Sunday, November 30, 2014

Lesson #151: Rushing the Fence

My Thursday night lesson included +ADW too, which was really nice. Similar to the usual plan, the start of the lesson is shared with two other adults who ride only flat work, with a focus on dressage exercises. While they're getting into their lesson, I'm warming up. Our warm up was focused on posting trot with varying tempos. Long, relaxed and low; to a lively working trot. Our aims were to come down with a gentle "sit" and not to do too much "thrusting" with our hips while keeping the rising flowing. It's definitely a feel thing.

Ariel was in the lesson before mine so she was warmed up but giving me trouble on the right rein. I am sure it had mostly to do with my crookedness. The left rein was fine and flowed wonderfully. But once we got onto the right side, she was falling in and cutting corners. I was certain that it had to do with my wonky shoulder and tight hip. Since Ariel is a really sensitive mare, small imbalances become magnified and I have to work doubly hard to keep her (and me!) in line. So, when we were told to get into the canter on the right rein, I knew I had my work cut out for me.

Hi, I'm Molson. I'm trying a new 'thing' with my hair. What do you think?

The right rein was definitely a lot of opinionated Ariel and uncomfortable me going round and round. I want to say "I get it, Ariel! I'm twisted one way but you gotta work with me here." After getting around a few times with me working mega hard to keep her in check, despite my crookedness, we move to working on jumps and course work.

The course work is tough. They are low X jumps but keeping in alignment with the jump upon approach and not getting ahead of yourself is a challenge. I found myself going through the exercise at the trot to be okay... but I did struggle to get the position right, going over the jumps and being sure that I didn't fall behind. The jumps are lined up along the middle of the arena along the long side but at alternating angles from one another--a very shallow zigzag.

I found my biggest issues were that I, not Ariel, was rushing the fences. I would approach the fence and find myself getting ready for it by leaning in and almost "superman-ing" over the thing as opposed to two pointing it. This causes a series of problems with the position, ranging from bad distance to poor balance over the jump. There was even an instance where Ariel took the jump way too long and I was leaning forward way too much and she had to stick in a half canter step to get both of us over the jump so that I wouldn't land on the ground in front of her. It was bumpy for me and probably equally unpleasant for her.

All in all, I enjoyed the fast pace of doing this type of course work where we just went one after the other and did several jumps in sequence.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A Review: Salt: A World History

Salt is generally associated with the table salt kind for most of us folk (NaCl, to be exact). And that association may get mixed reactions. Salt's reputation has undergone a range from positive to negative. Most of us take salt for granted and have limited exposure to its history and its variety or even the scientific definition of what a "salt" is. This book looks at salt and its most basic relationships with us humans its effect on human history.

I'll never forget my intro to macroeconomics class at UW with Larry Smith. The moment in particular that sticks vividly in my memory is when he talks about the value that people place in the pieces of paper and metal we call "money"; it's the illusion of value that we place on these items that gives them significance. The fact that 'money' gives us leverage to obtain the things that we want/need, is the source of power that these paper and little metal pieces hold over us. Logically, things that are not critical to life or are abundant and easily attainable, have a lower value than that which is critical to life. The good ol' concept of "supply and demand" varies on products or services so a currency is established to bring things to a "standard". These days, we (North Americans) generally don't trade or barter but create value in the bills and coins that become our currency to obtain things (it's a bit more complicated than that but that's the jist of it).

Our omnipotent friends Supply and Demand

All animals require some salt in their diet; herbivores require much more than carnivores as carnivores obtain much of the salt from their diets. In addition, size of the animal and the climate will also affect the needed salt intake. Specifically for humans, we not only ingest salt as part of a biological need but we used it to preserve our food, grow our crops and livestock. The average human requires 1,500-3,200 mg of sodium (3/4 teaspoon - 1 teaspoon) of salt a day (many of us get way more but that's a whole other story). There are two primary needs of salt, from our bodies: nerve and muscular function (hello, high school science!).

