Friday, October 31, 2014

Happy Meow-lloween!

With everything going on lately, this is coming to everyone a bit late but check out Bucky's new Halloween costume this year!

Roar! I am the cat-igator!
Have a safe and happy Halloween!
Model: Buckingham 
Wardrobe Consultant: ADW
Photographer: me
Finished on Pixlr Express

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Stanley See, Stanley Do

I'm almost caught up with my lesson posts before this Thursday's lesson. Phew, it sure has been challenging. Some of the reasons are just plan out of my control (and stupid) but some have been awesome. I've been really busy with work and there are days I get home and all I want to do is lie around and watch tv or worse... do nothing. Add to that, that +ADW and I bought a house and adopted a kitten who happened to get very sick and I was getting incremental decreases in sleep because I spent a lot of time caring for him. But, now, he's up and about and even having a good time with his big brother Buckingham.

Hi, I'm Stanley C. Panther and that big guy over there is my awesome big brother Buckingham.

The introductions went well and they do play with one another when Stanley comes out of his room during supervised evening visits. But since Bucky's a full adult with an obsession of the backyard, he doesn't have a lot of time to tolerate Stanley's shenanigans. Every now and again, Stanley gets a smack down that lets him know he's gone too far. But, he still thinks Bucky is the bee's knees and cat's pajamas.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Lesson #139 & #140: More Practice

I've been having trouble lately, during my rides. I can't really attribute it to anything specific other than my habit of over-thinking everything. As a result, we've been doing some more simple exercises that focus on the basics.

I'd say that the trot, both seated and rising, are reasonably solid now. I know what to do and how to initiate and transition up or down. I would say I could certainly use some work on the positioning some but a lot of it is related to my declining flexibility and musculature and/or increasing stiffness. It's not that we don't work on those things too, but transitioning up into canter and really riding that properly into corners and keeping at the right pace are all things that are what needs to be looked at.

One of the things we work on is transitions on the letter. Either up or down or halting or starting are all fair game. I don't know why but my transitions up to canter are usually tricky because there is a bit of a fast trot before getting up there. I think leg position and coordination of leg aids is the big point here. To correct the behaviour, I use the spur on the inside to get Ariel to pay attention after asking her twice. The transition back down is equally challenging because I have to immediately prepare for a slow or halt when asked and Ariel's downwards transitions always seem jolty and uncomfortable.

On the other hand, the next lesson was focused on regaining confidence on a course and we had a course of 3 ground poles. Instead of jumps, Sheri set up jump poles and we started with the trot and then moved into canter. I'd say that the objective here was to remove the element of height and focus on angles, speed and control. This was an amazing exercise that gave us the opportunity to forget about the height and just focus on the other aspects of jumping a course properly. I admit that the flow was great and I didn't once get caught up on the over-analysis while approaching the jumps.

These were very fruitful lessons and I was really excited to continue gaining comfort over these types of exercises.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Conditioning the Everyday Athlete

Oh how the month flies right by! And how little physical activity I've incorporated! :(

The Pan-Am/Parapan Am Games are on their way to Toronto for 2015. I am excited to watch the athletes who will be running, cycling, riding or otherwise. I am particularly looking forward to going to the Caledon Equestrian Park to check out the dressage and jumpers. But that said these guys and gals have been training to get to the point where they are very proficient at their sport. You might remember the epic fall I had late May where I slid off Ariel (at a canter) in the middle of a corn field. I was pretty sore for a few days and the pain in my neck/upper back still persists. But, I'm sure the fall could have been much worse.

Upon seeing the sports medicine doctor about the fall and some of my other aches and pains, she mentions that the everyday athlete rarely cross-trains--they generally just do what they like doing and then never get outside of that. First, I was way too flattered that she just referred to me as an "athlete". That's right, lil' ol' me, an athlete!! But getting back to the point, most "everyday athletes" just do what they love doing and only work on perfecting that, with what little time they have. And realistically, why would they do more? But, as athletes become more serious about their sport, they need to work on pushing themselves past what is expected of them so that when they are required to perform, they already have trained past points of what is being required. For example, the riders who compete at Trillium level at our stable are required to be able to bareback an ensure course (I'm not too sure what jump height) before they can get into the show ring. Frankly, that makes sense because if you can accomplish something more difficult than what is required, the required will become less (relatively speaking) difficult. Equine Canada also has a "long-term athlete development" plan for the various equine disciplines that outlines the need for the rider to not only be proficient at the equine sport, they need to be fit in other areas too.

