Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Lesson #134: It's Too Loud in Here!

Back to my regularly scheduled Sunday morning lessons! It feels good to be back in a routine that I both enjoy and am familiar with. The weather is good and Ariel continues her solitary confinement due to... unruliness. That's right folks, this mare ain't sick or lame or anything of that nature... she's an Appaloosa mare... with a HUGE crush on a paint Dutch Warmblood mare named Harlequinn. Actually, that 'relationship' is mutual and has been the cause of some destructive behaviour on Ms. Ariel's part. She's been relegated to the 'solitary confinement', which is just a smaller pen that prevents her from racing around stupidly and injuring herself and she's in a single paddock that's adjacent to others so she doesn't have anyone to boss around. It seems to be working because she's not as fussy and cranky and opinionated as she normally is. Don't get me wrong, she isn't all alone, she's just not in a multi-horse paddock. She does have the resident miniature horse, Waldo in the next pen...

Hi! I'm Waldo and I'm a miniature horse. Everyone adores me. I mean look at how cute I am!

The warm up is brief as if we get right into the lesson with a purpose. Indeed we have a purpose, we are jumping a course again. There are 3 jumps in this course and they are placed in a less challenging pattern. Thank heavens. We start by taking each jump on its own and then move towards combining them, at the trot. My rides in are straighter and with purpose but as soon as Ariel takes off, things go wrong and my 2 point is a mess and I can't seem to pull myself up, upon Ariel's landing. I can literally hear myself chattering away as I approach the jump with thoughts like "half halt half halt... heels down... flexion for the turn... etc". It's as if I can't turn those thoughts off.

Sheri reminds me that this is problematic for a series of reasons and one of them is the amount of weight that ends up on her front hooves upon landing--her lovely ~950lbs plus my ~130lbs. That's a lot of weight coming on 2 hooves. *sigh* I try and try again and variations of a poor ride over and out range from being left behind, being left WAY behind, hovering too far forward over the pommel, landing on Ariel's neck... the list goes on. It was yet another miserable ride and I'm not exactly excited about the way things turned out.

Deb... sorry to say but that wasn't one of your better jumping lessons.

I think that my suspicion about a weak 2 point will probably need to be looked at further... Sheri's suggestion? Do 2 point during my warm ups and hold it for as long as I can so I can build those core muscles... my other homework? Do some yoga, damn it!

Monday, September 29, 2014

Lesson #133: It Feels Like It Was Ages Ago!

I started riding twice a week this spring and let me tell you, riding more than once a week does wonders for one's progress. I've noticed the improvement but I am sure those girls riding three or more times a week are real super stars for a reason! I mean when do I ever get to practice what I do up on a horse anyways? Other than the times I'm up there. So, when I got hitched last week, I only rode twice, in two weeks. I'd say that returning to the saddle after that much time actually was tougher than it's been in the past. I felt stiff and tight in my hips and things just weren't... fluid.

It was definitely a challenge to get back into things and it took just a little bit longer to compose myself. And this perhaps was not the best lesson to jump a small course.

Oh hAy. Get it, "hay"? Those were some close calls today... I need a snack.

We started with a good warm up of varying gaits of posting and seated trot and a good go at the canter. Then Sheri set up the jumps--four of them, to be exact. To get to the point, things were ugly for me and I nearly unseated myself once, was falling all over the place and lost the reins a couple of times. Probably one of my worst performances to date. It's great that we didn't canter the course and just went at it at the trot because I don't know if I could have handled anything more complicated.

Definitely not one of my better lessons.... *sigh*

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Lesson #132: Ariel Goes Clip Clop

I finally have time to write this post, after getting hitched last Saturday. So it'll be brief because I don't remember a lot of details :P

Since +ADW wasn't riding, I convinced him to take photos of my lesson. He was so excited to oblige, I'm sure; wake up for 7:30am on a vacation day. The lesson was quickly paced with a warm up of lots of trotting, both posting and seated. Cantering and transitions up and down. It's kind of annoying how slow and pokey Ariel can be, without a crop but the minute I grab one, she wakes right up and then instead, speeds around the arena! Just holding that thing is enough to get her going. I think I'd have more success with spurs than a crop since I don't have to worry about holding something extra and switching sides when we change lead. The warm up was essentially a session of "Sheri Says" and thereby keeping Ariel's attention on the changes being asked of her. I had to focus on getting the transitions done with more accuracy instead of the delayed clippity clop. This is no easy feat since a "call" must illicit a series of actions that tell Ariel clearly, what is happening. Otherwise abrupt changes can cause equally abrupt transitions.

