Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Lesson #173: Mind Over Matter

Spring is here! Or at least we're getting real peeks into it. I was tempted to go on a hack on Sunday but when we got there, we're told J is teaching... usually J is the one we go on a hack with anyway but we discover that he broke his hand and is probably pretty sore from a bad fall during one of his jumper lessons with his coach. It sounded pretty messy and has reaffirmed my desire to keep things low key. He basically went left when his horse went right.

J's lessons are much different than Sheri's because he's just not as technical as she is. He's more about feel and experience. Both have the basics down but riding dressage for Sheri has her mind-set in a more technical area just because that's part of what is required to ride dressage anyway.

The objective today is course work. I have been starting our walking warm ups with loosening my hips and alternating my legs with Ariel's movement and I find that this helps and is certainly becoming more second nature. I wanted to get into a normal posting trot but Ariel decided she was more comfortable with a long and low trot so we started there instead.

We also rode with another young student who rides beautifully. I love to see when the more capable younger kids ride because it's such an inspiring thing to see. We all get into canter and go round several times and then get straight into our jumping. The course work is set up so that we build into the final course by taking one jump at a time to ensure our position is good and we are comfortable with the height. As I said, J's not as technical. This gives me the opportunity to aim for what he has asked but remember all the "tools" that Sheri has been giving me the last few weeks about seat and weight shifting. I am also becoming better at feeling when Ariel's pace is slowing or speeding up. And I certainly have to ride her body more than anything else because she's all wobbly and will bend and flex as she feels comfortable.

At least Deb is aware of what's going on now... --Ariel

The first jump was a ground pole with 3 strides into an X. I was our test guinea pig and was asked to do it at the canter. Usually Sheri works up to the canter because I continue to have the same faults about riding too far on Ariel's forehand so it is beneficial to take it slower. But it wasn't miserable and so I have to remember to focus on all the things that are my faults.

We work on adding more jumps and it goes from a ground pole with 3 strides into an X to a line with 2 Xs, then adding another X on the other side and then the second X in the line changed to a vertical. Finally, it became an X into a vertical and ended on a X. My faults remain the same... but this time, I do realize something... that the curling over onto Ariel's forehand is something that is actually second nature and if I don't consciously think about it, that's what I end up doing, instead of sitting up. It's not a matter of capability... but it literally is mind over matter.

This is very evident when I approach the first jump riding while sitting up but as soon as I land, I'm already curled over. It then becomes tricky for Ariel to gain balance appropriately and I notice we zoom around the arena coming out of it. It makes sense that she's trying to compensate for my balancing on her front so we both don't go over her head!

And here's a first for +ADW! He was asked to canter the line for the first time. Not to shabby considering he's never done it before. Hooray for firsts!

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Lesson #172: More Jumping Progress

Although it's nice to have Thursday night lessons all to myself, it was a welcome change to have another rider in the class. This student rides her own horse and their focus this year (from what it sounds like) is jumper. The course that she was working on was pretty tough... the turn into one of the lines was really tight and she had to collect as she was coming into the line. Her position over fences is beautiful. It flows and she looks so effortless over the jumps.

I start my warm up and remember that in order to make use of my walk, I need to loosen my hips with Ariel's movements and flow with her while opening up the walk with alternating legs. Sheri asks me how I feel today and I mention that I feel tight--which is not a lie. Specifically, my calves are feeling tight, even though I shouldn't have a reason to have tight feeling calves. That said, I just think about keeping my heels down and loosening my hips and lower back. Sheri tells me to take my feet out of the stirrups and just relax and drop my weight down through my heels and just flow with Ariel's movements.

A few rounds and I take my stirrups back and start trotting around with the aim to have Ariel long and low and me: relaxed. This exercise has become far easier than it used to be when it was a struggle just for me to stay with her through my seat and body. Tensing up always made the situation worse, even though I tried not to.

That was fun but man am I tired now... --Ariel

Next, we're doing jumping today so a quick canter around and then I trot into an X. The X's are becoming less of an issue and so I add in a vertical. The vertical isn't high, but it does enough to cause me some grief. I am not sure if I'm not releasing enough, or if my heels are falling back, thus causing me to tip forward. Continuing, another X is added so that this mini course is becoming a sort of twisty loopy route. I am only relatively successful and I continue to have the same issue of curling forward and not being able to sit up between jumps. I seem to anticipate them and upon the approach, actually lean forward.

