Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Something Different

I've been working hard at persisting to keep up my fitness routine of doing something in addition to my riding at least once a week (baby steps!). I was working on yoga 2 weeks ago and last week I partook in an activity I haven't done in a few years: I went to a pole dancing class. Before the inappropriate questions flood in, I'll answer some of the asinine questions I tend to get:
  1. No, I'm not nude, and neither is anyone else.
  2. It's hella hard and if you think you can do it, you probably can't (sounds like my answer to people's comments about riding a horse).
  3. It's not about prancing around like I'm about to explode from sexual tension.
  4. Yes, there are guys who take classes.
Any others? I'm happy to answer them!

Wikipedia defines pole dance as a performance art that combines dance with acrobatics centred on a vertical burlesque pole. I tried a couple classes way back and was hooked. I love the strength, flexibility and grace that it requires. Soon, I purchased annual membership and was doing classes daily. I built a lot of strength and flexibility but still hated "dancing". Instead, I enjoyed the tricks, climbing, inversions etc. I stopped because the commute time from studio to home was costing me more time than I wanted and I didn't love it the same way I love riding where I'd be willing to commit that kind of time (and money) towards.

Seriously amazing looking. Perhaps one day...

Before I left, I decided that it would be convenient to keep up the fitness and the social aspect of it so I bought a class pass that I could use any time. I haven't done a single class in ages but I decided I'd be fine to pick up where I left off: inversions. I was sorely wrong. I can still get upside down but I definitely lack the strength and courage to relax. The studio also upped the ante and have reworked their curriculum to be way more technical which is amazing b/c that is the sort of thing that I enjoy. They used to focus on the dancing part but I never was interested in that component unless the dancing was physically and technically derived. I'm not a dancer though, so to get there, would take years of training but strength and flexibility is much more easily attained.

These classes require a good deal of core strength and flexibility in many parts of your body that I believe it would be a good compliment to continue incorporating it as part of my fitness routine. The best part is that they're opening up a studio much closer to my home so I'll be able to go on weekends and even later in the evenings!!

p.s. that's not me in the photo! That was the last pose I was working on trying to accomplish before I stopped.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Lesson #165: Working Towards Something

I had a really good lesson on Sunday. Ariel was shown the day before (by a young student) and as usual, placed amazingly with her rider. As fussy and bossy as she is, when she's on her game, she's amazing and if the rider is doing craptastic up there, she'll still pull their sh*t together enough to truck em through a course. Perhaps some of the choices she would make are a little less than desirable for a rider... but she gets you through it.

We started our class with flat work with plenty of bending and stretching down to get any soreness out of Ariel's body from her show the day before. She's good today and I think part in parcel due to the fact that I have been more demanding of her in terms of listening to what I request of her. I don't want it to get to the point again, where she was outright refusing simple asks of me. We got into a good trot around and were stretching and moving well. I'd say it was such a welcome advancement to what's been happening recently where Ariel would get really worked up and take over our lesson!

We spent the lesson with all kinds of bending lines and at trot and canter. Things are definitely becoming more and more comfortable in terms of just being a natural response. I am becoming more fluent with speaking with Ariel. I have laying off the being handsy part but must continue to work on keeping my hands still because the slight vibrations along the rein are enough to really tick Ariel off if there's too much of it or if it's just not her day.

The second part of our lesson had some ground poles that were set for horse strides but had Ariel taking a few funny half strides in the middle. Once that warm up was done, we got into some jumping. The first jump was a low X jump that I took coming out of a corner and straight down the long side of the arena. My two point over the 'flatter' Xs is most certainly getting better and I'm able to have my body flow with the Ariel's body and I recover well enough. Poor +ADW on the other hand, was having one of those days where balance was elusive at times. Despite that, he managed to get over a small X several times and not too badly either! To challenge me, a line was set up with a vertical following the X. The first few times was ugly: being left behind, losing a two point, landing on her shoulder, looking straight down at the jump... Despite this, Sheri says I'm ready to jump at 2'3 so there are no excuses--I just need to pull my crap together.

