Saturday, May 31, 2014

Lesson 101: It Always Starts That Way

I probably shouldn't have stopped my Posting Diagonal Jar Tally. I was so off this last lesson that I must have been mentally somewhere else. I really was just out to lunch. My instructor called me out repeatedly at the start of our lesson about not having the right posting diagonals. I was totally embarrassed and frustrated. Then I was having trouble with Ariel to keeping her bent to the turn at a certain section of the arena. I don't know why but everytime we pass the west (short) side, she is looking another way or wants to head straight out the arena! The trot is also speedy and choppy and I'm having trouble keeping us in check.

I'm not riding alone tonight so that's probably a good thing, actually. I used to have private lessons (just lucky) on Thursday nights and would spend the entire hour being taught and assessed and reminded about things. Those were tough evenings but I have learned so much and looked forward to them. I think that a lot of the weaknesses in my riding are due primarily to my fitness level... particularly my tightness and imbalances of the body from my office job. But, it seems that I have a new classmate now! HOORAY!!

Getting back to the lesson... it started out pretty blotchy. Sheri moved onwards and got us working on a jump... we continued to botch things and it was like both of us were totally off our game. We were being left behind or throwing ourselves into the jumps--that SUCKED. Sheri decided to change it up and set up another jump instead and started REALLY low. LOL At first it was like wtf is going on today?! But, once I went over the jump a couple times, I started getting it! There was one turn where I told myself to breathe, close my arm pits, turn my body when I looked and to use my seat and legs... and as if it was magic, things came together. Not just for me but my classmate! We both started getting over that single jump and not only were we jumping the jump... but we were moving on up! She was gradually raising the jumps and finally, we were jumping at 2'9. For me, it was the first time I've ever jumped that high. I remember seeing the jump and actually having the thoughts of "holy crap that's so freggin high!!" go through my mind as I was approaching it. I felt like I got left behind but Sheri told me the jump was excellent and that what I needed to work on was my upper body position over the jump.

That's all totally fixable and the fact that the other things came together so well just meant that I am continuing to move along. I don't really look forward to jumping THAT high in the near future but I do look forward to knowing that I have control over what I'm doing and that I'm capable of accomplishing what I need to.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

As One Door Closes... Another Opens

A couple weeks ago, my instructor lost her beloved (dressage) horse. You might think he was just another horse but they had a true bond. It doesn't happen with every horse and rider but there are couples that just click (kind of like people!) and the bond is literally unshakable.

I hate when people lose their animals companions because the loss is very palatable for me; I've lost 2 cats in 2 years and I know it's a heart ache only animal people understand. I haven't found my "heart horse" but I would imagine that the bond with a rider and their beast to be beyond that of a companion... after all, they are your teammate where the level of trust and confidence in the other must be unshakable in order to do some of the things that these duos do. If you don't ride, think about it this way... a horse is 900lbs+ and could easily injure or kill you, yet it doesn't but lets you get on its back and tell IT what to do.

Generally, I"m not sure what to say... other then "I'm so sorry". But, when you're the one dealing with the loss, those words are never truly enough. I started the "Posting Diagonal Jar Tally" to try and train out a bad habit of me ignoring my diagonals. I wasn't too sure what I would end up doing with the money but I knew I would send the money to a cause that supported horses (or cats). But, I've been inspired to donate the money to Equine Guelph to the research and equid welfare groups in memory of her horse.

As a transition from both counting diagonals (and in a sense, a new chapter for my instructor too), I'm closing the Posting Diagonal Jar Tally and looking for something new to focus on...

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Lesson 100: an Epic Fall

The definition of "lesson 100" gets a little bit fuzzy because I went with the group on a long hack/trail ride on Friday and then I had my formal lesson on Sunday. I consider hacks lessons since you still need to pull yourself together enough to ride but might not need to pay as much attention to the specific technical details a lesson would. But, again, it's a bit fuzzy since last week was a pretty intense week in terms of other stuff that was going on and my official lesson 100 was supposed to be on Thursday but something came up that had me cancel the lesson.

