Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Lesson #160: Transitions

I didn't go into this lesson with any real expectations considering the ride I had the day before. I figured that as long as I learned something during the lesson and get through the ride in a calm and logical manner, then that is a successful lesson.

Ariel seemed to be in a more composed manner and I was practising my slow and deep breathing with her. It seems that she's particularly sensitive about that and the simplicity of just slowing down my breath and focusing on the goal was key to a successful lesson. Ariel demands a clear head and clear communications from her rider.

I started at the walk and Sheri told me to feel Ariel's body move beneath me and alternate leg pressure in union with her body to "open up her walk". The few times we did bareback riding, the goal was to get our seat to flow with their movement and effectively swing each hip as the horse was moving. Getting the feel for this in the saddle is a little trickier but loosening up meant that I could also alternate my legs according to the way her body swayed side to side. Our lesson was spent on getting a feel for transitions and what it took for us, to "talk transition" be it up or down.

I started out with no rein contact and was told to get Ariel super long and low at a relaxed steady pace. The best part about it was that as I relax, I in turn encourage her to relax too and she isn't speeding around the arena. This is tricky though, because when she did speed up, the natural thing to want to do is grab the reins and hold and pull. Instead, I was told, do the complete opposite to bring her back and add lots of half halts to get her attention. This isn't change immediately but in a stride or two, Ariel would relax and lower her head and I would regain control.

After several bouts of adding in seated trot with the objective to keep her head in the same relaxed frame and the pace consistent, we move onwards to transitioning up to canter, down to trot and back to canter and then back to walk etc. Sheri was telling us, you gotta feel that there is a difference with what your body is asking for, depending on the transition: a transition from canter to trot vs a transition from canter to walk are different. I also have to remember a transition down is not a loss of impulsion through the front where the horse falls into their transition down but rather, a collection of their bodies into a slowing down where you continue to push their hind ends beneath them. I would say that the transitions where we properly transition down have a much smoother ride whereas when she falls into her transitions down, it's jolty and usually abrupt.

The entire lesson was composed of transitions up and down and short or long bursts based on what was being asked of us. Definitely a very productive lesson that gave me the opportunity to regain control and be reminded of riding with our bodies and seat before hands.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Lesson #159: For the Win!

I've been away from the stable for 2 weeks due to the extreme cold weather we've been experiencing this way. It was around -30C before wind chill a few weekends. I mean who wants to work? Today's make up lesson was one of those "let's just get on and see what happens". Ariel, along with the others had been cooped up inside for 2 days because it's so cold and she hadn't been ridden since Tuesday. UGH. Granted, I didn't know that until after she started acting up.

Things started relatively well when I went to get her... I remembered something Paola wrote in a post about how she's being taught that training of the horse starts the moment you take them out of the paddock. I went to get Ariel in a calm and determined perspective and this time she actually walked over to me since +ADW said he spent some time chasing Molson in the paddock :P

The ride did start relatively unassuming... in that it was like any other ride. But, once we started moving around, Ariel decided that a walk wasn't quite fast enough and just broke out into the canter or the trot. This was really not fun for me because I tried to be nice and use the seat and half halts to regain her attention to come back but she continued to ignore me until I was yanking on her face to get her to transition back down. When we got into the trot, it was choppy and zippy and she hopped the trot poles and then went into a canter. It was just plain frustrating because I wasn't doing anything that would have indicated her to do anything more!

Even when I did manage to slow her down enough, she would hop over the trot poles again! That was enough for me to get her to walk over the poles and yet she STILL and hopped over!! Time to change things up again and focus on just getting her trotting around on my terms--no trot poles. I focused on breathing deep and half halting often to regain her attention to what I wanted us to do. After some time, I was able to get her to a relaxed trot with the rein at the buckle and I got me some snorts and sighs. I went around several more times and by the time my little team was relaxed and listening to me, we went over the trot poles. Finally.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

It's Official. I'm a Grown-Up.

Hi everyone, I'm back. I swear I'm not dead, despite how I felt the last 5 days or so; I got the flu. And what a miserable 5 days. This time, I decided I would stay home for the time I needed, to get better because last year I skipped it and I was sick for way longer than I wanted to be. Today, I feel human again. That said, the Universe decided to kick my butt and not only push some things along, but give me a break on others. And when I didn't listen, I got into trouble (more on that later).

First thing, I do believe I've mentioned once or twice that I'm the proud owner of a new (to me) home. +ADW and I have spent the last month getting basic renos done and now it's time for the big move. Since the renos were not super extensive, we figured we'd be able to handle them ourselves... and I became our own general contractor. I also have become our life's project manager and coordinate and book all the necessary tasks that need to be facilitated. While I was in a feverish delirium this weekend, ADW moved into our home but not without enduring some of the biggest inconveniences.

