Sunday, May 31, 2015

Lesson #180: Puttering Around

Since +ADW and I were having our 'stay-cation' for the better part of the week, I told him to join me for my Thursday evening ride. We rode outside and for the most part, that was just fine (though I do prefer riding indoors for some reason...). It had rained previously so the ground was damp and the bugs were coming out...

Outside at the paddock, I greeted Ariel and she happily walked over (usually she just looks up and puts her head back down to continue eating) and while I was leading her to the stable, she saw a pile of hay on the ground and put her head down to try and get some but didn't seem to get her footing quite right and nearly toppled over herself -__-' This is going to be an interesting lesson, I bet.

Ariel was pokey and lazy this evening so I really had to push her along and keep on her to stick to the corners. The warm up was more of a challenge than usual in the sense that I had to keep pushing her along. Our canter was mildly uncomfortable for both of us and it was a little more on the stiff side for me because I wasn't giving with my lower back to swing with her motion and did create some counter movements against her.

Since we were riding with one of the young (more accomplished) riders, we got to do some jumping and it was inconsistently messy for me. Sometimes I was able to flow through the ride and other times I was struggling with just keeping Ariel straight. We missed a jump once and keeping in the corners as she was supposed to was a challenge too! She was cutting corners and falling in and pulling some jumper turns (yikes!). When we took turns with the courses, I moved Ariel off the rail onto the grass and at some point, her level of agitation was reaching a limit and I had difficulty getting her to re-enter the arena... to the point where one instance, she took us both into the indoor arena b/c she said "I've had enough of these bugs!". I was mortified. She not only made me feel like I was going to fall off, but it was clear she was taking over and Sheri had to come and get us both.

This mare has a way of teaching me to keep a thick skin...

To reassert my intentions and my status as leader of our little herd, I insisted her to get into the out door arena and then take a proper canter around the arena on my terms. Sheri firmly said, that that sort of behaviour is not acceptable and that Ariel needs to learn to suck it up and listen to her rider, not what she wants in this circumstance.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Eating for Charity

I try to live by the famous quote from Ben Parker of "with great power, comes great responsibility". Humans have such great capacity to do amazing things (or horrible horrible things) that it makes sense to be responsible. All of our choices even on a mundane granular level such as where to go for lunch will impact the greater picture.

During the day, I work for a large, for profit organization but in my off time, the things I enjoy doing usually surround the not-for-profit sector or those that are not nearly as lucrative. Why? Because I believe that there are causes out there that warrant attention and devotion. I'd say I'm like most people where what I do during the day is something that pays the bills--we all gotta eat. The causes I provide my time and money to are those which are (not surprisingly) in aid of animals. Perhaps I've met just one too many poor examples of human beings to care about a cause specific to people's well-being, but I have yet to meet an animal that I perceive that way. The reality is that people can do something about their situation and change it--animals, not so much. As well, much of the poor animal situations are caused by poor choices of people.

In addition to the fictional Ben Parker's sentiment, another personal value that strongly resonates with me is "participation is appreciation". I got this one from an unlikely source when I worked with a dragon boat coach whom I could not stand, on a good day. His difficult personality and our regular clashing (and occasional bouts of my murderous rage induced by his entire being) taught me a lot about patience, tolerance and devotion. It was a life changing lesson for me, to understand and realize what it means to volunteer your time for something: those who participate and take advantage of your time will generally have no idea the amount of work and effort that goes in, for mere seconds or minutes of "fun".

Over the weekend of the 23rd, I wanted to show my support of one of the girls at the stable, of her work with the cat rescue that we adopted little Stanley C. Panther from. She helped organize a charity all-you-can-eat spaghetti dinner. These types of grass roots fund raising events always brings a good feeling for me because you see how sincerely dedicated people are, to the event and cause... before all the commercialism and lame stuff starts to take over. One of the grandmas made all the meatballs (amaze-balls!) and the cooking was done by the actual volunteers and they had cat grass centre pieces. The various dessert items were also donated by volunteers' families or themselves!


In case anyone is curious (or looking to help out or even adopting), the rescue we were supporting is the NCWL Cat Rescue (of the west GTA area).

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Lessons #178 & #179: Therapeutic Riding

For weeks, I have been struggling with back soreness and pain. I did work on the lawn and yard over the long weekend so I probably have miserable posture but in addition to that, my back loin muscles have been killing me. Yesterday was particularly rough because I could not find enough concentration in my being to get through the work day. I was really looking forward to my lesson because I knew that I'd have a better back just after sitting atop Ariel.