The hack was... an adventure, to say the least! We did have to rush out to the stable right after work and the traffic was a challenge on a Friday evening but that was mostly the boring/annoying part. Good thing our horses were already tacked up so that we could just get moving. The weather was amazing and the sunset was perfect... it was such a stunning view of the fields and the hills and forest/bush. The only issue I have with Ariel is her dominant-mare-ness. She insists on being at the front of the group and makes every effort to get as close as possible, often times with her nose in the other horse's butt. And in open space, she took every opportunity to speed up to sneakily bounce past the other horses... and eventually, I'd be at the front of the pack and I'd have to ask J where to go. 

As the hack was wrapping up, we were trotting through some bush that I've been through before, near the stable. Most of us were on larger horses with the exception of one of the girls who was on a pony... the pony had trouble keeping up at a trot with the other horses so he took off in a gallop but when we turned, he realized it too late and his poor rider fell off as he deeked the turn. It wasn't a pretty picture... the pony took off and so did the lead horse (both without riders). Then Ariel got it in her head that something bad must be making its way over so she best get going to lead the others out of there too. I've rarely had too much trouble with her but she was giving me A LOT of trouble and was low rearing and bucking when I tried to turn her around towards the group. I knew she wouldn't throw me but she was certainly trying to tell me she wanted to get the heck outta there to find the others. I'm lucky she didn't throw me in the bush... the disagreements weren't getting better and I eventually let her move forward towards home a few steps so that she'd calm down. I thought I'd give her her head and space and then try to turn her back but every time she's rearing and bucking. Eventually I knew it wasn't going to get better so I stopped fighting her and went with her. But that was a mistake because once she broke into the field, she just made a beeline for home. At this point I lost my left stirrup and while struggling to get my foot back in, I couldn't keep my balance and toppled over... BAM. I'm lucky I landed on my back in the field and I had my helmet on. I knew that I had to get up quickly though, because who knows where Ariel's horse brain told her to go.... but when I turned around, she was standing a couple steps away, eating... REALLY? ARGH.

I didn't feel the pain right away but boy was I sore the next few days...

Of course, the trooper that I am, I confirmed with +ADW that all was well and that Sunday was good to have me return to my regular scheduled lesson. We rode in the outside arena and worked on the usual trot (sitting and posting) and canter to solidify those gaits. We moved to jumping some low jumps too and I have to admit, these were challenging to get the turn just right. Esp since my crazy left wing and my loopy right side are causing issues with directing Ariel appropriately. In comparison to the Friday hack, this lesson was pretty low key and we just worked on some jumping and getting our gaits right. I do have to admit though, I'd much rather ride indoors when the sun is hot like that.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Lesson 99: I got 99 Problems but a Horse Ain't One

I don't like to use controversial phrases as titles but let's take it literally in this instance. I'm sure that I'm not the only one who has what seems like a bazillion other problems or difficulties I contend with regularly. But, I'm glad that the horse I ride isn't one of them. But then again, that depends on your perspective ;)

We had Sunday's lesson indoors with the big door wide open so the horses were being tempted with running straight out into the outdoor ring or their paddocks. I don't know if Sheri did that to add a distraction for our horses and thus, to really test our control. It was a good test though... because the first few times Ariel wanted to go running straight out that door and she'd speed up towards it and actually slow down when we were going the opposite direction. What a pain that mare can be! :P

We started with lots of trot exercises... collected working trot and lengthened trot. Ariel hates lengthened trot... literally, it was as if nothing at all changed when I pushed her to do the lengthened trot. Sheri reminds us that while we squeeze them onwards, we had to be careful not to let them break into a canter and to just lengthen their stride; breaking into the canter would be a "release" for them because the lengthening requires more work, of them. I love that Ariel is coming along so well because when things are right on my end, she frames!

During the trot exercises, we are asked to change from posting to sitting trot... and to calmly sit the trot without disturbing the horses' pace. Sit up and breathe, we're reminded. I do notice that my thigh contact is way better than it used to be and my lower back is loosened some where I can comfortably ride that trot for extended periods. And, as I've noticed before, Ariel's always been able to trot just fine (:P) but when I do things correctly, she also comes together and does them as she's supposed to. The only thing is my wacky left arm and wrist is not always under control so I need to take more notice.