You can see, that it's necessary that humans consume salt, at the very least, in order to function. Which is why I think the book has a great deal of significance for us to understand our historical (and current) relationship with salt.

There is a vast amount of information concerning salt available. To present it in a manner that is both comprehensive and comprehensible, Kurlansky has to amass all the information and then distil, filter and rearrange it in a manner that makes sense to a reader. He walks the reader through the history, starting from the earliest available, to the current. But it isn't a simple dump of incidents. He makes it very complete by adding in specific excerpts and images concerning the topic and takes us around the world to different civilizations. I found the organization to be logical and effective. However, some parts of the written pieces felt forced and too dry--it was as if he was missing the segue of content from one place to the next.

Overall, I'd say that the read was enlightening but I would have been happier reading this type of (reference-y) book through a physical book rather than an e-book.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Lesson #150: Intense Lesson

I had to reschedule my Thursday night lesson because I didn't have wheels to get up to the stable (boooo :( ) but with the craziness that's been going on lately, it was a welcome break. However, when Sunday morning arrived, I was really excited about getting out to ride. Clearly I can't go less than once a week to ride or I start getting withdrawal symptoms. HAHA

It was +ADW, G, one of the advanced riders with her green horse and I in this lesson and let me tell you, it was fast paced. Once Sheri reminded us that the new 'baby horse' needed more space and attention on our part to be more careful and thoughtful, we immediately started the warm up. This warm up was a total wake up because we were immediately pushed into intense continuous change up of (what I call) 'Sheri Says': posting trot, sitting trot, half seat, 2 point, canter, walk, change of direction, transitions up or down from walk to canter and vice versa. I lost track of how long this lasted but I do know that I definitely felt the intensity if the exercise. Later, ADW told me that there were moments where he was sure he was going to slide right off; and I recall instances where I felt like my position was struggling a good deal because the transitions were so fast. Despite this, it was an invigorating warm up and I actually really enjoyed it!

Hi! I'm Stanley C. Panther--little brother of Buckingham. I spent Sunday morning lying here on my kitty pen.

From there, we moved right into the small X jumps and as per usual fashion, started with 1 jump until we worked in all 4. Seeing that each of us are at different stages and different horses, my focus was to maintain control (of the situation) and pace and to use all the core I have to keep me from falling all over Ariel's neck. I'd ride in at the posting trot but often Ariel broke into a canter coming out of the jump; but we needed to recollect and continue at the posting trot, before we were turning for the next jump. The final exercise was to change the two of the x's into horizontal jumps. I did lose control during one run and left Ariel to her own devices and found us speeding around and my eyes falling on the ground and panicking. It was evident and Sheri reminded me that I needed to keep the dominant Ariel in check.

The runs weren't perfect but they are definitely improving and having literally done so much work during a lesson, I really felt like things were moving along and really going well. My biggest problem is still the over-thinking before the jumps... especially once they turned horizontal. I'd catch myself looking down and over anticipating the jump and almost freezing and then the ride out was pretty crappy as if I forgot that all the "in between jumps" is our standard flat work. If only I could turn my fear brain off at the jumps and trust that Ariel would get us over okay, as long as I brought her to the base of the jump and told her where we are going afterwards.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Lesson #149: Remembering to Listen

This lesson shared a bunch of similarities to the last in that the lesson peaked with jumping a mini course. We started with a brief warm up to get everyone limber. Again, I felt like the canter went really well and there was a good level of control on my part. My aim at the canter is to ensure it is relaxed and I don't feel like it's a race around the corners (which Ariel is known to do every now and again). Sheri reminds us that our flat work is imperative for jumping because a jump is merely an obstacle during your flat work (what a brilliant way to look at it!) and unless you have a good grasp of your flat work, your jumping (or anything else) will be an interruption and throw the rest of the session off.