After a few more rounds with some degree of success, I am asked to complete the course by taking a vertical with some narrow fillers. I really had a good time with the jumping even though there is a bit of apprehension just before I get into it, each time. I still have the same vices where I tend to lean into the approach and my heels don't always stay firmly down but it is slowly improving since I"m not being thrown as much or getting left behind as often. It isn't pretty, but it is at least successful in making it over.

We cool out with lots and lots of bending and turning with the horses with their necks long and low to stretch out their backs after doing so many jumps. I take this opportunity to test my seat turning again.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Lesson #171: Simple Change for the Win!

Another intense lesson. I expect that with show season starting and many of the riders looking to get into showing either hunter or jumper this season, even my lessons will incorporate a lot of the same elements. After all, I did say I wanted to be able to successfully jump a 2'3" course this season!

This lesson started with the usual flat work at posting trot and seated trot... even alternating between the two. We also add in some trot without stirrups and focus on pushing our weight down through our heels to keep balanced. I find trotting without stirrups still easier to ride than bareback--which easily unseats me.

The 3 jumps from the previous lesson are still up so we use these to work on the same exercises. The lesson starts with the same exercise as last time where we trot over the figure 8 by going over the pole in the middle of the arena. This exercise is cleaner than it was last time... my turns were flowing and smooth. Next, we increase the difficulty by including the other 2 Xs and it is the figure 8 going over 3 of the X jumps. My "jumping" is becoming cleaner and I'm not having as much trouble with the landing... however, these are still on the low end of things so mastering these are imperative to move forward and up.

I'm as stunned as Bucky is, that I was successful this time around!
Now comes the biggest accomplishment this season, so far, cantering the figure 8 at the canter and using a simple change at the trot, over the X in the middle. The last time I tried to do this was last summer and it was impossible for me to accomplish the simple change over the middle. First, Ariel doesn't like to transition down into the trot b/c she's already not really a fan of the trot. I have to really get her ready as we're coming around the corner and approaching the middle pole. Despite the flashback of last year's outcome, I was successful and we were able to mostly achieve what we set out to do! I certainly feel pretty good about my progress because last year this sort of thing was still a struggle to do.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Lesson #170: Leading with my Behind

During the warm-up for my lesson I focus on swinging my hips and alternating leg pressure to follow Ariel's body as she walks, to open up her walk. The arena is set up with 3 Xs lined up at D, X and G. The first exercise is trotting a figure 8 over the middle X. Since the exercise has us changing the rein on each loop of the 8, I really am forced to assess what's happening when we turn. Immediately, we noticed that as I am approaching X and pushing onto the right rein, Ariel does a funny drift with her shoulder; she's counter flexing as if she's going straight and drifting into the right turn as opposed to flowing into it with slight flexion. It happens again and Sheri tells me to step into my right stirrup just a smidge as I am going over the X. That works. We discover that I am myself, unbalanced going over so even though my eyes and head are turning, my seat isn't telling her that. She takes the middle X down and leaves it as a ground pole.

We continue and the exercise is made more difficult: I get off the rail and go over the two Xs at each end. The exercise is the small jump while turning and changing lead. I have to continue to push my weight down on the right side when  making that right turn. Sheri adds that I have to include the proper preparation with my legs too. We went through this exercise for the better part of the lesson with the focus on getting the turns to flow at the trot, as well as the jumping position over the Xs. Easier said than done! It's pretty rapid fire going like that and I have to keep Ariel at the trot and not speed off into the canter.

The last exercise is to get on bareback and continue the same exercise. *ugh*. We start at the walk... and then move into the trot *gulp* over the middle pole. At the walk, I was able to discover that I actually grip with my left butt when I turn right--which gives Ariel incorrect signals! I had no idea.... So now it's a matter of not doing that even though it's become quite second nature.

Oooo shake what yo' mama gave ya!