Sheri says that the first part of our lesson was focused primarily on stretching and lengthening the horses from front to back. Next, we move to lateral movements from side to side. We work on leg yields. It's a good exercise to make the horse more flexible (particularly their shoulders) and it is helpful in practical terms. This is a tricky exercise because it depends on the horse's experience with that sort of movement.

Although Ariel complains about it a bit at the end, she and I manage to get a few correct steps of the leg yielding with the correct bend and I'm really pleased with what she's able to accomplish because I've been told she loves to jump but isn't a huge fan of these types of suppling exercises. Despite that, she does wonderfully and I'm very happy because I think we could have done more once I get the feel of knowing when to counter with my outside leg so I can keep her straight.

Posting Diagonal Jar Tally = 3 x $2.00 = $6.00
To date = $201.00

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Blog Hop: Continuation School

This is the first time I've tried one of these things; I'm trying the blog hop from Viva Carlos' blog that asks the question: why do you continue to ride?

I have been riding for just under 2 years now. I took it up as an adult because I never had the opportunity as a kid. I could have stopped... considering the location of the stable is an hour each way. I currently ride twice a week (both are lessons) and it's challenging on weeknights to go up on your own when you're already tired. But, I keep going because it allows me to let go of everything that brings me down. Yes, I don't always have a shining lesson and I get frustrated, but I realize that all these things are under my control and I always have the chance to learn and improve.

As well, the change of scenery in every way imaginable is such a huge factor of what keeps me going. I work in an office with little to no autonomy some days and lately, I've been having more crappy than good days. So, when I get up there, the scenery of the country, the air, the animals that don't lie to you or keep a sneaky agenda are all around. Everything is (in a way) pure and un-adulterated by humans.

I sound a little cynical but riding has helped me get on with the cynicism that I have to face on a frequent basis... it helps me refocus and see the forest for the trees. I'm reminded about how complex yet simple nature can be... how fair animals and nature, are--you get back what you put in. I have the opportunity to spend a lot of alone time to reflect or just be. All this aids in redirecting my frustrations and actually helps me apply skills learned in riding (not so much how to canter... but more like learning to change perspective etc) to other areas.

Even when I'm wiped, I still find the time I spend doing this to be very refreshing and helpful with getting me refocused.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Lesson 98: Slow and Steady Progress

It's quiet at the stable today... we lost a member of the horsey family. He was my instructor's dressage horse that she raised and trained from a foal. It was a quiet lesson but one that she took on with the same meticulousness she always had. I love that about her... she's such a strong person... I probably would have been a bumbling mess in bed and wanting the whole world to just go away and disappear while I mourned and felt sorry for myself.

But, we'll get back to this later this week. It's my usual private lesson and I start my warm-up with trotting around ensuring that the posting diagonal is right and that I'm relaxed. The trot is relaxed and Ariel isn't being pokey around the rail. I thought everything was going okay but Sheri stops me and points out that while the trot pace is relaxed and Ariel periodically frames, I'm over posting over the pommel. I should be pushing my butt out back a bit more and sort of rising to stand as opposed to thrusting my hips over the pommel. This is good (and bad) news because I've been noticing lately that I occasionally jam my lady parts into the pommel and it's uncomfortable (too much info? haha); I have to retrain myself to post correctly again. Drat. She also notices that I post up and twist my upper body... my loopy right side has to be conquered! I have to take the active effort to push my right shoulder back (even if it seems like too much back) and loosen my right hip and remove my right knee from the saddle rolls. Of course, Ariel's quick to agree with Sheri's comments!

