Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Late Garden Update

This is probably the first I've mentioned much about my garden. If you've been around here for a while, you'll know I have dabbled with vermicomposing and enjoy my time outdoors (however fleeting those moments can be). This is the third summer I'm gardening in the backyard through raised beds that my +brother built and put in the back breaking labour to get them set-up. It's been me and Captain Obvious keeping up the maintenance and growing. Sometimes I'm not as diligent as I could be, to ensure a very fruitful growing season. Plants require as much care as other living critters... the only difference is that you can plan to have more time to yourself.

Garlic Scapes
What did I grow this season? I planted garlic last fall with 75% germination success and I'm waiting to harvest. Uncle B has been really helpful to get some of the other things started like my beans and potatoes; I planted potatoes from "seed potato", which is an interesting process--one I'm not familiar with. The season started the same it has in the last year... with pests digging up my plants or outright killing them. I didn't have any insect problems but I must have a feline or squirrel issue; my bean seedlings were broken or things were all together pulled out. I did plant a catnip plant in one of the corners in hopes to lure feisty felines out of the other boxes but it hasn't worked as I hoped and early in the season before anything was planted, Bucky was spending his outdoor time rolling around in the boxes and eliminating himself on occasion. I let that be for a bit but have since had him cease the behaviour.

Last night's dinner was a testament that the food we get straight from our garden is by far several times tastier than the stuff you get at the supermarket. Things at the supermarket somehow taste 'cheap' and mass produced (that's because they are!). The beans were crisp and sweet. The tomatoes sweet and full of tomato-y flavour and the lettuce was firm, not bitter but flavourful (both from a small Brampton farm). I ended up throwing together a nicoise salad with chicken.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Lesson #118: Dressage!

My trot warm ups are more composed and I get on Ariel with conviction, control and confidence. And you know what? I can feel her being more agreeable with me. However, as soon as we move into canter work, things get messy and she fights me and falls in. Apparently I'm not the only one with that problem... one of the other adult riders told me (her daughter was riding Ariel at one point but seems to have moved onwards to another gelding) that she has the same issues with Ariel when she rides her. At least I know it's not just me. I mean it is "me" but I'm not the only one experiencing issues.

Anyway, I struggle with Ariel at the canter and I have to really man-handle her to get her deep into the corners. I do pulse my inside leg on her and it helps. It takes a lot more than me pulsing once she's falling in though... I have to prepare as I'm coming into the corner with a reminder and continue with some pulsing and pushing her back out and I just let her do her thing if she's doing as she's being told. But I have to be quick if I feel that she's starting to fall back in or lean or get naughty.

Today's lesson: a command lesson. At least that's what I think Sheri called it. No jumping today, we focused on flat work exclusively. It's the first time we've done something like this. At first, we start out on the rail and we merely do as we are told--kind of like Simon says. We haven't worked on a lot of technical moves like shoulder-in, leg yielding (just on occasion), pirouette, collected canter etc. Right now, we're doing things like walk (both collected and extended), trot (collected sitting and extended/working), canter, turn on the forehand. It's simple stuff in terms of items considered separately but putting it all together with smooth and instantaneous transitions at the letter is challenging.

Our first turn at it has all three of us, K, +ADW and I out on the rail just doing what we're told. One we finish this, we take turns. I'm first. And everything is fine until we have to do canters. The transitions are not smooth nor on cue; often they are speedy trots leading into the canter. Other times they are cutting corners and just zipping around in an unbalanced mode. I know my cues and I know what I'm supposed to do but I don't always translate that correctly to our friend Ariel.

Sheri adds that at this point the type of showing we should consider are things like dressage tests since we still need work on jumping courses. It does feel nice to know that I'm moving forward in my learning/training though! And this is just the "training level"... our aim is to be so on the letter and so close to the end of the rails that things look effortless and you don't hear me cursing and muttering under my breath when things go wrong.