After all that "warming up", we moved to a line of 2 jumps on the long side. I started with a single jump that was by no means a small jump. And of course, I totally over think it and I'm all over the place. I am slowly starting to "hear" my brain churning as we approach the jump and I even catch myself looking down at the jump the few times we were going over it. It only got more complicated when Sheri added the second jump in that line and I wasn't picking myself up, after the first jump. Ariel was really good and trucking me around with her but I definitely need to continue to work on that 2 point over the jumps and bringing myself back up, afterwards.

Hi again! The things I put up with, when Deb's up there... *sigh*

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Lesson #131: Stop Thinking, Just Do

It's the last Sunday class before "the big day". G's in class today so that likely means we're doing some jumping. +ADW is riding Bonspiel and isn't too sore from his fall last weekend and things look good. I warm up with Ariel with the intention that we focus on riding deep in the corners and keep a straight line when we're tracking around. I also want to keep Ariel focused on what we're doing at the moment since she tends to get distracted easily--especially if there is another horse outside.

Ariel, when there is another horse that walks by outside.

The next step was to get into the canter and go large while focusing on getting a controlled pace for the duration of the canter exercise. Nothing nutty or crazy, just focus on getting control and keeping it. It definitely is a "conversation" that a rider has with their mount; I have to relay to Ariel what I want and confirm with her, if she's understanding me correctly. If not, then she'll (in this case) take over with the sentiment "um... kay. Don't worry, you can count on me to get this done." Since she's a dominant mare, she's quick to take that role of leader if nobody else is going to step up.

Our next exercise is getting us ready for a course. Sheri has told us time and again, don't over think it: a jump is just another stride. She's got 4 ground poles laid out around the arena in a small course; there are 2 potential broken lines we could take depending on what she asks of us. She has G and I take the poles at a canter while ADW went at a trot. So from what I deemed as in control at the flat canter exercise, this just makes life complicated! There was need for lots of half halts and slowing Ariel down just a bit--especially when she sped up on the approach to the gate but apparently her pace was pretty good and I was not in fact racing around. I felt like we were racing around but Sheri said that if there's one thing she hates, is people racing around the course and that Ariel and I didn't do that. I guess I'll need to get used to the pace that she goes at... That said though, the execution of the flat course was far from perfect and I need to continue working on keeping Ariel from falling in at corners, and riding straight instead of cutting corners. But, the angles in were pretty good.

There was one instance where I thought I might come tumbling off... Ariel took a pole and I seem to have lost my balance and lost the right rein and she was heading straight into the wall! I had to scrambling to grab those reins and (you guessed it!) sit up. That was definitely a close call. Ensuring that my hands are nice and closed on the reins is another thing to keep in mind. Until the next lesson!

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Lesson #130: Deconstruction

My lesson on Thursday became a private since G wasn't able to make it. J was in the arena riding a new spicy little pony named Cafe and just schooling her and taking some light instruction from Sheri. Since I've literally started riding each stride and stopped "just sitting there", things have progressed significantly. I'm not too sure what it was that flipped in my brain but I've taken control of the warm ups and even ride the strides and the corners with complete and total intention. I've stopped letting Ariel take over and have asserted myself as leader, in our little 'herd'. And sure, it was tough at first, but I've gotten much less lip from her and we only have a momentary disagreement before she falls in line and we get moving.

During the warm-up, Ariel got into a great forward pace and we moved onwards to the canter. I have to remember to set Ariel up, deep in the corners so that she's not barreling around and falling in. It takes a lot but I have a few really awesome corners where everything is where it needs to be; I get confirmation of this when Sheri calls out the very excellent corner I just took!

As this was just going flat, I was able to concentrate on body position and half halting. I find that this is always a great time for me to sort stuff out before getting into jumping. Jumping complicates things because you've gone from being able to accomplish the flat properly (which is what I have been working on a lot, lately) to adding in that leap. Yes, it's supposed to be just like another stride but let's face it, all the thoughts that run through your head as you're approaching a jump is going a mile a minute and hesitation isn't a good one to have.