Sometimes I glaze over during flat work. It's a bad habit that I occasionally catch myself doing because my mind's drifted. Have you ever had a conversation with someone only to keep anticipating what they're going to say and prepare yourself to appropriately answer? Well, I've been told time and again that I'm not really listening if I do that. Truly listening means that we need to actually hear what people are saying, then respond appropriately but I get it, who has time to do that these days? But I'm not the first to admit that I do that so often that I don't actually hear what people are telling me and on multiple occasions, it's clear that I totally wasn't listening. In an effort to break the habit of going "auto-pilot", I'll take these warm ups as opportunities to "talk with" Ariel and really listen to what she's telling me, by:
  • Looking the direction I want to go, in advance
  • Keep Ariel in the corners (which means prep as we move towards the corner)
  • Ease off the contact if she's starting to get unbalanced: speeding, raising her head in protest...
  • Not letting my eye drop
  • Half halt sooner
  • Making the effort to change something, if she's protesting
I'd say Deb's progressing just fine. But she could be a wee bit more generous with the treats!

Once we get going, Sheri has us taking single or two jumps at the trot. I do find that going at the posting trot is... distracting? But then I figure that if you can do it at a trot (posting or otherwise) the canter should be easy as pie. After a few goes at that, we are asked to take 3 jumps in a combo of mostly trot, interjected with canter. My efforts aren't too bad and I do remind myself to sit up more and apparently it's coming together just fine so I'm pleased with that! Sheri even mentions that I'm sitting up after jumps more often and that every now and again, things are a little off but overall, I'm moving right along and not falling on Ariel as often. Keep in mind though, that my jump heights have gone right back down to little X's. I don't know when I"ll get back to jumping closer to 2" but I'm perfectly okay with that because a good foundation means steady and sustainable progress!

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Lesson #148: Improvement, However Subtle

It's started snowing north of the GTA. I only count "snowing" if the snow remains on the ground and on Thursday, there was at least 3-4 inches. *sigh* This means I might have to cut back my riding lessons to once a week again until the weather becomes more agreeable. Why? I drive up highway 10 and this past winter, I've witnessed some really unnerving situations where drivers end up in the ditches or worse. In the meantime, let's get the tires changed and see how things go from there.

My lesson starts with some lateral bending work at the walk: haunches or shoulder in and leg yields. To get the shoulder in, we're reminded to keep our hips straight, turn your upper body inwards and take the inside leg further back while keeping the other leg just slightly behind the girth. It should look like this while travelling straight forward:

The opposite is basically true for haunches in. This move is not easily achieved but we do get it every now and again and we're told that it takes time for the horses as well, to be able to consistently do it. But, we aim to get there and keep at it.

After a trot warm up, I'm told to get into canters and do lots of transitions around as the other students continue to work at the haunches and shoulder in, at the trot and keeping their horse in frame. For some reason, things flow really well today. The trot and the canter were both flowing and relaxed and I felt like I had control of what was happening. Even the transitions were smoother than usual and I was able to initiate (more) accurately the transitions.

The last series of exercises jumps--specifically a course. There is a series of jumps set up from the last lesson that J had with his and Sheri's instructor that was basically a single jump across the center from E to B and then on the ends, 2 jumps on each side that were fanning out so it looked like an extended "X" from above. I was taking a few jumps as singles and at the posting trot and as things progressed, we moved to take 3 of them as a mini course. As I was doing things, I continued to struggle with getting myself back up after the jump. So I had to continually tell myself to sit up sit up after the jump. It isn't consistent enough, yet. But, the fact is, I did manage to canter the mini course and the majority of the times, the ride in and out was pretty good. I have to continue to work on my body position over the jump and after to make it consistent but with time, that would come. The main thing I was happy about this time was that nothing felt like a speeding around the arena at top speed... I was able to tell Ariel where I wanted to go before we got there so our communication was much clearer and she was thus landing on the correct leads, taking off at a good distance and turning the right ways, following a jump.

I'm really excited to continue to work on improving things in my future lessons!

Friday, November 14, 2014

Bear With Me...