ADW and K take their turns and are doing varying things too. When we finish, Sheri tells us our homework for the week is to look up some training level dressage tests that have things like trot, canter, walk and some basic turn on the forehand or such. Nothing about leg yielding or the such at this point. I have been checking out the FEI and EC for some but so far (really, just this evening) nothing suitable has really turned out. When I find something good, I"ll be sure to post some up, of what we're going to be working on in the next few weeks/months :)

Friday, July 25, 2014

Lesson #117: Moving Up the Herd Ladder

I didn't compose a post for the last lesson since we weren't doing anything particularly complicated as Sheri was under the weather. But, let's focus on last night's lesson: it was great. The traffic was more or less agreeable and I got in with good time and one of the young girls was so kind as to tack-up Ariel for me so I was ready to go.

After the trotting warm-up which went well because Ariel and I went in with good lines and deep corners. Moving to the canter was me moving up that challenge scale. This became more of a problem... in the corners, Ariel would occasionally lean on my inside leg b/c I was trying to push her back out. It didn't occur to do the pulsing of my leg aid and instead I resorted to half halts but who are we kidding... she was outright ignoring them anyways. It was frustrating, to say the least. And it wasn't just the right side... it was both, this time. I had to get a crop because she was also doing a pony trot and not immediately departing into the canter... or worse... she'd get into the canter and just ZOOM around. *cringe*. And there I am, desperately trying to regain control through insertion of half halts and trying to keep her from falling in or leaning on my leg and maintaining some contact with the bit/reins. When I returned to the spot from before, I made effort to make clear to her, what I wanted of her so that she wouldn't take over the ride.

G was in my class and so we got to working on jumping tonight. The main part of our lesson was a mini course of 3 x-jumps set up: 2 on each quarter line and one on an angle from the corner. For G, it was about regaining her confidence over fences and not over-thinking the fence as she was approaching it... in canter. That's right folks, we've graduated from only doing them in trot to doing them in alternating canter and trot (with simple changes) to all canter. As usual, a mish-mash of successes and failures and areas for improvement. At one point, it was pointed out to me that I have a great 2-point over the fence when distance and ride in is good. I've also been able to recover not such great rides in, by not falling off and making the jump. In the instances where I couldn't get into the canter before the jump, I left out the canter and just went into the fence in trot so I wasn't 'chasing her into the jumps'.

Again, Ariel was inserting her opinion about how to approach fences and how to take corners if I wasn't being clear and preparing in advance (hahaha when I type that, I recollect the meltdowns I've had with the wedding and how "I need advance notice!!". So yea, I get it, Ariel). There was one turn where we went over the second jump on the quarter line and Ariel decided that counter bend the corner and trot sideways was necessary. Unlucky for her, I had enough at that point and just pulled her into a circle and yanked on her face to redirect her to what I wanted. And man! Did that disagreement ever get me a whole bunch of head shaking, nodding, boot chewing (my boot...) and rein pulling for the remainder of the lesson!! But, you know what? That was moment was needed. I regained control after that and while she was protesting and expressing her opinion, we got over fences just fine.

At the end of the lesson, Sheri had each of us review "3 positive/good things from this lesson":
  1. I cantered a mini course of 3 x-jumps
  2. I took control once and for all
  3. I have the potential to have great 2-point over jumps
  4. And the obvious... I didn't fall off :P

Monday, July 21, 2014

A Review: the Other Boleyn Girl

This book by Phillipa Gregory is probably her most notable volume about the Royalty of Britain. I haven't read any of her other works so I have little to compare to in terms of similar author style. However, following my trip to England in 2011, I developed an intense obsession interest about King Henry VIII and his six wives--particularly Queen Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn. Even though I know the outcome of the story, it didn't stop me from reading and watching. I picked up the Showtime series "The Tudors" since it was originally the one I wanted to watch and I also found the 2008 on-screen movie for "The Other Boleyn Girl". As I mentioned, Henry had 6 wives in total but the most notable coupling was with Anne Boleyn because it changed the the face of marriage, the English monarchy and religion.