Once I take active notice and intention to adjust, these items, I see Ariel become more relaxed and realize it's something I need to pay attention to when I get up there. Once things are in good working order, I am asked to take my feet out of the stirrups and then get at the sitting trot. I think "I hate the sitting trot! and without stirrups too? Oyvey". Sheri reminds me that my aim is to do short spurts (or whatever I can handle) as long as I don't pinch (with my knees) and Ariel isn't doing her usual disagreeing motions and choppy trot. The first stint was a bit trying... but soon, Ariel and I get into a rhythm and she's snorting and relaxing into the seated trot! I couldn't believe how things came together enough that I was able to ride the arena at the sitting trot without stirrups! Months ago, I was literally crying about the sitting trot... Now things are so much better and I'm able to relax my hips and lower back while keeping my balance. I have yet to try this bareback but one thing at a time ;)

The peak of the lesson is working on canter large and just keeping good pace and maintaining straightness. We also notice a crazy left wing flapping around with a conked out wrist. My left arm flaps (like a wing!) and the wrist pops out. Ugh. The thing is, I don't even notice what I'm doing until it's pointed out to me. I tell ya, parts of my body have their own mind... all working to do whatever they feel like. UGH. Again, I have to take the active notice and intentionally make the adjustments; when I don't, it acts up again. Left rein is always better than the right... both me and Ariel don't enjoy running around on our right sides.

The last exercises are jumping exercises. We do it at the canter (*weee!!*) and start with a single jump single X-jump first, with a ground pole. Lots of room for error at the get go because the turn is far in advance of the turn. Not too bad. Then we try the other way and this is a bit trickier because the turn is shorter before the jump and I have to get into the turn appropriately because there is little room for readjusting. Finally, 2 X-jumps in a line! Yikes! Sheri reminds me that the first turn is a bit more forgiving b/c there's more space for error into the turn... and to sit up between the jumps. I have a few disagreements with Ariel b/c of my loopy right side but I get her to move the way I want her to and we take the jumps well a couple of the times. Next, shift to the left rein where the turn is way shorter and we want me to get into the turn at the get go. I miss the jump completely during one of the tries. That's ok, says Sheri... better than getting right to the jump and trying to abort (i.e. bad idea). This exercise is definitely tricky though... sitting up between the jumps is something that is just me being lazy... b/c the jumps aren't that far apart... but, when I did sit up, things were just... better! Everything flowed better and I wasn't struggling with where is my body and all that stuff.

I've been doing the stretches regularly and fitting them in whereever I can and it seems that it's helping... I'll need to do some more work on my loopy right side (and wonky left wing) so it doesn't do whatever it feels like doing but otherwise, Sheri told me it was a great lesson because of the progress I've been making and that the jumping will come along gradually!

Posting Diagonal Jar Tally = 3 x $2.00 = $6.00
To date = $195.00

Monday, May 12, 2014

Lesson 97: Picture Perfect Day

I hope everyone had a chance to hang out with their moms and just do some fun stuff this weekend! +ADW and I invited our moms to the stable to catch the latter part of our lesson, visit the stable and then grab some lunch. We started out the usual way on our own time and the day was just too wonderful out this way, to not go out on a hack! We went out on a 30 min hack into the bush and back. J took us out and led us around the fields and into the bush... as expected, Ariel decided that trotting wasn't fast enough and cantering would be way more fun. I really have to gain control of her... mostly for the reason that I think she's starting to disrespect me. We get into the bush and wind through and make our way back. But, not before taking a fallen log as a jump... at the intended trot... that turned into a canter for me. Ariel careened around a turn so fast that I thought I was going to fall off. I didn't though... and found myself adapting just fine... except when I took the moment to think about what was happening. I really want to take some choppers into the bush and clear up the trails though... they can be full of sticks and twigs hanging in your face and when you're moving that fast, you can't afford to close your eyes, wave your arms around or duck. But, despite this, there are ways to mitigate these sorts of turns so that they become smoother and you regain control of the situation. I didn't see the turn until it was too late but I'm sure I could have slowed her down a bit more before getting there.

When we returned to the outdoor arena, we got back to doing some trotting and adding in circles. I am reminded that my loopy right side has a mind of its own and unless I take the active effort to tell it what to do, it doesn't help the situation. It might feel like it's doing what it's suppose to but I assure you (and myself) that it is not. I ride twisted and my right leg lifts and drops inwards towards the saddle rolls. We finish up the lesson with canter outside; yay!! We apparently do so well that +ADW's mom didn't realize that it was us, cantering around the outdoor ring. That's gotta count for something, right?