Sunday's lesson was no better... it ended up being pure flat work because I just couldn't muster the physical ability to do much else. I always start out stiff and uncomfortable even if I do some mild stretching prior to hopping on. My mid back was giving me issues that led to the forward leaning position which meant more work for Ariel to do anything that requires her to lift her front end. J had me canter with the reins in one hand and my other hand raised to the ceiling to ensure that I wasn't leaning forward.. somehow I managed--to lean forward, that is. The only good that came out of that exercise was that because I was too busy balancing on everything else, I let go of my hips and I actually swung with Ariel's motion instead of against it.

Yesterday's lesson on the other hand, we were jumping. The young rider M rides very well and everything just flow for her. Yes, I'm absolutely jealous of her lack of physical barriers. I on the other hand, struggled with staying up and sitting back and the jumps were not pretty. One time, I had a brain fart and just couldn't decide which way to turn after coming out a jump and Ariel and I were doing our last minute thing of "Hello? Where are we going? um... the rail is coming up kinda fast. You still there? Oh whatever, I'm going this way". I nearly fell off, but totally my fault. Another instance, I have no idea what was happening but I couldn't make the jump in time with her and it was really messy and I fall flat on her neck and also nearly toppled off. It was a messy lesson, to say the least. However, I was still able to do it in a canter for the most part and wasn't over thinking the jumps (thankfully small) and just went with whatever came at me. Sheri reiterated that fact too and reminded me that adults have different challenges than kids do... and one of them is the physical limitations just b/c of years of bad posture or favouring one side or something like that.

Despite all that, my back and hips always feel 110% better just by sitting ontop of Ariel. Even if we're not moving. The burning and soreness is gone when I am ontop. It's better than going to get a massage or chiropractor to look at my old bones. On another thread, I brought the mini-Ariel in to snap a shot with Miss Ariel herself! I don't think she appreciated being copied (though never duplicated!).


Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Time to Relax

I've been wanting to get to this ceramics and glass fusion place for months, to do something different and use my hands and brain in a different way. You don't need to know me personally to know that I am heavily analytical and tend to be a big left brain. You know what they say about not using something... it shrivels right up and dies. I was obviously concerned about the right side of my brain. Maybe it's like half the size of my left brain. LOL.

I am left brain dominant
It was time to do something to challenge my right side. I took my two good friends with me to paint ceramics. We spent several hours there picking out a figure, picking colours and then sitting down and actually doing the work of painting our little figures. It's no surprise that I picked the same thing most little girls do, for their birthdays: pick the little horse to paint (though the cat came close! I'm taking +ADW with me to do that! :)).

Stage 1: base colours
What else would I do but paint a horse that looks like Ariel! Although she's mostly white, I pick an off white colour to be the base coat. If you're like me and do something that is heavily analytical and methodical, this is so much fun. I'm not completely abandoning what I like to do, but combining what I excel at and the artistic component of my being.

Skip a bunch of 'stages' and here I am, before firing her up
The painted areas become light once painted and dried so it's tricky to tell but with my left brain in full gear, I'm methodical enough to remember what I did in each area. The only thing I noticed AFTER I painted everything is that because I tack and mount on Ariel's left, I actually am not sure what her right side looks like. I got a few things wrong but that's okay... it's the effort that counts :)

The fired Ariel! (and her 'friends')
It looks pretty awesome! So awesome that Stanley thinks so too:

I'm looking forward to going back because it was surprisingly A LOT OF FUN!!

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Lesson #176 & #177: For Every Good Lesson...

I swear the universe is very clear with me, to stay humble and keep my sight on the ultimate goal and not let hubris interfere.

Thursday's lesson had a young student (M) riding with me, who has been doing it forever. So, as usual, it's kind of intimidating... especially since her mom is also there. The people at the stable are really great so I never feel judged (even if they are, and that's okay!). This kid has been jumping well for some time but her pony was a little off this time around since a new pony mare has been challenging all the other horses! We kept it low and casual but still ended up jumping courses.

I am told to watch M's position during the canter and how she perches in a half seat with only her seat moving with her pony and her top half remains quite still. On the other hand, I'm all over the map so I focus to keep my upper body still. For some reason, it's physically more of a challenge than usual but I persist at it.

When we get into the course work, I have to remember to maintain the control and collection that is needed around certain corners. I also need to go straighter into the jumps. All things that will be worked on and will come in time. By the end of the lesson, Sheri congratulates me on the progress I've made... since I originally really wasn't too sure how far I'd get, to jumping full courses. A fantastic way to enter the end of the week (especially the week I had been having...).


Onwards to Sunday's lesson. What a mess. LOL. I guess it was the Universe's way of reminding me that for every good lesson, there is bound to be at least one more not so great lesson. This was it. The warm up was fine until we were asked to move into the canter. I was really tight in all the wrong places this lesson so there I was, in corners pushing and demanding the canter from Ariel but she was having none of it and just sped up which distracts me and I start bouncing around more on there and leaning forward on her forehand--and making it difficult for her to get into the canter. Just one thing after the other!