That exercise is finished up and Sheri tells me, finish the lesson on a completely loose rein and guide Ariel only by your seat. Ariel and I zig zag around the arena with my seat bones dropping into the seat, to tell here where we want to go. I use little leg and zero hands and focus only on dropping the appropriate seat bone. There is a fine balance here... because my hips and legs need to be in the maximum open relaxed position, to actually cause an impact. When my legs crawl forward a bit and I start "sitting more" on Ariel, she completely ignores me (more like has no idea what I'm asking of her). I literally have to shift my weight back down my heels and re-drape my legs over her back.

With some more practice, I end the lesson with the ability to turn Ariel at the walk, in a 10m circle with just my seat. Definitely learning so much!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Lesson #169: Transitions with Seat

With the previous day's clinic fresh in my mind, I keep in mind the things that I have to focus on based on the analysis of the videos. I told +ADW all about the clinic and told him I knew what I needed to focus my attention on: my lower leg and especially my right one. But we all already know about my loopy right side with a mind of its own!

The class is relatively low key in that we spent it on the flat. A brief warm-up was following by no stirrup work. A lot of no stirrup work. We get up to the trot and focus on maintaining our balance by keeping our heels downwards and remembering to not pinch. When I lose my balance, I feel myself tipping forward and my knees grip. Re-adjusting while moving is tricky but it does in fact get us both rebalanced properly. We're also asked to incorporate some posting--tricky!

If only Deb could ride correctly with her seat all the time! --Ariel
Finally, we finish the lesson with bareback riding. It was all about loosening our hips and letting them flow with the movement of the horse. Understanding the movement and being able to incorporate it into the exercise is really neat because I decided to try something that I read about: transitioning gaits with just your seat. Once I get the rhythm, I speed it up just a touch and I'm successful! It doesn't last long but works!!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Frame by Frame

Riding a horse is a dynamic balancing act. While other activities like gymnastics and yoga both test the athlete's balance in both a static and dynamic manner, riding a horse requires the balancing act of rider and mount be in sync with one another. While you're balancing yourself, you're also trying to coordinate your balancing act with that of the horse in a way where you don't interfere with their movements.

This is the first clinic I've participated in, where I'm actually riding. Because I only take lessons, it feels like another lesson with more "go". I got there early so was watching the previous session of girls going. These are the girls who have been riding for many more years and have a supple young body that can bend and move in more directions than mine can. They were jumping up to 3'3". Amazing.

My session turned out to be a single session with just me working on me stuff. It was really nice b/c I didn't have to worry about the other girls (who could be my kids :S) zipping past me flying over the jumps with ease. We started with flat analysis:
  • I was asked to post trot on a 20m circle while being filmed. We discovered that I post with my upper body and not my hips... it looked like I was literally bobbing up and down. Focus: post with a loose hip and maintain upper body and still heels/legs.
  • Next, canter on the 20m circle. The discovery was that not only is my seat out of sink and going against Ariel's motions but that I was leaning forward and my heels were penduluming back and forth causing the tipping. Focus: drop the weight into the heels and relax my hips.
I have the opportunity to "fix" these mistakes but it requires focus to release my hips and swing them back and forth in both the posting trot and canter. Next, over fence exercises:

  • I start with an X jump followed by a canter pole. It is relatively clean and I have only one hiccup getting over it. The discovery here is that my heels aren't actually sinking enough and do come up and my leg swings back a bit. It isn't a major cause for concern but I focus on pushing my heels down coming into the jump.
  • Next, add the vertical jump in place of the canter pole. This doesn't go too well. It is messy and I have trouble keeping a straight approach (I look a bit drunk :P). The landing isn't pretty but it isn't particularly messy either. The focus here is push weight into heels as we come into the jump
  • Now, the second pole is raised and things start falling apart. My landings are poor and I end up on Ariel's neck often. Upon review of the videos, we discover that my legs swing back significantly and then I am pitched forward and hence the landing is messy and I'm even left behind in some situations. The focus is the lower leg position upon the landing.
  • We continue the same jumps but try something different: come into the line in a half seat and nothing changes. There is improvement but I continue to have trouble with the landing and my leg position; it's as if I am trying to jump for Ariel instead of just staying still and letting her come up to me. J says, "think of your position needing to be in a position where if I snapped my fingers and Ariel disappeared beneath you, you'd land on your feet and not your face or arse". The focus here is most definitely keeping my legs, seat and weight over the same axis.
I really enjoyed this clinic because of the ability to review all my positions in each frame. The videos were slowed right down into frames where I could see exactly where things were going awry and what was happening. I have been wondering for some time now, why the bigger jumps cause me to fall on Ariel as opposed to landing appropriately. And now I see that my leg position is likely the cause to many of the errors that I am making. Perhaps another ride on Bons is what I need to "remind" my body where my leg and seat position need to be.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Lesson # 168: Just Practice