Those who come by regularly (thanks!!) will notice the upgrade to the appearance of the blog template. I've been working with Trina of Pish & Posh Designs to get things together but like all good things, they take time to hone and perfect. At this time, the bulk of the template has been laid out and the colour schemes are more or less decided but minor things like the right side column and some of the headers have yet to be sorted out. I also noticed that the hyperlinks aren't as clear as they could be and it's tough to see them compared to the regular font colour used.

Thanks furr your patience! =^..^=

Thank you in advance for coming out and for your patience with all the changes that will be coming along in the next little while.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Lesson #147: Sit Back... Far Back

It was Remembrance Day on Tuesday and certain Canadians get the day off... those working in banks or government. I decided that I would use the day to clean up a few things at home and take a lesson (to make up for one I'm missing in December). I still prefer heading out to the stable during the day because going in the evenings is just more stressful. I always wonder how people who go regularly, manage it. Well, those who have up to an hour drive out, to get there.

Hi Deb, did you know that the last naked day of the season calls for celebration in the mud?

J harrows the arena footing so it's fluffy and light. I start a warm up that I'm going to regret... lots of rising and seated trot. Especially seated trot going round and round and round :| The objective is for me to focus on keeping Ariel straight and off the rail. Sheri tells me that I need to lean back... well, what feels like would be leaning back because I have a tendency to lean forward even at the trot! Which is the exact problem I've been struggling with for several lessons now.

To highlight this, I'm told to tuck my tail bone under me, ensure my navel is facing forward and lift and open my chest forward and sit back as if I feel like I'm going to lean right on over the back of the saddle at the sit trot. Take my feet out of the stirrups. Keep my upper body steady and release my hips and lower body to move with Ariel. Guess what? I'm straight now. It's amazing how far back I need to "sit" in order to be aligned. Next, I'm told to push Ariel into the canter. It initially feels really laboured on Ariel's part and she broke out of canter quickly too. It was frustrating, actually. But, I'm sure it was on me because the last lesson's canters were perfect. The suspicion was that the footing was fluffier so it was like running through the sand. To keep her going and from falling in at the corners, I had to pulsate my inside leg during the "up" in the stride, to keep her going and in the corners--it's definitely a lot of work on my part but it certainly made a big difference in terms of keeping her going and in the corners.

I'm reminded that I started out with nearly no contact in Ariel's mouth and that now that both Ariel and I have progressed in our respective training, I needed to take more of a handle on her mouth and get her "on the bit". I should get a light contact in the reins and continue to communicate with her by that means. It isn't easy because if I jossle the reins, she refuses to accept the contact and raises her head and I'm left with nothing except shortening my reins.

The last exercise starts out as a jump followed by a ground pole that is about 1 stride out. I trot in to take the jump and subsequent ground pole but I can't get over it without either being left behind, having the reins yanked out of my hands or landing on her neck. Sheri reminds me that I need to push Ariel at the base of the jump and then again, in between the jump and the pole. We try a few more times and the first jump is coming together but the ground pole turned jump, isn't. BUT! The last time around, I don't know why or what went right in my head but something clicked and I sat right up after the second jump. Really, the feeling is great, when you get it!

To finish my afternoon, I got the opportunity to watch Sheri and J ride with their coach which was really amazing to be able to watch those who have been riding for a long time, to see what right things they do, and even the wrong things so I know what not to do, in addition to what I should do! :)

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Lesson #146: Remember, NOTHING CHANGES...

The thing about getting up for an early morning lesson is that it's often pretty frigid out there... and for some reason, just 60 km away from home, it can be vastly different! It feels like the polar vortex has started its decent into southern Ontario. By the end of our lesson, when we were putting the horses out in their paddocks, we saw that it started to flurry a bit. I'm not complaining because I heard that Alberta just got a foot of snow or something.

It's definitely getting chilly so I suppose I could be good and wear this blankie without too much fuss...

Despite a chilly morning, the warm up was pretty good and we moved into the canter which was really flowing very well and we went round and round a few times with a good flow and without interruptions. I was really pleased that there wasn't any fighting or disagreements or the action of taking the decision without being asked to. I was really excited that this might be a good lesson compared to what's been happening on and off recently.