It is no secret that King Henry VIII's objective was to have a son in order to have a legitimate Tudor king rule England. Catherine of Aragon was unable to provide him a living male heir, though, I believe she had taken to child six times during their time together; only Princess Mary survived to rule. As with any monarchy, they are surrounded by ambitious courtiers who work hard at gaining favour with the king. Anne Boleyn manages to not only seduce the king, but is Henry's cause for breaking with the Roman Catholic Church and becoming the head of the English church. (They argued that the marriage with Queen Catherine was invalid because she married his brother Arthur first.) But, readers are shown that this game is a dangerous one to play and one could be in the king's favour one moment and then out, the next. Even faster than the relationship was established, it came crashing down and Anne was tried and convicted of adultery, treason and sentenced to death by beheading.

There have been many books written about this ruling monarch and Anne Boleyn. The generally accepted events and details of history are reflected throughout the book as the solid skeleton and the rest of the story is brought to life through Gregory's interpretation and imagination. It's an interesting take to have a secondary character in history take on the narrative of the story. Instead of having the story told by Anne, we see events unfold through the eyes of Anne's sister, Mary. To enhance the sequence of events, each chapter is a specific season and thus range from a few pages in length to a dozen or more.

Since the book is categorized as historical fiction, one can assume the actual thoughts and specific actions that took place; such as the miscarriages of Lady Anne. The horrid dark and criminal actions that the Bolyen children did in the book are all speculation about what might have happened. I'm not a historian and not that well versed in the exact details of the history here but I do know the basics about what happened so the rest, I take as fiction. The two most impressing features that were made very clear to me was the inequality of women and men during the time, and the lack of medical and scientific/biological understanding. Men owned everything and the only way a woman could have a good life was through the man that she was betrothed to, by her family. Women and girls were just pawns in their family's ambition to climb that ladder towards fame, fortune and wealth and if they didn't like that idea, "there would always be another girl ready to take the place of the waning one". Fathers and uncles essentially pimped out their daughters and nieces to advance their own careers and family ambition. The other thing was the extreme lack of medical and biological/scientific understanding. It was crazy for me to read that pregnant women were considered so fragile that their partners (in particular, the king) would take another woman to his bed during her pregnancy and then the last few months she's go into a sort of 'hiding' where they were restricted bed rest and staying indoors in the dark.

The 2008 movie made was a really poor translation of the book and if I could get back that ~90 minutes or so, I'd gladly take it back. The Showtime series on the other hand is very well done despite being adjusted and manipulated for a television audience. The acting by Jonathan Rhys Myers is outstanding and worth watching. He isn't your typical historical Henry VIII (i.e. fat in his later years) but the intensity of character is amazing to witness. The costume and sets are also worth the visual opulence and breath-taking scenes.

When I asked a friend who had read a few of Gregory's books, she mentioned to me that the fiction part tends to be formulaic, predictable and lacking real substance. But, the history and culture that the reader could gain is well worth the compensation. And for those equestrian readers, there were no motorized vehicles so talking about their 'hunters' and the time it took to prepare to travel (by horse), the hunting on horseback... it was nice to imagine what that might have been like ;)

Friday, July 18, 2014

Lesson #115: Learning to 'Just Trust'

I had the day off yesterday to do some wedding related things and horsey stuff (some enh, balanced with hooray!). Right to the hooray stuff, I started in King City where I made a visit to the Tipperary (Phoenix Performance) head office to pick up a protective riding vest. Then, I headed over to my usual week night lesson in Hillsburgh. And let me tell you, even though the drive was ~1 hour, it didn't bother me one bit. Driving in the country can actually be RELAXING! Who would have thought that, eh? The highlight of the drive (I forgot to snap a photo!) was at the corner facing west at Kennedy and The Grange Side-road when you come to a stop at the intersection and you just see a breath-taking vast expanse of land covered in trees, estates and farm plots; it's not called the Hills of Headwater for nothing! The view was stunning and everything that has been stressing me out for weeks (if not months) momentarily melted away. Good thing the side-roads aren't busy ;)