This was a really intense lesson. Ariel's part-boarder rides just before me on Thursday nights and I arrive as they are finishing up. That means Ariel is warmed up and I'm the only one who needs the warm-up. We dive right into the lesson and Sheri reviews some of the questions I had from the last lesson where I was asking about the difference in demands of the rider (and to an extent, horse) for the jumps with fillers and such. Simply, the fillers make the jumps a) more intimidating to the horse, so there is chance for refusal; b) they widen the jump so the horse is required to round over the jump and the air time is increased as well.

Instead of the normal posting trot warm-up, I'm told to ride the trot in a half seat and keeping my heels down. Add the 20m X and the 1 stride Xs at the same position. Sheri tells me that as I approach the fence, I need to look up and away and as I land, I have to sit up and think "canter away". My biggest issue is the landing where I seem to end up too far forward.

This entire lesson was an over fence lesson and we did little flat work. The focus was to get me practising to get over the jumps repeatedly to push my body into the position again and again to develop some muscle memory. As it stands now, my jumping over the low Xs is reasonably consistent and I also realized that "the voices" seem to stop when I approach those fences. Those jumps are becoming more "second nature" to me and am not phased by them.

*nom nom nom* Better at staying out of my way to let me do mah thing.

I am asked to go over the wall jump again and again (approximately 2'3") to get a consistent ride in and a good position over and following the jump. Added into this 'round robin' exercise, is the barrel jump which is sitting at around 2'6" and with the filler, trickier to get over. It isn't something I do well so we don't go over it multiple times. My confidence with the wall jump is much better and we focus on that. I do notice that my right leg tends to drift and doesn't remain firmly planted down. It makes sense since my right side has always been a little off and whatever is wrong is causing it to drift off at the jumps and affecting the outcome.

This lesson was intense in terms of the amount of jumping and I was pleased with the work that was accomplished. I enrol for the riding clinic on Saturday that will analyse our position at every possible task. It'll be interesting to see the finer details and pick apart everything. I am really looking forward to the clinic!!

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Lesson #167: An Unexpected Surprise!

You guys. It snowed on Sunday. Not only is it supposed to be spring, it was Easter on Sunday. That said though, +ADW and I head up for our Sunday morning lesson. Mare's inside this morning and not looking like she wants to do much of anything but that's okay because I insist, really ;)

I turn on my militant determined brain during warm-up and use every opportunity to ensure that Ariel is going at a good pace and maintaining some form of relaxation as well. As I keep reminding myself, if I want to get to my goal of jumping a course of 2'3", I have to take each lesson with the utmost seriousness and ride every stride with purpose. It pays off because I am told that Ariel and I look good quite soon into the warm up. I also try to get her into a long low relaxed frame which is not one of Ariel's preferences--she prefers to bring her head straight up to avoid contact of the bit.

During our warm-up, a course is being put together (mostly for the following lesson, I believe) that includes components that we would be able to get through. That means a variety of jumps: a line of two x's, an x on a 20m circle, a parallel oxer on the diagonal, a vertical with hay bale filler, a vertical "wall" jump and finally, a slightly wider and taller jump of around 2'6" that I have no idea the name of it (and during the lesson, had no idea the actual heights).

The start of the jump lesson includes the line of x's and the x on the 20m circle which I'm finally able to accomplish at the trot. The line is straight forward enough for me at this point that I don't hear 'the voices' as often and get over them with little distraction. I knew that the 20m circle might be a challenge again because I had so much trouble previously. I maintained in my brain that I needed to look really far in advance and it was about where I was going, not where I was. Something worked because I us through it by completing the circle and not stuck coming out of the jump.