Sheri laid two ground poles with about 5-6 canter strides in between. Our task? Depending on our mounts, to collect after the first pole, to fit in 6 strides (5 for the larger horses) or to lengthen and fit in 5 strides (4 for the larger horses). Okay, that didn't seem too bad... we move onwards: the first ground pole becomes a jump and NOTHING CHANGES (right? right!). We still decide if it's a collection or lengthen before riding into it. For some reason, I can't pull myself together enough to not fall all over Ariel's neck and she's really good not to dump me on my arse. I readjust and remember to give with my hands and to be able to collect or lengthen in between. I achieve the collection in between but am struggling with the second GROUND POLE *face palm* to be able to get back up after she leaps over it.

Eventually, I get well enough into it and Sheri raises the second ground pole to a jump. Again, NOTHING CHANGES. Well let me tell you, in my over analytical brain, that all went to crap and I over thought everything and I can't get myself up after the landing of the second jump. Ariel ends up pulling the reins out of my hands and I lose my balance and it's just pretty messy. I do get one or two reasonable goes at it but nothing consistently enough to be pleased about. *sigh*

Until next lesson...

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Royal Visit to the Horse Show

Things never get boring my way, apparently. To continue with my interesting week, I head to the Royal for the evening horse show with +ADW and the rest of the stable for some well deserved time to relax and enjoy myself. And what an evening it was!!! This was the first time I had been to the evening show and it was so much fun. I had no idea that it was an entire evening of horsey related events starting at 6:45pm. The first set of showing was the jumper classes. As we walked into the arena, the jumps came into view and I could see that they were probably as tall as I was. Yikes! I can barely get over the jumps I've been doing lately that these are really intimidating.

There were two classes of jumpers and in the second class, we got to see Captain Canada jump with Star Power. It was such an amazing few minutes because I can totally see why Ian is an Olympic star--his consistent flow and the clean jumps were incredible to watch.

This is the best I could do with my cell phone :(
Then they had the lady single road horse division which was just a driving session with a bunch of ladies driving their horseys which was neat to watch because I couldn't quite figure out how the drivers were steering their horses or changing gaits.

Next was the wagon and heavy draft horse driving which was amazing to watch because I <3 Clydesdales a lot (there were other heavy draft horses too).

Finally, we got to the Shetland Pony racing which was a bunch of 8-10 year old kids who get on the spunky Shetland and then go racing around while going over little cavaletti type jumps. Let me tell you, it was the highlight of my night! But sadly, there was a big crash and 2 rider-pony combos were unseated and there was definitely concern among the spectators. Nobody was horribly injured (to my knowledge) but it sure was scary when they went down.

Kids racing around on ponies!
It was the evening for us... there was an indoor eventing session next but we had to head home to medicate the fur-babies so off we went but boy was I disappointed because those eventing jumps are some wild jumps with steps and unknown drops! Perhaps another time I'll get the opportunity to check out the eventing because it's supposed to be even more interesting than the jumper class!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Lesson #145: #thisiswhyilovegoslingstables

I think I've probably had the worst luck, in the last week specifically. I was already late due to the traffic and weather when I was driving up to my lesson on Thursday night and literally 5-7 minutes from the stable, I got a flat. Not a little flat but a big one that would prevent me from going further. I was really bummed. I called J and Sheri to cancel my lesson and told them of my predicament but the amazing people they are, J came out to get me and help me limp my car back to the stable. Seriously, what a miserable start to the evening, but what amazing people. #thisiswhyilovegoslingstables

I stumbled in and realized that in the rush, I left my half chaps in my car that was sitting on the side of the road so J came by and lent me his half chaps (he's way taller than me so too tall but at least I had something) and get put together to get into my lesson. I was still a little unorganized when I got on Ariel but it wasn't all that bad when I started the warm up because Sheri commented on how steady and flowing things were, despite the eventful evening.