We usually aim to end on a positive note so when I managed to get over with a clean jump and a very good two point, we ended the lesson. What was different? My body is still negotiating the height requirements of a 2'3 jump because I am not feeling what it takes to fold my body with Ariel as she takes off and I realize that once I get that 'fold' of the two point, everything else comes together enough to get me over in proper fashion. I am still on the fence about showing this summer but if I can accomplish a course at 2'3 during lessons, I'll go for the a walk/trot dressage test or the low Xs!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Lesson #164: Insisting Leadership

Remember when I said that I spoke too soon about spring being here? I had to dig into the closet for my puffy riding jacket and my down vest to head out to the stable today. It was freezing. But it didn't matter because I was on a mission today: I was going to be the leader today. I got Ariel from the paddock this time, without her racing around and we went straight in to get tacked up. Mare's shedding (surprise!) and I was covered in white hair/fur like it was going out of fashion. Other than the weather, her shedding points to the fact that spring is here!

Getting on Ariel, I made sure that I was the boss of our little herd and that she would move only when I told her to. The warm up was pretty good, as a result of me putting my assertive hat on. We were trotting around relaxed and content without any speeding or any fighting. Relaxed and long and low were our aim as well as keeping deep in the corners. I'd say things went quite well and each time she wanted to deek into a jump or otherwise, I was sure to bring her back and remind her that we were doing what I wanted.

Then we were asked to get into the c-a-n-t-e-r. If you say it aloud, Ariel understands what's being asked and actually responds to Sheri's command! I had to get her back down and under control and try it again on my own terms instead. We went round and round a few times to get them warmed up. I was bring reminded to sit back and as I persisted a few strides, Ariel actually collected her body. I have to remember to keep my chest open and shoulders back and down... like Sheri said last time, my arms are not to be tense, the muscles in my shoulders and back were meant to do the 'work'.

Today was a jumping day and we went over some of the jumps already set up. We did a single horizontal jump at an undetermined height (couldn't have been more than 2'3") going at it in the trot and as usual, Ariel speeds up into the jump. I'm told that there is a point of no return and at some point, I'm just going to have to accept that Ariel didn't listen (or more likely, I wasn't assertive enough) and just go through with it. Then we took the opposite jump the other way too. Our last jump exercise was (all done at the trot) was a line on the diagonal with an x and then a jump filled with 2 barrels. The first go at it was me letting Ariel take over and totally panicking and thus doing the "gah!! I'm falling forward and want to hug Ariel's neck to hold on for life". Ariel totally did a fight at one point and was trying to turn around but I had to pull her into a circle to regain the control. We did get through the line after all that fuss but it certainly was a pain to deal with!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Need to Persist

It's been months that I've participated in my personal fitness level. And I am certain that my riding has slowly deteriorated alongside. Last night, I resolved to return to my fitness routine, and start my new year's resolutions of getting active regularly. One of my favourite activities is yoga. I specifically enjoy the demanding and fast paces of Ashtanga that push the yogi to breathe properly and gets the blood flowing. Not having done anything for so long and recognizing I have developed some physical imbalances/issues, I wasn't sure what would transpire.

I don't want to be a pear, anymore!

When I was in undergrad, I had a coop term where the office I worked had regular lunch hour yoga sessions. I was interested and since it was during lunch, I didn't have to go anywhere else after/before work. I wasn't particularly active in my youth so it was no surprise that the first class I got in, I was out of breath, trembling from the demands of the sun salutations, unable to touch my toes and having trouble keeping up with the instructions. Not to mention, I was so sore for the first week that I couldn't turn my head over my shoulder. But, for 4 months, I doggedly worked at it and one day, was about to touch my toes with ease and easily moved into the supported headstand.