G gets through these jumps with such ease! It's really great to watch her because it gives me confidence that I will get there too. J's told Sheri one of my goals for the season and so she said there's no time like the present to see what you're capable of, so she asks me to go over the wall which is probably around 2'3"? It isn't pretty but it is successful. Things are progressing quickly and we each are taking rounds going over different jumps and combos. I'm asked to take "the jump on the quarter line" which to me, was the 'slightly wider and taller jump of around 2'6"'. This one was intimidating and since I hesitated, Ariel also hesitated and we both deeked out. We tried it again and same thing! The best thing about this horse is that she is fearless about jumping and she's a sweetheart too: if you go in long or short or just plain stupid, she gets you through it. Once I committed to it, we flew over but I am not used to the feel so upon landing that causes me to let out an "omph" and landing too forward.

We came out of it and pull ourselves together, Sheri tells me that she meant the "wall" jump since this one is wider than what I've jumped before so requires Ariel to round more, to get over and then for me to have to have more control of my body over the jump and especially afterwards. She adds that I need to eliminate audible sounds so that I if I rode another horse, I wouldn't spook them to bolt. Despite that I am impressed enough with myself about being able to do that so at least I know that my goal is completely attainable... I just have to continue to work hard throughout the week and be diligent during lessons.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Lesson #166: Excited to be Starting Up Again

After a cold and snowy winter, I have restarted my two weekly lessons. The bonus with going on Thursday night is that because nobody else is currently in my lesson, I usually get a private. Having had the week I had at work and then getting some "news" at work, I was more than pleased to be getting away.

I arrive a wee bit earlier than usual but it doesn't matter since Ariel's part-boarder is riding so I just have to hop on after she's done. She left all her tack on and the saddle was the first thing I noticed: it was like sitting on clouds. I also noticed that there was some resistance from Ariel and she seemed to be putting up a few fights here and there but didn't think anything of it because I knew I had to assert my leadership role in our little herd of two.

J was teaching this lesson and started with having me take my feet out of the stirrups and stretch my heels down and loosen my hips and alternate my leg pressure, simultaneously. At the walk, it was manageable but the minute he said sure, let's move up to the trot, I became a little more apprehensive. It wasn't a miserable experience by any means but pushed my balance. I was also asked to do walk to trot transitions in frequent spurts around the arena. Eventually, he upped the ante and said that if I can do just fine at the trot, I should move to the canter. No stirrups?? I froze at the suggestion and meekly replied "I don't know if I feel comfortable with that idea... I'm afraid I'll fall off". Here's the thing about J's background with riding... he's been doing this since he was a tot and often rode without any tack through all sorts of situations. I don't think he has a hunter/jumper or even dressage background but he likes to have fun. Off I went, canter without stirrups. It was a little scary at moments when I started panicking and gripping Ariel so (naturally) she went faster and it because a little tougher to slow her down but guess what! I got around a full round and didn't teeter side to side or fall off. I'd consider that a success.

Don't worry. I got this. --Ariel

After I pulled my nerves back together, I told him I think that was enough of a test for my courage/confidence for now. We moved to jumping a line of an X and vertical (around 2'). It didn't go super well but I did make it over without major issues--the same old landing and being unable to get back up. It wasn't pretty but I regained control of the situation and told J that my goal for the season is to be able to get through a course of 2'3" under control and I'd be happy. He told me that it would be possible to get there in a month. Um... really? I thought I was not being generous enough with saying "for this season" which in my standards, ends for me by October or November. LOL. We'll see... I have a long way to go b/c there is a lot that I have to fix still and I know I have the occasional over thinking issue at fences.

Nearing the end of the lesson, Ariel was becoming increasingly agitated with me and I couldn't figure it out until I pulled out her bridle... and see that they changed her bit from her usual Happy Mouth to a twisted D ring type that I am not at all familiar with. I would definitely double check that next time because I know my hands aren't quiet enough for this mare to use anything 'harsher' than her usual jointed D ring Happy Mouth.