To top off the great drive in, I got to casually stroll into the stable and calmly put my stuff down and get myself together. There were 2 other 'students' in the lesson. I say 'students' because one of them Sheri's companion, who's been riding since he was a boy. We started with a lot of flat work. Ariel seemed sleepy when I found her but better than the last time I went to get her when she defiantly made a dash for the other end of the paddock. The first exercise was a shallow serpentine pattern across the quarter line. We had to get our horses to bend and flex... not Ariel's forte. Needless to say, we both spent a lot of the lesson arguing about what to do.

Eventually those 'lines' became a ground pole, a low X and 3 trot poles. I would say the need to be thinking ahead of the next obstacle while as you're coming into the immediate one was critical. Lots of leg yielding, bending and flexion. All things (again) that Ariel loathes doing. My right shoulder was falling forward and I was torquing my body to the left again so I had to make an extra concerted effort to be in control at all times because let's face it, if I give even a second to this mare, she's taking over and doing it her way. Which actually only means that I need to be on her more consistently and to prepare ahead of time for what I want--not new, I know... we've been working on this for what seems like ages and I suppose I may continue doing so for a while.

That final exercise is tough! Because I doubt myself and Ariel to get through the obstacles that are so close together! And the directions offered Ariel are actually rather minor so in my mind, I can't quite figure out if it's effective or not! Ugh... I'd need to just trust... another example of how the rest of my life is connected to my horsey lessons.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Lesson #114: Mare-ish

Today's lesson was another one focused on us getting ourselves together to work on some jumping and cantering. Usually, Ariel is either already near the gate or walking over or at the very least, not making a run for it. This morning was a completely different story: I walked in and she wanted to get a drink so I let her... then as soon as she was done (and before I could put that halter on) she turned around on her heels and made a dash for the other side of the paddock. NOT COOL. But, it's too late to reprimand an animal once they've done what they've done so I begrudgingly walk over and pop the halter on.

During tack up, I notice her legs are pretty yucky... good ol' Ariel is in heat (again). In the arena, we were asked to get out on the rail to do the warm-up and I couldn't get Ariel to move off... I had to give her a slap with my hand on her rump. *sigh* A premonition of the lesson to come.

Despite the start, my warm-up was great. I bet it was because of that iffy start that I had such a great warm-up where I was clear in my communication and I was large and in charge. Things started to fall apart for me when we got into the canter. I started on Ariel (and my) crappy side: right. She was not only giving me a lot of fuss, but she was falling in and giving me lip for wanting to start that canter. It was such a frustrating part where when I did get her into a canter, she was falling all over the place and zipping about.

Next, we started on a low jump on the quarter line. I was asked to canter it and to not cut the corner before the turn. I wasn't insistent enough about wanting to keep going and then last minute, Ariel would decide for us, that she'd take a pretty sharp turn just before the wall. Sheri proceeded to add a ground pole here and there and eventually she made a mini course of a single jump with several ground poles that would otherwise represent the fence. The task laid out before me was to take the whole thing at a canter with the appropriate turns in and out. Not to mention at a reasonable controlled pace. The first couple of times I wasn't making the appropriate decisions in advance and Ariel wasn't clear so took her own decision to go one way or the other. We both looked completely out of control and +ADW mentioned to me afterwards, that it looked more like a gallop than a canter. Yikes! Sheri also mentions similarly in the sense that I looked like I let Ariel take over.