Gone are those days of ease in practice but surprisingly, I found that my body has incredible muscle memory and I was able to get into many of the poses and positions still... I just lacked the extent of flexibility, strength and endurance to maintain poses as previous. I also confirmed my suspicions about my right side and my hip and shoulder is messed up--not sure what exactly is wrong but they're tight. I left feeling pretty good about myself and resolve to continue. However, this morning, I woke up with my legs and arms feeling like jelly. I think with persistence, this will pay off and my pants might stop feeling so tight, my hips might loosen again and my shoulder might actually do what its supposed to.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Lesson #163: Details Details

I get to ride Ariel again! She's not away at a schooling show so it's nice to get back to my old routine. I went out to get her in the paddock and that girl got sassy with me and bolted when I approached. I'm not familiar with horse speak so I"m not sure if she was being defiant or just excited to see me (I'll go with the former *sigh*). That said, I chased her around a bit until she settled and went to put the halter on... she greeted me with a soft sigh and we were good after that.

It's shedding time and I am covered in hair when I'm ready to get on. Sheri is riding her boy today as well so it's nice to see her do her thing. The lesson was spent on me keeping my position and riding Ariel deep into corners and on the circle. We worked at the walk and the trot. At the walk, I was swinging my legs with her ribs to open her walk and maintaining a consistent trot that is relaxed. I admit I've been having more and more trouble with my own body as late and I find my right shoulder rolls in, my right leg tends to grip at the knee and I have a terrible habit of leaning forward.

I'm reminded to sit up during my circles so I don't collapse on her front but I do find it tougher because I have to remember to bend Ariel and put up with her fussing about bending. We go again some more and I'm told my position has improved so that's a good thing to hear, considering my riding frequency and my major lack of exercise. Ariel puts up a fuss in the same corner a couple times and that's enough for Sheri to jump on her back to tell her who's boss. I love watching Sheri ride because she's SO AMAZING. She gets on Ariel and immediately, she's in a frame. As Sheri is going around, she tells me that Ariel is actually constantly fighting her; she does fight less as time goes on but Sheri has to be on her all the time. She's shaking her head or throwing it up or pulling on the reins and avoiding contact whenever possible. Those are all apparently "I don't wanna do this" comments so I'm told that I need to counter every argument/opinion with a leg squeeze and firm closed grip on the reins. The other thing is that my arms should be soft and my shoulders and core firm and in control because then when Ariel is pulling or fussing, she's got nothing to pull or fuss on. I never thought about it like that so it's going to be good to test next lesson.

In the meantime, I definitely have no more excuses to get my act together outside of riding and start working on getting back a fitness routine because I feel like I've been crunched up all winter!

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Lesson #162: Dressage Saddle

It's finally starting to warm up this way (yea, watch me type that and then a polar vortex head into town). Show season has started and the students competing at the schooling show are doing very well! That said though, Ariel is one of the horses at the shows so I'm riding Molson for a full dressage lesson. I've never ridden in a dressage saddle before so I thought this was a great chance to try something new.

All I know about dressage saddles is that they keep you more in the seat and you're meant to sit deeper and your leg is 'longer' and straighter than in a jumper saddle. First things is first though, Molson's rider doesn't have to be as crystal clear with their body and he rides with way more contact. One of those things I'm thankful for and the other, I'm rethinking whether I like that better or not. It takes some time for me to understand how much contact I should be having with his mouth because I'm used to such light contact with Ariel that I hesitate to push more on Molson. J tells me that Molson can be ridden with a lot more contact so I spend the better part of the lesson trying to figure out what that might be. I also work on trying to get him to frame up.