In addition to the concept of conditioning and training, I always remember being told that getting injured (falling or otherwise) is just part of any activity that you'll do. And, the best way to reduce the impact of an injury is to increase your overall fitness. When I was dragon boating much more intensely (okay, it was never THAT intense but man was I fit those summers!). Things like flexibility, strength and endurance help the athlete manage the fall or twist (or otherwise) from becoming really bad.

Take my epic fall, as an example: I have increased flexibility and strength due to my intense yoga training during my university years (and occasional bouts now-a-days); my endurance and power comes from my past training while dragon boating (and steering). Everything is woven together where all activities support others in some way. Even the things I learn from physical activity are translated over to my desk jockey life.

As a way to motivate my excuse-finding-lazy-food-obsessed brain from just continuing to be itself, and instead, strive for improving myself, I post this image from Nike.

Take the plunge into fitness.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Lesson #136, #137 & #138: Back to Basics and Grid Work

I'm totally behind on posting about these lessons! Things have gotten busy here but I have a minute or two... These were my not so great lessons. I seemed to have regressed in terms of position and whatnot so I ended up going back to lots of basics. We worked on a lot of pole work and I even ended up doing the hold of 2 point position while trotting or cantering. It was a miserable experience for my ego. But, I definitely feel that it was better to address those items than to continue haphazardly trying to get through a course.

One of the exercises we did included a series of raised ground poles which forced Ariel to take higher strides and it had me flexing at the ankles. Sheri started with telling me to drop my heels, relax my ankles and spreading my toes. We started this exercise with the poles flat on the ground at trot and a half seat position and then moved them up to alternating raised poles where every other pole was raised on the right, then the other poles were raised on the left. The objective was to get my ankles relaxed enough to absorb the bounce of Ariel's steps. This was a new exercise for her and she got confused half way and toppled forward and my face contorted into a horrified look as we went down but the trooper that she is, got back up and finished up the second half! Phew. I really thought we were both going down. Of course, it was incredible when I relaxed my ankles and Ariel picked up the exercise and I was bouncing at the ankles over the steps. A really helpful exercise to get your heels down and absorbing the horse's movement.

Another exercise was the creation of a course of ground poles. Instead of actual jumps, ground poles were placed around the arena and we were to trot over them and work on getting a good ride in and out. Deep corners and straightness at the jump were all key components that we were being asked to focus on.

Other less glamorous exercises included the double post (up) during the trot or staying "up" during the trot, while keeping the balance. The objective here was to find where our heels, feet and lower leg needed to be, during the horse's movement so as to maintain both balance and stillness during movement. This exercise is always such a pain for me because that momentary "point of balance" is finicky and elusive! So many parts of the rider need to be coordinated and flexible, simultaneously so that it all comes together and the slight loss of focus could mean falling back down.

We also did the good ol' "hold 2 point while going round and round" at the trot and maintaining a nice deep corner and straightness and rhythm/pace. There's no secret to accomplishing this... push your hips back, heels down and chest up and forward and open. But here's the kicker, do this all while maintaining balance and staying upright off the saddle.

A "new" aspect of learning to jump that we hadn't worked on exclusively is grid work. The jump is basically broken down and illustrated in the arena with ground poles and jump standards. Instead of verbally going through it or with a bunch of gestures, it is very clear where the area of 'take off' is and where the rider needs to start rising out of the saddle into the 2 point and where the jump would actually be. That ground pole that indicates 'take off' actually is the point where the rider just gives the horse the space and balance needed, to full-fill the jump because all we can do as riders is to ride straight in and deep in the corners to set our mounts up, to take the jump. Let me tell you, this has been enlightening; having that breakdown and clarity about when and where things are done was golden for me to understand the breakdown for the jump for the rider as well as the horse.