We soon got into the canter and the exercise became a session of "Sheri Says". Getting the transitions right on the letter is still something I struggle with but it is certainly improving. But, despite the good start, I was having trouble keeping my hands still and the reins were sometimes too long on one side (or too short) and we all know how Ariel is like, with "noisy hands".

Ugh, Deb's hands were jossling around on Thursday night...
So, before we continued, Sheri handed me a crop horizontally and told me to hold them here and here. Now, go. The remainder of the lesson was spent keeping my hands quiet, still and even regardless what I was up to. It definitely made a big difference because Ariel was less fussy and the transitions made more sense for both of us and things were actually... steady! I totally didn't realize how 'busy' my hands had become when I ride. I definitely need to work at keeping things steady seeing as it impacts the ride with Ariel. #thisiswhyilovegoslingstables

Thursday, November 6, 2014

A Review: Spibelt

I'm not much of a runner by any means. I tried to run a bit this autumn but only went for 2 successful runs, and by true runner standards, it was pretty light. I downloaded a new app for that too, to get me motivated to do it: Strava. And honestly? I really like Strava but it's clear that it's geared best for runners or cyclists. Perhaps a review with my experiences of Strava another time. Today, I wanted to discuss the new accessory I bought a few months back because I was going on hacks and it was a pain to figure out how to bring things like my cell phone or keys or even ID with me. I do have a running jacket and cycling jersey with a zippered pocket in the back but what about when those items are dirty or it gets cold? Enter, the Spibelt.

Effectively, the Spibelt is a very sleek looking and 'improved' fanny pack. Does anyone remember the fanny packs of the 80s? It was all the rage!

80s fashion must-have

Before I get into the full on review of the Spibelt, I should disclose that I am putting this review together based on personal experiences and personal need (not endorsed by Spibelt or related parties) and that while there are many other similar products, I chose this one because it was both convenient and (in my opinion) well designed for my purposes. I always try to look for a Canadian product but if I can't find a suitable one, I go for a USA made or European made one (this reasoning can be left for another day ;) ). The first thing I did was to consider crossover equipment instead of equine specific equipment because it's unlikely that there exists an equine specific fanny pack. I did check out a review about the Spibelt from a runner, before purchasing.

The good:
  • When I was first riding as a child during camps, I was always told that riders are not to carry/wear anything where straps might be caught through the bush. My original intent was to get the Spibelt for my hacks. The Spibelt fits close to the body so there are no loose straps flapping about.
  • Comfort is a big deal because when you're riding, the last thing you need is another distraction if you're already having issues with something. The strap is an adjustable elastic so it isn't restrictive as you bend and move--it's kind of like wearing your buffet pants. The 'pack' portion is not bulky streamlined enough to remain close to the wearer's body, even when you're bouncing around.
  • Although, the last point about the pack's bounce is dependant on what you put into the belt's pack. the pack is expandable so it will always retain the most compact shape possible.
The pack is expandable!
  • Going on hacks can prove to be a risky activity so safety is key and one of the aspects for riders to keep in mind is visibility. The Spibelt comes in a variety of different colours ranging from hot pink to the foil variety.
  • There are many accessories (typically geared for runners) that can be added onto the belt to enhance the single pouch capability.
  • Washable for those sweaty rides. But I have yet to try this out on my own.
  • Varying sizes are available for all your varying needs.
  • There is a water repellent version in addition to the basic one so if you do get stuck in the rain, you'd be good.
  • There is no specified "directional" way to wear it. You can wear the pack in the front or back or cross body if you so wish.
  • The size is adjustable and the range of such is pretty wide for the average person.
The bad:
  • Depending on what you put into the pouch, the "package" could flap about as you bounce around.
  • It isn't a Canadian brand... but this isn't really a "bad" feature; I just like to support my country's entrepreneurs when I can.
  • Sometimes your shirt would ride up because of the elastic band around your waist and your movement.
  • Depending on your waist size, this could be a problem... either you're too petit or you're too girthy for the generic size created.
  • It's a little tough to get things back inside while you're wearing it, depending on what the contents are.
  • The fanny pouch is just that... a single pouch with nothing further to it. Everything goes into the pouch (there is an option to buy a double pouch version) and there is no division or smaller pockets.
The ugly:
  • The pouch itself isn't vastly out of the park in terms of price point (shop around as you can usually find a "best deal") but it isn't chump change when I compare to my 80s fanny pack or a basic fanny pack from MEC, especially when you start getting past the original basic version.
  • This is not a fanny pack that you can should reach into while you're actively moving about. Since the pouch has no real structure and has a tendency to return to its 'shape', especially when it's being worn, you have to be careful when you open it up to get at the contents or risk spillage--which would defeat the purpose of the pack.
Spibelt makes several different versions for different purposes; I chose the original version in black with a hot pink zipper for funk. Overall, I'd say that there were definitely more positives about this product, than negatives and well worth the purchase if you need a streamlined pouch for your hacks or even lessons, but to keep in mind that there are other versions. The idea to keep in mind is to consider other activity centric products for the equestrian.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Lesson #144: Canter Poles for Distance