My other issue is letting Ariel "win". When she disagrees, I just stop us both from doing anything further. Sheri tells me that that's not okay because that signals to Ariel that she won and she'd just do it again and again. So, it is better for me to keep moving and insisting to get what I want from her. Once I do that and make a more concrete decision about (something like) left or right of the barrel, then things come together much better. I have control and Ariel yields to take my direction. But what a messy way to get there! Yeesh!! 

My homework is to continue doing my physiotherapy exercises of stretches and strengthening as well as trying to mentally prepare myself more thoroughly for rides with Ariel.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Lesson #113: The Never Ending Battle

Last night's lesson was off-property at the Erin Fairgrounds. It took me longer than I anticipated, to find the location b/c I couldn't quite figure out how to get inside to the grounds. I drove back and forth the main street and was more and more confused because I could see riders and their mounts but I couldn't figure out how they got inside! Eventually I just took the risk and drove into a driveway and lucky enough, everyone was there. I quickly pulled myself together and I saw Ariel munching on the short grass outside the arena.

There wasn't a mounting block so one of the parents helped me up... I have terrible timing and was told to jump on 3 but jumped on 4 instead. Despite that, that mom was super strong and didn't seem to have trouble getting me up (she does have 3 kids who ride and had 2 horses). I was a little embarrassed because I let her lift my big fat arse onto Ariel. But in my defence, I've rarely had to mount from the ground! I was also super nervous. I am one of those "terrible test takers" who are usually so nervous and tense that I could make myself sick. During the day, I was excited about getting out for my ride but as the time approached, my anxiety levels were escalating. By the time I arrived, I was ball radiating nervous energy.

I entered the ring that had two other young girls who are like two fish to water... trotting around and doing some jumps and even getting into the canter. They are both excellent riders and that observation added to my ever escalating nervous energy. Knowing that I've never been off property in an arena, Sheri reminds me that my attention needs to be "on" and the best way to ride anything out is to sit up tall, chest open and shoulders back. She further soothingly reminds me that I just need to take time to shake my nerves off and if the entire lesson is just spent walking around with Ariel, then so be it. Ariel isn't a spooky mare but she is definitely pushy, inquisitive, attentive and curious. In some ways, we're two peas in a pod because she's uber alert and I'm equally edgy about everything around. The fairgrounds is tucked away from the main road but the traffic is audible and you can see some small houses on a smaller street as well as a section of bush.

B is talking me through my nerves and reminding me to sit up while we walk around and try to keep Ariel's attention on us. I make the effort to take deep breaths and talk myself through my mental check-list. Instead, I find my tension manifesting itself physically: my right heel slowly creeps up and when turning, I actually twist to the left, regardless of the direction; this irritates Ariel as she raises her head and turns it inwards in an effort to rebalance herself. Despite this, I do regain some posture and control. Sheri asks me if I am comfortable to get into the trot... which I willing do. I feel a little better but Ariel took a quicker trot and it is a bit unsettling at the get go. I try to rein her in a bit but then remember my "magical half halts" as better tools.

I spent the remainder of the lesson in trot or walk along the perimeter and crossing the center. It was both inspiring and intimidating when the other two young riders got into their canters and jumped a few fences. A few times Ariel tried to get sneaky and grab a tall blade of grass while I was stopped--it was such a funny sight with her trying to be subtle about reaching for that piece of grass while standing still. As I was starting to become more comfortable and having my confidence rise, I turned a corner and out of (what seemed like) no where, a large dog dashes into his yard (fenced) and because Ariel and I didn't see it, she just heard the sound and freaked out with a little jump forward and rushing away from the scary noise. I cried out and nearly fell off. OY. Thankfully I didn't but that one incident (I'm sure) reduced whatever comfort or confidence I had built up to that point. *sigh*

Even with the little bump at the end, I found the experience very helpful and worthwhile. My assessment of my own performance is that I am unlikely to be ready for any show (no matter how low key) at this point until I can work on getting my nerves under control. It's a never ending battle for me: I've always been a Nervous Nellie with pretty much everything I do... which is why I've spent a lot of my adult life doing things that push my boundaries. It's not that I have the goal of becoming fearless... but rather learning to deal with my fear and anxieties while building confidence. It's a long and difficult road but I am sure the rewards will far outweigh the challenges.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Lesson #111 & #112: The Magical Half Halt

I love and dislike bareback riding. While it miraculously massages my hips back into place, it can be tricky to stay balanced enough not to hurt yourself. I hurt myself on Thursday and my hips weren't as good as last time. So, while it's not a failure, it wasn't as good as the first time.