I focus on 2 specific jumps: a broken line of X's. Without explaining the intention, Sheri instructs me to take the first X and continue to go around the second one. Well something turned off in my brain and I wasn't being clear enough with Ariel and we end up accidentally making the broken line. Wow, I was so not prepared for that. I didn't fall off but you could tell it was a rushed decision from both Ariel and me. I wasn't clear enough with her and she just took over and figured that it was a broken line we were doing. Wrong. Sheri tells me that I need to be much more clear because while it wasn't dangerous or anything, it wasn't the intention. I try again and we manage the rather tight ride out and around the second jump. We end up playing a little "Sheri Says" and she dictates if I do the broken line or just focus on a single of the pair. The challenge for me is to correctly direct Ariel where we want to go, and not let her take over, due to my own unclear instructions.

Now, that sounds all dandy and those components were half bad but I need to continue working on gaining better control of pace during the ride into the jumps because Ariel speeds up towards the jumps. Lots of half-halts! In addition, I've been having a lot more trouble with my 2 point lately and I have no idea why. I am either launching myself before she takes off, or I end up on her neck or get left behind. It's a bit strange considering I wasn't having as many issues before. Some more things to focus and work on in the coming lessons.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Cleaning Horsey Stuff, Part 1: Saddle Pad

Ariel isn't my horse per se, and I don't own a horse (yet...) so logically, I have little horse tack. I did however, purchase a saddle pad in the spring because I was having trouble being able to regularly find a saddle pad for Ariel. I bought a "Union Hill LETTIA pad" in navy with green whales from Bahr's Saddlery. Perhaps not the best decision for a white horse, but it has matching polo wrap too! I didn't get those :P

Time for a clean up!

This summer hasn't been too bad in terms of heat but that doesn't mean Ariel doesn't sweat during a lesson. Add to that the fact that she loves to roll around in the dirt and come to me with mud caked on. I figure that since we riders wash riding clothes after a sweaty lesson, the same should be done for horse stuff (note: I intend to learn how to clean bridles and saddles eventually). I already wash the bit after lessons and ensure there isn't anything crusty left on there and then tie it up neatly in a figure 8. I also decided to wash my grooming brushes since I needed the dandy for the saddle pad cleaning.

Colour fast detergent for the saddle pad and dish soap for the brushes

Needless to say, the pad looked (and smelled like a dirty gym sock that a horse wore) like this:

That's a season's worth of yuck!

Upon closer inspection, I see that the once fleecy underside is now smooth and slightly shiny with dried sweat and dirt. The common concern that many riders have is tossing it straight into the home washing machine, full of dry dirt, sweat and horse hair. Yes, like all laundry, it goes in dirty and comes out clean. But, that doesn't mean that it's going to leave the washing machine clean enough to do your un-mentionables, or not clog up your pipes. So, after brief consultation with J, I laid the pad, underside up on the grass and grabbed the (synthetic) dandy brush to brush off as much of the loose dust, dirt and horse hair as possible.

Not much improvement...

Then I filled the brown bucket with water and a little bit of colour fast detergent. Next, I soaked the pad from top to bottom with the hose going at super stream, not spray. It didn't get a lot of the dirt off but now everything is wet; the pad is heavy, soaked with water so careful not to throw your back out! I dipped the same dandy brush into the bucket and proceeded to scrub the pad on the underside first: it was magical to see things just disappear. My final step was to dump the bucket of water onto the grass and then blast the pad with the hose on both sides. This made the pad super heavy and I had to do some squeezing and picking off of leaves and grass. I messily rolled the pad into a bundle, dumped it into the bucket and headed inside. We have a laundry sink that I used to further rinse the fauna debris from and as I was kneeding the pad, I would see all this brown water go rushing out of it. I did it a few more times and then got the washing machine ready with cold water on a quick cycle with minimal detergent (the tag called for "mild detergent").

It came out clean but I had to clear up the machine walls of any missed debris and then I put it to line dry. I go one step further and line dry outside since the weather is still good. When I get home, I check out the pad and see that there is a LOT of hair still embedded--particularly the underside. I spend the evening outside picking much of the horse hair off and then brushing with a lint brush. (Almost) good as new!

Front side after picking hair...

Still picking hair as I type this... but it's a vast improvement

After looking at things more closely and rethinking the whole dirt, sweat part, I've decided that I'll probably be washing this thing as frequently as my own breeches. AND, I'll be adding a new saddle pad to my "wish list" (in time for The Royal and the Greenhawk super warehouse sale) so I can rotate them, over the cold months.

