expose him to travel and adapting to new situations. I started months ago, by getting him on a harness and walking him around outside. He doesn't walk like a dog... and usually gets me into knots while weaving in and out of bushes or the porch. But, he started out terrified of going outside and walking about on his own; he'd almost immediately crawl back into my lap while cautiously eying everything around him. He was skittish to noises and strange people walking by. It was a regular effort and the winter didn't really help... though I still took him out when there was snow:

Yep! Those are skulls on his winter vest

It required a lot of reassurance, exposure and patience to encourage him to build his confidence to do things on his own... considering at home, he's what Jackson Galaxy would label a "Mojito Cat". As he became braver, I moved to exposure in the car since he had an accident previously. I'll still need to get to the vet regularly for weightings (and exposure) since he had a lot of trips to the vet (a story for another day!) at the start of our time together.

I didn't know how a cat show worked, previously: in a single day, there are 4 judging rings that an entrant cat would participate in. Each ring gives the cat the opportunity to win top 5 or 10 (depending on the number competing). Each cat gets a giant blank rosette ribbon and each placing meant that they would receive a plaque to stick on their ribbon. When it was your cat's turn, you'd take him to the ring and then place him (naked--without collars or the like) into cage and each cat would be removed and judged by the judge. For cat shows, there's no training or any real skill that judges are looking for. For Bucky's section of Household Pet, most of his points were placed upon temperament/disposition. For cats in strange situations, this is tough because they're so tense with all the stimulation around them. The judge would place the cats and be awarded points; points were added up for the weekend, and then further, there are top 3 places given to the top of each category.

Waiting to be judged (aka, crapping his pants--if he was wearing any)

All the diligent work paid off. We got him to the International Centre without a single peep--he was actually just laying in his cage calmly. And he made it through the 8 hour day without having a complete meltdown. There were a few moments where I wasn't sure if I needed to rescue him and return him home but he placed 5th on one of the rings and we had another milestone of progress forward on his training! It's too bad it wasn't a competition for tricks though... because I've been clicker training Bucky and he's getting really good at the tricks he does know ;)


Monday, April 21, 2014

Lessons 90 & 91: Body Awareness

One of the most popular party games when I was a kid was Twister. Anyone remember this game that calls upon players to take control of their limbs and coordinate those limbs to touch specific spots on a coloured mat, all while precariously holding oneself together, in a twisty pretzel form? It's tough, to figure out where your body parts have to land. I was never very good at this game... I started practising yoga though, in my 20s and learning to be conscious about a body part's angle or location was definitely tricky at the get go. But, that 'training' has helped me really isolate sensations and postures of the rest of me while (you got it!) horseback riding.

I'm fortunate (and on my less coordinated days, I don't feel as much.... LOL) to ride a mare who's particularly sensitive to all movement on her back. A few weeks ago, you'll remember that I had a miserable time on the right rein getting Ariel to keep to the rail. Since then, I've been focusing on the right rein and we've thrown bending out the window and went with just being able to keep control of turning along the rail or along a 20m circle. Things have been progressing and we're getting back to where I need to be. I've gone from hopelessly struggling to move her back to the rail, to recognizing the problem and consciously addressing it. As Ariel responds to my own corrections, I can confirm that it's all me and my lack of (and poor) communication with her.

To add to this whole thing, there have been instances where Ariel will go straight into the wall if she receives conflicting signals from me. I didn't know what I was doing wrong at the time but we've also discovered that I don't seem to commit to where I am going... for example: if I'm intending to turn right but I casually (or even quickly) glanced left (even for a split second), I could almost hear Ariel say "... ok... right we go... du du du... WHAT?! left?!?????" and off we go running into the wall. *sigh* I kid you not. We've had a couple of "fights" lately about what I want and what she thinks we should be doing.

While these have been new challenges due to my latest physical struggles, I continue to struggle, with posture and position--especially during transitions. However, I've been much better at being able to isolate where parts of my body are at, and what they're doing and subsequently, making the adjustment during the movement, to get back to what is ideal. When I catch myself pinching with my right knee, I can actively re-shift my leg and readjusting the weight while continuing in the pace that Ariel is doing. These are big improvements compared to where I was last summer!

My homework continues to be lots of cross-training:
  • an intense yoga class (even if that's just me at home) at least once a week
  • regular hip stretching and shoulder realignment (downward dog) on the nights I don't have a yoga session
  • incorporate cardio this month... running (I have new shoes!) and cycling
Posting Diagonal Jar Tally =  4 (2 lessons) x $2.00 = $8.00
To date = $167.00

Sunday, April 13, 2014

A Bunch of Lessons

I think it's pretty evident that I've been MIA here... the last post was the end of March and it's already half-way through April! At least the nice weather is here :)

To keep count, I'm on lesson 89 today. I rode at Gosling Stables for 4 of those lessons and the other one at Forest Hill. Forest Hill is an A-circuit private showing stable in Caledon. What the devil was I doing at an A-circuit stable? Well, NR was so kind as to gift me a special deal coupon to go for a semi-private lesson and assessment. Let me tell you... these guys are hard-core! Within seconds of getting there, I was being picked apart for every little thing. And the more I had to do, the more nervous I became and the more mistakes I made! And this is just the tack up portion. Sheesh. By the time we got on the horses, I was ripped well apart about posture and position and everything else in between. Lol... I'm surprised they didn't comment on my turnout during a lesson.

That said though, it was an enlightening experience where I learned about many of the requirements that A-circuit riders undergo and the sort of coaching they have. Of course, I also recognize that I probably will never get to the A-level circuit. Mainly due to my financial situation... simply, I'm not rich. I mean who has the money to buy that $250,000 horse and then to pay for the training and lessons that go together... *sigh* Well, you know where I'm going with this :P

Things I did pick up from Forest Hill include things like:
  • ride a few seated trot and let the horse "bump you up" and you'll likely be on that correct diagonal;
  • my hands are not forward enough... they should be where the martingale would sit, on the horse's neck;
  • pick the hoof away from you/them--I must have forgotten then at some point because it seems like such a basic thing;
  • turn the horse into the jump with your leg... so they turn into them straight (this one I'm not too sure about what he meant but it worked when I did it);
  • and sadly, I'd probably end up feeling like the silver horse in a herd of bays, if I ever joined that type of establishment.
 So, onwards to my usual lessons at Gosling Stables!

I've continued to ride Ariel, which is great because I've been forced to address the issues I've been having with her on the right rein. A few weeks ago, I was having a totally miserable time with her responding to my aids to move her to the left... we've discovered that she emulates whatever the rider is doing... and so that means I'm very crooked because she can't stay straight on the right rein and leads with her shoulder. I've been working on "fixing" myself with an intense yoga class and lots of hip opening exercises. It's gotten a little better as I can at least get her to respond... even though she's off the track.

We had a pretty good lesson today and even MM said that Ariel at least likes me and that's why she'll do what I ask her to do... because this mare is nobody's fool and if she doesn't want to do something, she won't.

Posting Diagonal Jar Tally = 10 (5 lessons) x $2.00 = $20.00
To date = $159.00