Nov 2, 2014

For several days prior, I was torn about what to do because there was a clinic being held on the Sunday afternoon, following my regular Sunday lesson. It's a clinic I've been hoping for months, that Sheri would hold: a lunging clinic. But, I previously made plans to head out to a show in Toronto that speaks to a recently rekindled love: writing instruments and fine paper. After much deliberation of this common RPG dilemma (nerd reference that I have had little experience with... but at least I knew what it meant, +ADW!!!), I made the very difficult decision to skip the clinic in favour of the show. But it's okay, guys, I had a pretty interesting lesson.

Since the arena is being used for the clinic, the standards and jumps were being removed. All we were left with were poles. Sheri set them up as canter poles along the long side. I didn't think it was a big deal at the get go and figured it would be fine. The main purpose of this exercise is for us to be judging distance. We were reminded that the ground poles could effectively be jumps and we needed to forget about the jumps because being able to get through these poles was going to be challenging enough. Indeed it was very challenging! The first time I went through, I thought Ariel was jumping the poles because of her reach. I even lost my reins and had her careening around the corner. It wasn't pretty. I tried it several more times and many of those tries were rather... ugly. I needed to take control of the situation and half halt upon approach and then let Ariel do her thing through the poles. Sheri also added some trot poles half way on the short side so there was little time but we needed to be preparing for the next obstacle by slowing down enough to transition down.

After understanding the increased bounce of this exercise, I was able to give Ariel her head and I also had to half halt her on the approach and then get my heels right down. The few times I achieved the canter poles was amazing. Really. I went from a horrible mess atop to controlled and flowing through the poles. One of the reasons this was probably so difficult was that usually, there's only maybe 2-3 canter poles but when you have 5+, it's far more important that the distance is correct so that there isn't a need to over or under compensate distances at the later poles. But, that being said, the proof is in the pudding there when you realize that the distance at the start is incredibly important in order to get the correct distances at later "fences".

Definitely a challenging exercise that I hope we have the opportunity to do again!

Monday, November 3, 2014

Lesson #143: Communicating Through My Hands

Oct 30, 2014

There isn't a doubt that winter is coming. It is cold and I've officially broken out the winter/cold weather riding gear. As a result, the warm-up took a little longer than it's been during the summer. Once we got going, I'm told to make my way to canter around to further loosen Ariel up. The left rein was fine but going on the right was really off. She was stiff and doing more prancing than cantering. I was pushing and pulsing her with the inside leg but my problem is (and she knows how to take advantage of it) that I have a tendency to lean in myself, with the right thigh/knee. In turn, she just leans right back and since she's a great deal heavier than me, ends up cutting the corners and leaning us in.