Order this print through Fine Art America

The entire lesson was spent on me going around and around (Molson must have been okay to go on autopilot!) at the sitting trot because I found posting trot to be more difficult to accomplish in the saddle. We spent time on trying to move with their bodies at the trot which remains elusive even at the best of times. I found moments where my body was absorbing his movement and going with things but the second I tried to do something else or when Molson sped up, I'd lose it and had difficulty getting it back. We were told to include half halts (checks) at each letter in the arena to rebalance the horse and to ensure that we're where we're supposed to be. I'm also trying to get Molson into a frame which proves to be challenging. That full body half halt is elusive because timing it with Molson is also imperative so I don't lose my seat. But, it is particularly effective and he does compact more. Another exercise we try is to half halt them into a transition down and a stop where the objective is to get them to compress into a transition/halt versus falling onto the forehand to transition down. Molson is particularly accommodating but he isn't schooled nearly as well as Bons and it proves to be difficult.

Due to my determined nature (that's what I'm going with!), I rode the sitting trot for the ENTIRE hour while transitioning up and down (no canter this lesson) throughout the arena. Not often gracefully but I kept at it for the whole of the hour trying to get that position and the movement that I needed to get for dressage. It isn't easy but I totally can't wait to get back to lessons twice a week!!!

Monday, March 2, 2015

Lesson #161: Lunging

A change of page for lessons since Ariel was with the girls who were showing at a local schooling show on Sunday. I was assigned to ride the gentle giant Trakenher named Art. He happens to be biggest horse on the property at I believe it is 17.2 hh? I did do bareback on this giant and I'm telling you, it felt more like riding an elephant! He has sizeable withers but because he's so wide, it was like sitting on a comfy couch. LOL.

Instead of a regular riding lesson, I asked if we could switch things up and try a lunging class since I missed the clinic held in November. All we needed was their bridle, a lunge line and a lunge whip; there is more complicated supplies, I'm told, but we didn't get that complicated. I've never ridden while being lunged nor have I lunged a horse before so I was interested to learn. What I have understood about it is that it is used for training the horse, establishing and creating respect of the rider from the horse as well as getting the "hot" out of a horse that hasn't been ridden in a few days.

Art is such a big horse that when I stand next to his neck, I tuck under his throat latch neatly. Despite his size, he's a sweet gentle giant who doesn't have much in ways of an opposing opinion (like Ariel) and is obedient to asks... as long as they're not asks of going faster than a lumbering walk. After a grooming session, we put the bridle on and head into the arena. I'm sure there are other methods and equipment that is available to do this but based on what we had and what was being taught us, a rather straight forward method was taught us...

Start by putting the reins over their heads and unlatching the throat latch. Then, take the reins under their neck and twist together and loop the throat latch through, to keep it in place. Next, pick a direction... and get on that side of the horse's face. Thread the line through the ring of the bit, up and over the crown piece and along the opposite cheek piece and clip to the other ring of the bit. We're using the loose ring bit for ease but are told other types are possible but aren't as easy to use. The line is loosely looped in circles and placed into the palm of the same side (left direction, left palm), the whip in the other. Keep in mind, this isn't a green horse and he's been lunged before so understands what is expected of him... the only newb here is me.

We're told to keep the horse ahead of the whip and outwards. With our body as the apex of this pie shaped wedge, our arms become the long sides of this slice.

Having a slice!
The primary commands used include:
Out: asking the horse to move outwards of the circle
Walk: walk...
Trot: trot...
Canter: canter...
Whoa: or whichever typical verbal commands are used to get them to stop or slow.

Looking at the horse is something that I didn't think much about at the start but we're reminded that their energy should be coming from their hind ends so that's where our attention should be focused on to drive them forward. I felt that a lot of "horsey body language" is learned doing this and you get a better idea for what it takes for them to understand what is being asked of them. It's an interesting go at things... but the overall concept isn't complicated nor difficult to pick up but, the nuances and finer movements are certainly things that would improve with more time and additional sessions. I did manage to get Art into the canter as well but definitely could work on the transitioning down with stronger half halts etc.

Finishing the lesson I climbed on top of this giant horse and we walked around the arena to cool out. I am looking forward to having the opportunity to do this again in the warmer months with Ariel!