Next lesson, I have to remind myself that I need to actively engage that right side to straighten up and almost turn exaggeratedly b/c whatever is being done is probably not enough. I also need to work on figuring out what's keeping my leg so tight because it tips me off balance and that balance is key when I'm out on a hack with Ariel.

In short, lots of homework that again, includes me to start with a better sleep schedule so I can actually do all the things I want to do and get to lessons being prepared and ready.

Posting Diagonal Jar Tally = 2 x $2.00 = $4.00
To date = $189.00

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Lesson 96: Hacking Away and a Clinic!

I had a hack in place of a lesson, yesterday. It was the first hack I've ever been on, like ever. I've been on those really boring trail rides where every horse is just following the other in a line--pretty boring. While I was waiting for the class before me, to return, I was having an informal session on the Pessoa Lunging System. It's an interesting looking contraption of ropes, pulleys and clips. The system was invented by Nelson Passoa, an international show jumping rider from Brasil. The purpose of the system is to gradually encourage balance and a gradual build-up of the topline. One day, more information and lessons on lunging in general. So, back to the hack!

This was the first time I was expected to have full control of a horse in the open with a small group of people. I did ride Ariel and we went out with me being on hyper-alert and Ariel being on another type of hyper-alert. She was looking around everywhere and I was feeling more nervous than I thought I would. The scenery at that time is amazing... rolling hills and lush fields or vast farming lots with nothing done yet. It was certainly a different experience and I really want to do it more frequently b/c you just have to be "on" and Ariel's way more zippy out there.

We didn't do too much other than a few trots and lots of walking. It might not have seemed like much but that was enough of a start to get me some exposure because I didn't realize I was actually pretty tense. But, I look forward to going out again b/c I'm sure my confidence will become better in time. Of course, there's always a little bit of adventure at Gosling Stables and I managed to fall off of Ariel at the walk. That's right: she was walking and I fell off. LOL. I might sound pretty ridiculous just saying that but somehow, she tripped and she did a curtsey on her knees and I slid off over her head and landed on my feet. I know, I'm in complete disbelief too. While I was a bit shaken because falling off wasn't actually all that smooth and was mostly unexpected, I did my best to recompose myself.

We didn't intentionally canter though Ariel took off a few times when we were out in an open field and had a great time just going nuts... which doesn't make sense to me because you leave her in her paddock and she does nothing but eat. Then, you get on her and she just wants to run around all over the place. I'm excited to go again and hope that there will be plenty of more opportunities!

Tonight, I went to the show clinic where the standard rules (+Laura details one of her clinics about showing here) were reviewed and we just learned the basics of what is required to show. It's a lot of work. Nobody really gets what it means, to get ready for a show. Well, the schooling shows the requirements are more lax and they're not as stringent on requirements but not at the Trillium + levels. I'm not showing at Trillium but many of the girls are. I'm usually the only adult in these sorts of things and I seem to have many friends who are 13 or so. It's funny because I actually like them better than my coworkers who are of similar age.

We started with the "classroom" stuff where we reviewed the information about feed and each horse's specific diet. We then proceeded to other health related things like taking a horse's vitals: temperature, respiration rate and heart rate. When we went down to get our hands dirty, we worked with the horse we primarily ride/part-board. I don't part-board but I ride twice a week and Ariel is my primary mount. In addition to taking her temperature rectally, we measured her height, weight, girth size (that's pretty variable though), bridle size, bit size, blanket size and boot/wrap size. There is a lot to learn about these animals! And I'm so happy I went because this is the sort of thing I wanted to get more familiar with. I'm really excited that we did that and I'm looking forward to learning more! :)

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

A Review: Catching Fire

I am pretty sure I've been reading Njal's Saga for months now. So, I decided to take a break and read one of the books on my list that I knew I'd finish quickly: Suzanne Collins' Catching Fire. This is the second installment to the trilogy of the Hunger Games and I got through the first one so fast that I figured it would be the same here. I was not wrong.

Written in (logically) the same style, the narration was done in first person perspective in the present; Katniss is not telling a story but rather, experiencing the events. Hence, we are experiencing them simultaneously. I said before, that this is perhaps the most effective way to bring in a reader by getting us to feel and think like Katniss. This the the type of story though, that can be difficult to capture on screen.