I find myself a little frustrated and am immediately reminded that riding takes work and that each ride is different where sometimes you're stiff one side or the horse is stiff. We riders have off days and good days just like our mounts. So, I pull myself together and anticipate the bad behaviour and correct Ariel so that I can regain some control. The other thing that is giving me trouble is that Ariel likes to lift her head up (even with a martingale) and avoid my hands. This is frustrating because there is no way for me to communicate and support Ariel through my hands. I also find that the transitions up to be messy and drawn out and I can't effectively nor precisely initiate the departs I'm looking for. I remember reading posts about contact and how it's an important way to communicate with our horses. Ariel is already sensitive to more significant contact so I try to keep things light but sometimes it's too light and I end up with absolutely no contact at all. But, I remember that I start to wonder if the contact is really as important as the other aids such as the leg aids and a proper seat; I decide to try by regaining some of the contact by shortening the reins and bringing my hands back. And like that, she takes off with all the other aids. To be sure it wasn't a complete fluke, I try the same thing  the next time around and the same thing happens and there is a significant shorter delay when I keep contact with her mouth. It's not perfect by any means, but I have confirmation that she needs the contact regardless of what I might think. The tricky part though, is giving enough contact where I can maintain it while she's moving as well as bring it back a bit, if I need to. That fine balance is actual execution of the theory and it is not easy.

We move to some low jumps where the ride out could be taken either right or left so the purpose of this exercise is to right out straight and make the appropriate turn. Lately, the ride out has been weebly and wobbly and not straight at all. Tonight, I learned that the reason is due in part to me not providing enough direction prior to the jump and so she lands on whatever lead comes to her and she just heads in the direction she thinks is best--with a cut corner, to boot. So, I try something we did in an exercise a while back: flex Ariel getting into the base of the jump while turning my head towards the direction I will be heading towards. At first, I thought it was just dumb luck that I was getting things right but a few more tries confirmed that I was getting the lead correctly and a straight ride out (with lots of inside leg too.. hahaha).

It's not like any of these details are new but having the actual eureka moment on my own acts as an amazing reinforcer. It's going to take plenty more time but I'm learning to use my hands appropriately when I ride with Ariel.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Lessons #141 & #142

These updates will be short seeing as nothing life shattering happened.

Oct 23, 2014
I like the way that these past few Thursday classes have been going where my lesson overlaps with the lesson before me where I enter the arena about half way through theirs. Since I've been the only one going to lesson, it's doable. I'm warming up and they're ramping up into the meat of their lessons. I rode with J and S and following the warm up (for me), moved into some course work. It wasn't anything uber exciting and as things have been going the last little while, I continued to struggle with the jumping aspect. My 2 point isn't consistently correct and my ride out is a little iffy. My rides in have become better in terms of getting the turn better, but as I approach the jump, I start thinking things over and looking down.

Oct 26, 2014
Since Sheri was away attending a special clinic with one of her students, J was our teacher for the morning. And man! He was picking me apart every chance he got. "Your heels should line up with your seat, shoulders and head. Move your legs back more but keep those heels down". Yea okay J... my old legs don't move that way! I need to start doing more splits exercises or something to open my hips more so that position doesn't feel so strange.

We did flat work with focus on ground poles and and keeping Ariel deep in corners and straight. I think she was kind of bored. This mare loves to be challenged with something otherwise she starts to put up a fuss that she's bored to tears. We change it up and remove the saddles and ride bareback. Post the trot without anything. My hips are looser in that my legs move with Ariel's steps but I certainly am no pro up there! It's been a while since I did any bareback work so I was pretty off kilter. There was a corner we'd try to round and Ariel knew exactly what she needed to do, to tip me over and then I'd stop because I couldn't stay balanced. Every.single.time. It was infuriating.

After the lesson, I put her back in her paddock and this time, I decided to remind her who's boss. I got her running around a bit and kept her moving until I felt that she was respecting me. Man was she really defiant at the get go; tossing her head in the air and doing mini bucks. After several goes, she seemed more composed and I turned around to wait for her reaction and she actually walked over to me to see what I was up to. No pushiness or anything like that. Thank heavens. I left feeling better that I regained some control in our little herd.