Note: always read the cleaning label of your saddle pad! Also, I only tried this on the standard cotton/poly saddle pad.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Lesson #129: Course Work Weak Points

It's the start of a new month of lessons and G has joined our Sunday morning lessons. However, this means that +ADW won't always be riding his usual mount, Molson. It's likely that he'll need to sort out the riding of Molson with G. This time, he's been assigned Georgia and I'm with my usual friend Ariel.

I really liked the warm up we had where Sheri told us to go nuts and just include lots of bending lines and the like (at trot); the arena has ground poles set up all over (from the previous lesson) so we just did lots of pole work, circles, shallow loop serpentines etc. I'd say it went very well and once things were sufficiently warmed up, we headed into the outdoor arena. I haven't been in the outdoor arena in weeks now. I also always get a little anxious when we head outdoors because there's so much open space and the paddocks are nearby so there is plenty of distractions for the horses.

Trotting around and keeping them occupied with what we're doing is the aim and I immediately get Ariel's attention on what we're doing, not her friends out in the field. I maintain her attention at the corners and don't allow her to fall in or cut them off. We quickly get into the canter and we canter around and I try out the shortening and lengthening of the canter again... I mention this little item I learned and successfully tested previously and she points out one thing: my seat. More specifically, that when I sit up (to shorten the canter stride), I am not to drive with my seat or that is a whole other message--basically it's a change of where your upper body is: forward or more upright. Good to know! Unfortunately for ADW, something went awry and he went one way and Georgia went the other; all I heard was a "thud" and when I turned around I saw him getting up. Ouch. It's his first real fall and he didn't do too shabby since he got back on and did some trotting around for the remainder of the lesson.

Next, the aim for G and I is a mini jumping course of 3 jumps: a couple bars and an X. The straight bars are not just bars but one of them is a "wall" and the jumps are (I'd say) probably around 2'6". Similar to the last lesson, we start with single jumps and work up the full course. The same issues persist for me... a weak 2 point over the jumps, the turns into the jumps and even taking the jump straight (as opposed to twisted--thank you, Ariel). I'll need to continue to work on that aspect of my lessons since it is hindering my course work.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Lesson #128: Finding that "Moment" of Relax

I was completely exhausted on Thursday and quite honestly, part of me just didn't feel like getting into the car to make the drive out. A large part of me wanted to stay home and relax because let's face it... if I go, there is a chance I might have a sucky lesson. But at the same time, there is equal chance of having a fantabulous lesson. Like my coworker L always says, "you can't win that lotto if you don't play."

When I get in, I see a white horse up on the far west corner paddock looking curiously over my way. It tosses its head and goes racing around the paddock in... Ariel fashion. Just as I've been told, she's being put into a single paddock (she can still see the other horses but just doesn't have any to boss around) so that she doesn't take down the fence line to get cozy with the other mare or otherwise. As I am walking up to the paddock, I see her doing more of the racing around and head tossing and she comes raring to the front of the paddock and stops on a dime. She's so ready to get out.

After tack up, we get working on our usual bendy warm ups in the arena. Tonight, G's riding and J's on Hank. Again, I'm particular about Ariel's movements and I don't allow her to fall in at corners and I push her onwards when she doesn't feel like working. Next task, cantering. I get nice clean transitions upwards and was able to move my own position into a better place while relaxing my hips and getting into a "zen moment" to be able to focus on my hip movement with Ariel and then encourage them to follow Ariel's motions. I also remember a video that I had watched online about "How to See the Perfect Distance" and while I'm not quite there, I did take away an exercise that they did in the first part of the video series where they are collecting and extending the canter between two ground poles. I change nothing else and sit up some more and she begins to collect herself into a more "up and down" canter and then I let her open up by moving my weight a little forward. It works! I finally feel what that collected and lengthened canter is like and I know how to get it. Next time, I'll need to feel out how many strides it takes for it to take.

After several rounds of canter, we move to get into jumps. We take each one, singly and then once we get over them all satisfactorily, Sheri puts them together in a mini-course of 3 jumps. We do take jumps at the trot but come out at the canter. My 2-point isn't as good as it should be as often, I end up doing that "bow" instead of hip hinging. However, there was one jump that I knew I got it right on... where Sheri commands "relax!" and I can feel my body relax and fall into a proper 2-point. Of course, the third jump in that round was miserable and I have to try again.

We end the lesson with a nice cool down on a loose rein and I pop out my cell phone to snap a photo of Ariel's neck:
Bendy bendy!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Lesson #127: Intention

This time, I woke up late since I've been spending the last few days at FanExpo!! The last day was Sunday but I started with my usual lesson and would get back into the city for 1pm to see Ian Somerhalder (who recently bought a horse!). This post isn't about how awesome the panel (or entire weekend) was but my lesson; so, onwards!