I watched the movie the minute I finished the book and that was the thing... I noticed that if I had not read the book, I probably would have been somewhat confused and not gotten the amount of insight into Katniss' motives for doing things. However, the movie was done reasonably well in terms of the cinematography, costumes, sets and casting; it also provided a visual basis for me when I read. But, I felt that the characters were one-dimensional, after having read the book.

The book does a much better job at pacing the story along with a build-up of what's happened since Katniss and Peeta won the games. You experience the lives they live/d and get an appreciation for life of the Seam and even the Victory Tour. I think it was nearly half the book that was spent on life in the Seam and the thoughts and events between the 74th and 75th Hunger Games. I liked this because I got way more in-depth with what's happened and how much has changed. The reader also gets a much better appreciation for the time that has passed. There is much more build up of the characters and the turn of events. Unfortunately, the movie doesn't portray this well and I felt like we were quickly pushed into the games. There was a lot that was missing from the book, that the movie just either skimmed over, or all together skipped. It was kind of disappointing because I felt that the things they did skip really added to the plot and characters.

Because they skipped so much, I felt that they didn't have the opportunity to really develop Peeta's character. I'd say of all the characters so far, he has developed the most and you really see more depth of his character and motives in the book, than you do on-screen. On-screen, it's as if they just put a lot of Gale shots in there to remind us that he's the more quintessential manly man that every girl pines over, in the Seam. Then, to pull us back on #teampeeta, they alter the story about how Gale gets those lashings in the square. They force #teampeeta on you instead of letting his actions do the talking. I love Peeta not because Josh Hutcherson is a cutie but because when I read about his character in the book, I am so moved with who he is becoming.

I can't wait to read the next one but they've split the last book into TWO movies!! One comes out this fall and then the second one finishes in the fall of 2015. Since I like to read the book just before seeing the movie, this is going to be a long time to wait...!

Monday, May 5, 2014

Lesson 94 & 95: More Inside Leg

It's been a tough few weeks with work where it's affected my sleep and then the sleep has in turn affected my ability to concentrate at work and the cycle goes on. I was pretty tired for Thursday's lesson and it might have been the first time I actually thought that I didn't really feel like going *gasp!*. But, as usual, once I get there and I see Ariel and start brushing her, whatever was bothering me melts away and I'm just at the stable to learn.

I started flat work at the trot with circles, and straightness. Not just straight on the long side of the rail, but straightness during turns and circles. I was trying so much, trying to remember to sit up with my open chest towards the sky and my shoulders down my back but giving with my hands as much as possible. It sounds like a total oxymoron! Going straight was not working out as well as I wanted.. Circles had Ariel falling in and I wasn't keeping her to the edges of the circle. It was "more inside leg!!". The last exercise I was working on was a simple X jump... and I was having problems keeping Ariel straight, into the jump! We'd turn okay but then she'd veer off to the right and I'd try to over correct her with the left rein and then we'd jump crooked. I am telling you, jumping straight has suddenly become a challenge. It was a tough last bit and I think both Sheri, Ariel and I finished the lesson a little crabby.

Sunday's lesson was just a continued extension of what I had been working on with lots of turns and straightness. This applied to both the canter and the trot. My body control at the canter is much better than it was before and I don't feel as insecure. But, I also recognize that your body has to be "on" or you'll fall right off. We worked on lots of circles and even the figure 8's at the posting trot. Sheri reminds me that I need more inside leg to keep Ariel from falling in, taking a short-cut or shrinking the circle/turn.

We finished up the Sunday lesson with a simple X jump which we were taking on turns... be it away or towards the barn. The turns were either gradual or sharper where you needed to know where you were going well in advance and had to get your eye on the prize, commit to it and keep watching it as you rode towards it. There was no going back, once you were heading towards that jump! I'm told that although my turns and my route in isn't as clean as it could be, I'm doing better to get through the jump and able to sit up once we land. This is a huge improvement from falling all over the place or being left behind. I finish with the last exercise with a canter into the single jump. And talk about incredibly satisfying when we flew over it cleanly and without a hitch!

Posting Diagonal Jar Tally = 5 x $2.00 = $10.00
To date = $185.00