The renos we've elected to do are relatively minor in nature and include the necessary electrical updates and then some "freshing up", which had us ripping out the carpet, finding painters and hardwood flooring specialists and carpeting people. Then, I had to find us movers since February blossomed like an awkward teenager. The ridiculous deep freeze, the snow, the busy work schedules (particularly ADW), the sickie (me), the need for a general contractor, my parents' (that's right, both) birthday and lunar new year have all made things more ... interesting. But, success!! We've survived (more or less intact!) and we've gotten ADW's stuff in the house and the contracting is mostly done and we can start putting the house together enough to start living there like normal people.

Here are my top 10 lessons learned, that may be helpful for those who have not yet had to do any of this so-called 'grown up stuff':

  1. Demolition can usually be done on your own: we pulled out the carpet (and padding) of this home ourselves. This saved us at least $300 and gave us the opportunity to 'bond' over working on our first home together. It didn't require a lot of supplies (nor skill, per se) but really teaches you about real hard work.
  2. Do your research: this sounds pretty obvious but knowing what one's options are will help you make better decisions and potentially save money. Had we really looked into the whole refinishing hardwood flooring thing, we would have made a different decision. It is also imperative to know what you can and can't do (safety or legal or otherwise). There's a lot that a home owner can do on their own, but there's equally a lot they probably shouldn't attempt either.
  3. Know your limits: we had to have things ready for end of January and December was a wash. While in theory, these things are straight forward enough, we did make a few over estimates on our part that cost us time and money as well as causing friction and frustration.
  4. Get referrals: this is something we do regret not doing on one of the contractors we got. You can probably find someone who doesn't come with referrals but when that happens, there's less accountability. When someone vouches for another, they're also putting their own butts on the line. It also helps when the person doing the work is also the one giving you the estimate on site.
  5. Be tough and expect perfection: nobody is going to do it as well as you would; that's a fact. The same goes for trades people. Unless you are picky, they'll take a shorter route where possible. You're the one living there, not them so you have to be okay with the job outcome.
  6. Build a buffer: originally I had things planned to finish for end of January. It was a massive miscalculation even with all the scheduling I was doing.
  7. Try to be on site: this one is tough unless you get a general contractor. For the amount of work we were getting done, it was fine to have just me do the coordination. But, where possible, it made things much clearer to them, what I wanted done--no more broken telephone!
  8. Get local movers: make that 'get movers, period!'. We weren't too sure about this one because it was tough to justify paying money for people to do something that we could technically do on our own... in theory. But let's face it, I'm getting too old to lift that couch more than maybe 5 steps. Plus, had we not had movers, ADW would be stuck moving on his own because I was out of commission. The BIG thing: find movers local to your area... if you're moving within the city, the best thing is to find someone who's either located in between both locations (that's what we did) or a company that focuses on moving within a specified region. Movers charge their time (often) from the moment they leave their warehouse and charge time for how long it takes for them to return to the warehouse following the job too.
  9. Plan, plan, plan; and stay organized: have a plan. Take the time to research, assess, review and 
  10. Stay healthy: don't get sick. Pop vitamins and pills and get sleep--whatever it takes but make the effort. I got the flu at the worst possible time and it made things really tough. Not only was I feeling miserable, I made some major misjudgements that cost me. The flu fog is real.
The bonus note? Ask for help when you need it. Clearly I was not in any shape to meet the duct cleaners on the Saturday morning so I mustered the gumption to ask my mom to get up early and head over to the house for me.

The end is drawing near and I can taste the conclusion of this last crazy year. I am looking forward to getting my old life back and starting the new one too.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Hips Don't Lie

It can easily be said that the most important aspect for a rider is their seat and how strong and flexible it is. For those non-riders, the 'seat' is the part of your body which includes the parts of your body which are seated on the horse's back. On the surface, the seat is your butt and your thighs but beyond that, it is also the weight of your body which you control, through the "seat". Unfortunately for adult riders like myself, starting out later in life could be a disadvantage if you have particularly high aspirations and not a lot of time both for riding daily and for committing to improving fitness. That said, I'm by no means in that boat and I'm perfectly fine with it.

While I understand I'll never get to an A-circuit (or even Trillium) level, I am the nerd who gets super into something and then gets borderline OCD about and do my best to attempt to absorb as much as the universe is willing to bestow upon me. I didn't have a lesson this Sunday due to the buckets of snow dumped on the Hillsburgh/Erin area over the weekend so I decided to catch-up on sleep, deal with the house and of course, read about horseback riding.