Despite making a late start, we +ADW and I arrived early and just made our way to get ready as usual. We rode with T and her mare. Usually T doesn't do any jumping in classes and just does flat work. We start with the flat work and I checked myself in the same mindset as the other day and was intending to ride every stride and keeping Ariel in the corners. She threw up a fuss at the get go expressing her desire not to work and in response, I ensured there was contact in the reins and pushed her forward. The rest of the warm up was pretty good and she continued as I asked. Riding, even at warm up, is not like driving a car. I am required to literally ride every stride or Ariel will take advantage of the situation and she'd cut corners or fall in.

As usual, Sheri has a plan and we start with simple ground poles set in a line. As we go over them, Sheri progressively places them so that there is a low jump with a ground pole pre-jump. So far, so good. The only thing that was rather unexpected (though not surprising) is that Ariel sped up when the direction was towards her paddock and I needed to bring her back together otherwise I was afraid she'd go running right through the door and back to her paddock. That said though, I regained control after recognizing this and recomposed Ariel enough to get through a few more rounds. Then, the second jump of the line went up. "Nothing changes," says Sheri as she's putting it up. I take it at the trot a couple of times and then I'm asked to take it at a canter. I remind myself that a 2 point is hinging from the hips while pushing your butt back and keeping the weight in your heels; not tipping forward into a bow. Because I have Ariel in control with a good pace, I manage to take notice of my heels following the first jump and am able to reposition them so that I make a better 2 point over the jump. Success! I do pretty well and Sheri reiterates my thoughts about the ride and said that I took control and was able to maintain a rhythm with Ariel through the "course". The best part is that I've noticed my canter departs are much smoother these past few lessons and there isn't any bouncy pony trot.

I had a pretty smug grin on my face as we were leaving the stable even though ADW had to rush us out of there to make the afternoon session. Hopefully this consistency will translate for tonight's lesson!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Lesson #126: Invincibility Star

Since I took Thursday off, I decided to move my lesson earlier in the day after I picked up my new Tipperary vest. The weather and temperature were amazing and the skies clear and blue. I took the scenic route from King City to Hillsburgh and enjoyed some of my favourite parts, ranging from the incredible country estates to the hilltop view approaching Caledon.

Vast expanses of countryside green: my favourite stop point

As I was approaching the stable, my heart skipped a few beats as I thought: "... I'm wearing my flip flops... did I bring my boots?" I reach back and immediately feel nothing--I had forgotten my boots!!! I was so upset that I caught myself let out a scream. My heart sank but I was so close that I knew I didn't have another chance to turn back... I was stuck. My only option was to ask and see what might happen.

G arrives and I share my lapse in memory and she helpfully offers her street shoes to at least be able to get tacked up. We search various boxes as well but no luck. We both decide it best to leave that in the hands of Sheri (and fate, to a degree) when she would arrive. I got Ariel put together and in strolled Sheri with her own boots in hand! Thank heavens!!

In addition to G, J was riding Texas in the lesson and we worked on a jumping lesson. My flat work was fabulous because I took control of Ariel, rode each stride and we were bending in the corners and she wasn't giving me much lip. It's like in a video game when your character powers up, and like any other video game, your character is going to take several punches or even lose a life.

As we complete our warm up and the many bending and circles and changes in direction, Sheri puts up the first X jump at approximately 2'6". I wouldn't say this was easy but I was able to get through it okay. My "power up bar" is still full at this point. She eventually adds the second bounce and we take turns. It's my turn and as I'm approaching, I feel myself tipping forward instead of moving into the 2 point and then disaster strikes, I topple over onto Ariel's neck as we get over the first jump and my power bar is quickly being depleted as I am draped over Ariel's neck and she continues to pick us both us and get over both jumps. It is a miserable experience to have your whole face and front being jostled up and down on the horse's crest.

But I have a moment of realization in my body that my legs are still in a good place and I pull myself back together and am able to get back upright just as we are coming out of the second bounce and heading towards "home".

Power Up!

While I was more or less physically fine, I felt pretty bad about myself. I was glad that Ariel didn't drop my butt over the bounce and committed to carrying me over with her. It was enough for me to take it down a notch and just reexamine what might have gone awry. I blame my poor form over the jump to be my primary issue, among others. But I'll be sure to work on a better 2-point.