Practice makes you better. Keep trying.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Lesson #135: Let's Start Over

I had a great private lesson focused on jumping, on Thursday night. In fact, it went together really well where I joined the end of a previous lesson where they were focusing on slowing things down and so I used that session to warm up. Otherwise private lesson warm-ups are awfully boring.

When I arrived at the stable, I noticed that Ariel's got a new spot... in the very small pony stall. I guess she's been naughty this week so she's been moved again. LOL. That said though, this new location gives her full advantage to see everyone coming and going--I think she enjoys this more. The amazing thing too, is that as small as it is, she manages to go in forward and turn herself around to face out.

I had a really good warm up because I was being asked to focus on riding straight and deep into corners. Lately, I've been working really hard to keep focus during the warm-up and "ride every stride" so that I am preparing Ariel for the corners, continuing to ride her into the corners and maintaining a straight direction as well as keeping the hands still, elbows in and lower leg still.

Once the previous lesson's students finished their lesson, I was getting into a canter and we were cantering the arena to prepare for the jumping portion. Sheri laid out 3 very low jumps in a course and we went over them at the trot first. Then she had me go over them in the canter as I got more comfortable. I'm really glad she went back down to a low jump so that I could focus on the 2 point position over the jump because I've been struggling with that a good deal lately. I still need to focus on "squatting down and pushing my hips back while keeping my chest open". This is no easy feat. I get a few good goes, over the jumps but by no means was it consistent.

That's not too bad today... best to keep working anyways.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Cleaning Horsey Stuff, Part 2: Grooming Brushes

This is the second instalment for newbs cleaning horse stuff. The first one I did was done out of pure necessity because the saddle pad I bought early this year smelled like every horse in the stable used it as a sweat towel. It was also the first time I've ever cleaned a saddle pad so I felt it needed to be documented properly. This time, I'm documenting cleaning the grooming supplies found in my grooming caddy. I'm washing with basic dish detergent.

Hi, I'm Buckingham!! And I'm going to help wash brushes.

I have a range of items from stiff jelly curry brushes, synthetic dandy brushes, soft jelly curry brush, soft face brush, metal mane and tail combs hoof picks, a rubbery pointy curry brush and a pair of scissors.

Contents of my grooming caddy

After emptying the contents of my caddy, I notice that I haven't washed the caddy since I bought it and that even after dumping out the loose dirt and hair, it's got a layer of grime coating the inside.

It asks for a gentle wash in cold water.

I fill up the bucket with water (I probably should have used warm but I was using the hose and it's not too cold) and several pumps of dish detergent. Then I dump all the synthetic brushes in and swirl things around and scrub them against one another until the water becomes brown. In hind sight, I probably should have manually removed the loose dirt before doing this.


Some things I use more than others and so the vigour of cleaning would vary, depending on what I'm cleaning.

After their bath
I pull out the brushes and dump the dirty water into the dry parts of the garden. Then I rinse.

It's got to be easier to do this outdoors than indoors...
Once I finish rinsing all the synthetic brushes, I decide to wash the face brush in the same fashion and see if that works. Things look dirt free again and without any suds so I leave them out on an angle, to dry.

Check the weather before leaving them outside...

Note that the dandy brush is placed with bristles down, as is the face brush. I take a rule of thumb from when I was being told about how to clean your make up brushes where you have to keep the water from entering the wood of the brush--basically where the handle meets the bristles. I figure it's not different in this case with brushes.

That face brush came out just fine!
All in all, this process took less than a full hour (I was doing a quick saddle pad wash too) to do and should probably be done more frequently. I don't travel to multiple stables nor do I use the same brushes on many different horses so I figure I'm relatively safe... but if you do, I'd suggest to wash more frequently and perhaps add a little bleach or other antibacterial agent to disinfect those bristles!

Note: I have not tested this method on animal hair brushes as I don't own any. Perhaps an opportunity will arise where I will be able to test that out!