The internet is a huge database of information ready to be plundered and this time, I decided to look into something that has been affecting me of late: my right hip. It has been bothering me for the last several weeks by feeling tight or just plain stiff. As a result, there was at least one less than stellar time where it was rather evident that things haven't been going well. I found a very simple article that outlines the situations well:
Lack of flexibility and stability in the hips is especially common in riders over 30, because hip mobility often diminishes with age. Whereas someone in the general population might not be inconvenienced by their gradually diminishing hip mobility, a rider is. Unlike other sports, your primary contact with "ground" as a rider is your seat and thighs. In other sports, it is your feet, and all motion is relative to the body's ability to transfer force from the ground, through the body. In riding, you are balancing on your seat, using your thighs for further balance and to communicate aids, and your feet must remain "soft" to allow for the stirrup irons to rise up and down with the horse's stride.
--Heather Sansom (Dressage Today) 
Regardless of where I read or take information from, about riding, it's stressed that the seat (and thighs) are the most important communication tool with the horse when riding. Keep in mind that the way in which riders 'communicate' with their horses is a language that is significantly physical and few words or even sounds are exchanged. A simple shift in weight or placement of a leg is all it takes to "tell your horse" what you want. Riding looks easy enough to the average spectator and that's what riders are supposed to look like but the anatomy involved is quite extensive particularly in the seat. Horseback riding is a demanding sport, regardless of what onlookers might think and so requires the appropriate stretching that any other physical activity would require.

Interestingly enough, hip flexibility and strength is an important component for yogis too. One of my favourite yoga instructors never rides yet always stressed the importance of hip flexibility and strength. This explains why yoga is such a helpful activity to supplement riders in their 'off time'. Going back to my research over the weekend, in order to improve on my riding, it is imperative that I supplement normal physical activity with deliberate stretching, strengthening and overall care. As it stands, I'm already,

  1. an adult student starting late;
  2. over 30 so my hip flexibility and strength is on the decline; and
  3. I have an office job that keeps me chained at my desk for the better part of the day and it's super easy to get sucked into something I'm working on and end up eating my lunch at my desk and never getting up except for bathroom breaks.

I'm not sure exactly what's tight or sore or broken or whatever in my hips, but I do know that I have to make a regular effort to focus on addressing my issues through strengthening, warming up and stretching in my non-riding times as well as before and after lessons.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Lesson #158: Snort, Sigh, Relax

Hello out there, from underneath all this snow and cold. It's finally stopped and we're in the process of cleaning up this city.

Blargh!! Welcome to winter in Canada.

It is currently -15C in the GTA and likely colder in Hillsburgh/Erin. With windchill, we're looking at closer to -25C or -30C. It wasn't very different yesterday... less snow but just as frigid. And there we go, trekking out bright and early Sunday morning for our weekly lesson. In come the horses with ice hooves that we were lucky to have J grab some sort of hammer to help us save 10-15 minutes of chiselling away at the ice with puny hoof picks.

We enter the indoor arena and it is -10C. Lots of warm up time. My aim this time is to listen enough to Ariel relaxation signs such as loosening of her body, the pace and even snorts and sighing. I am looking for that moment/position that elicits those responses from Ariel that tell me what she's looking for. I add in curves to my warm up and do a few shallow loop serpentine and circles throughout the arena. All the jumps have been put away today so I figured it was going to be a flat lesson. I am told to get Ariel to relax in an extended relaxed trot with a low head carriage; I am holding the rein at the buckle but the trick now is to maintain that head carriage while keeping deep corners and the pace/rhythm.

Next, canter. The canter was such a mess at the get go. I was not collected myself and Ariel was thus not starting up. After recollecting myself in a proper trot, I initiated the canter and things were pretty good! I did ride it in the half seat again just so that I got off her back and got out of her way and she seemed far more relaxed about that and we went round and round but keeping her in the corners on the right rein had its occasional challenges. Not only that, keeping her straight was something I had to focus on maintaining because she was keen on falling into the centre--which probably meant that I need to be more aware of what I'm doing when I lose focus.

The transitions are cleaner than they used to be when we'd go speeding down the long end with me bouncing around trying to get her to pick up the canter. But things have gotten smoother, even though that doesn't mean I know what exactly I'm doing differently.

In an effort to return to the previous goal of keeping straight and relaxed, we are told to get into seated trot without stirrups and keeping pace and ensuring relaxation and looseness. My hips were awful; everything was tight and I was flapping in the seat and Ariel was clearly not enjoying things and started to act up by telling me I was doing things wrong. It took some time but eventually, something came and went and I got a few steps. A few times moving forward from the halt, she would raise her head and back up a step or two when I asked her to move forward. Sheri pointed out that when I ask her to move on, my hips actually lock up and pretty much everything in that 'seat' area gets rigid and for Ariel, that's confusing because I'm telling her to go but not, all at the same time. I need to learn to use my calves to urge her on and not tighten my entire seat. That's going to be tough b/c I haven't quite figured out exactly how to... it's so natural to just tense everything to push her forward because my body just tends to go that way!

Despite that though, the improvement in transitions, snorts and relaxation sighs and having a relaxed trot with a flowing canter was progress enough for me!