My lesson's aim was to let go with my hips and lower back so that my seat moulds to Ariel and I'm not bouncing. Sitting trot is improving because of this exercise but at the same time, I'm not quite there... especially if I spend a lot of time sitting at a desk. I started with a good warm up walking around and letting my hips move with Ariel... it helped to scissor my legs in motion with her front legs. My lower back is tight but no matter, it should loosen as the lesson progresses. The trot was going well so Sheri suggested that I try a canter nearer the end of the lesson. I chuckled. It's not sitting the canter that has me worried... it's the transition up or down that I'm not sure to endure. For now, we put that thought on hold.

I continue to go round and round at the trot but every now and again, I tense and so does Ariel so her trot gets choppy and I bounce more and things escalate. At one point, we're careening around a corner and I momentarily tense my body and hands--a half halt. Or at least part of it? I'm immediately told that I seem to have discovered the elusive half halt--something that is particularly difficult to teach fully to a rider. It's one of those things that you have to feel/do to really get it. I've tried reading about it and it never makes any sense. It's proof just because Ariel immediately responds by slowing down and control is regained.

While I'm fiddling with my leg aids to keep Ariel focused on moving forward and straight, I inadvertently initiate the canter (I'm also sure Ariel is just ITCHING to really get moving) and off we go! It wasn't as bad as I thought it might have been and the transition down was comfortable enough.

Sheri next suggests to try trot poles. These don't go so well for me and at some point, I end up landing lady parts into her withers. Ouch. The lesson didn't end with me being perfectly in unison with Ariel's movements but I got into the canter, I have discovered the half halt for Ariel, I managed to go round and round at the trot without falling off--I'd say that's pretty good.


Usually, the lesson following a bareback ride is much easier because things seem to be looser--namely by hips. It's just me and K today and we rode indoors despite the nice weather. After the warm up, Sheri instructs us to do no stirrup work. K's just starting with this but she's done pretty well with short spurts of trot without stirrups. This was super easy compared to the bareback lesson, hands down. I even did baby jumps without stirrups at the trot and everything flowed really well. At the end of it, I actually needed to extend my stirrups down a hole!!!

Once we're both equally exhausted with the out of stirrup work, we get into the canter. Ariel is FLYING today. And I don't meant that in a good way at all. She's just zipping around the arena at full speed and I am not happy about the speed which we're going at. Sheri reminds me "half halt!!" At first, I didn't think anything was happening but things started to collect again and we came back together. The main issue with Ariel remains her cutting corners after jumps and she'd rather careen around the corner falling in and as fast as she can. I'm reminded that I either need to use a lot more leg to push her back out, or I need to regain control through half halts. I've been doing the leg thing for weeks now... last time I thought maybe I should consider the pulsing leg aid but after today's half halts into the corner, she instantly reconnected with me. Clearly I'll be working on lots of these half halts in the future!

Next lesson is going to be an off-property lesson at the Erin Fairgrounds so I'm super stoaked because I've never ridden off property in that sort of fashion. Sheri said it's giving me the feel of a show without the actual show and all the pressures and money of doing so. I am so excited and I'm really looking forward to just flying through this week until Thursday! :)

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Happy Canada Day!

That's me and Ariel at the back ;)
Courtesy of one of the great boarders at Gosling Stables! This shot comes from the other day we went on the hack and were eaten alive--couldn't tell, huh? ;)