I refused to add in the artificial aid of the crop so I continued to just push and push... I probably shouldn't be stopping if it isn't working but I admit I had to. Next time, I just need to pull myself together while bouncing around up there and not letting Ms. Ariel win!

As expected, the jumping suffered as well. I was unable to keep my heels down and thus landing on her neck. It was simply, a mess. But, I'm going to take away the need to ride it through and keep Ariel going because I'm going to be the one to win--not her. Sit back and just keep going.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Lesson #175: Success, Phase 1

How long has it been since I made that goal? It's been close to a month's time. I simply wanted to be able to get through a full hunter course at 2'3". And on Sunday morning, I did just that. I cantered the entire course of verticals at the range of 2'2" to 2'3". We built up to the course by doing the usual jump by jump. I started with a vertical on the diagonal that was taken away from home. Sheri added a second one that should have been the wood vertical taken away from home, then at F, continue towards K and come over the green/white vertical near H. You know I'm new at this because I took the wood vertical towards home and continued on a broken line to the green/white jump at H. That was SO not what I was supposed to do.

Sheri is good at taking your mind off of what's happening and just quickly building up the course until I was doing exactly what we intended. After that diagonal away from home, then coming along that vertical station around H, I continued along C and up the other quarter line going over 2 more verticals with a spacing of 5 strides. I needed to collect Ariel enough to ride into the first jump so we could take off with a good distance and there shouldn't be a chip in. The last two jumps was a line on the diagonal from K to M. This one was required me to also collect because of the vertical I was coming off, at F towards A basically had me to a tight turn around. I had to tell myself to sit up and collect Ariel enough so that we wouldn't go through the entire thing in a mess. I haven't learned to change the striding between jumps like that but I have learned enough to collect upon approach of a line. It isn't pretty, but it's still successful in the sense that I made it over.

Hot dog! She did it.

At first, that diagonal line was taken at the trot and that is already a struggle to do because Ariel doesn't want to slow down. Despite that, we did get through it and managed the final canter the entire course. HOORAY! The next goals would be... take these turns on the left rein too... because I do believe the entire course was actually on the right rein--which is actually my better side as I have my left side able to compensate and appropriate direct Ariel. That makes total sense.

Now, in addition to that, I will need to make the actual position look pretty. If I was being judged in an equitation class... I don't think the judges would even want to watch the rest of it because it was so messy: arms flying about, armpits open, legs flailing around... I just didn't look collected. So now we refine.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Lesson #174: It ain't pretty, it just looks that way (for now)

Ariel seems excited to work this evening when I arrive because she's standing at the gate when I go out to her paddock to get her ready for the lesson. And we all know, this mare would rather be eating. I have a good feeling about things so we quickly get ready and hop into the arena to get started. The garage door is open so I ask if we could do some stuff outside (I'm itching to get out on a hack). J walks out with me to do a brief warm up in the outdoor arena. The outdoor is larger than the indoor so getting a 4 loop serpentine is very doable and because there is only a couple poles and a set of standards, there is plenty of room to get going. Immediately, Ariel is on high alert when we step outside and I see that she's looking every other which way. J says Ariel is not a fan of going out in the dark so it's my job to get her to recompose her horsey brain and relax.

What was that?!
My riding is definitely improving because it doesn't take long for me to calm Ariel down and get her brain back in check with being focused on what we're doing instead of being paranoid about every single rock, tree, rustle or corner. Once we're good there, I move into the canter around the arena and on the right rein, I experience difficulty balancing and keeping myself in check even though she's going at a good pace and just calmly moving forward. When a video is taken, we see that my lower back is just going against the motion and I seem to be "leading with my chin". I just need to recalibrate a bit more so that I'm not leaning forward as much and (surprise) relax my lower back. Although I knew I was struggling, it was helpful to have the video footage to see what I was doing.

It still isn't bright for as long of the evening so we return indoors and start on jumping. We waste no time and get right into it. I'm told to start on one jump at a time until we build up to 3 jumps. My main focus at this point is to keep my heels/weight down, especially upon the approach and remaining in a half seat. The rest of it doesn't look pretty, I'm sure but at this point, I know it's the main thing that I need to work on. The rest is details that will come together with more practice and refinement.

There is one thing that seems to give me trouble, during this lesson: I am coming off a jump towards K and I need to make a turn towards A then F but can't seem to get Ariel to ride straighter towards K and then make the appropriate turn without falling in. I suspected it is my seat that is becoming unhinged and causing her an inbalance that causes her to fall in. We know when I've done it wrong because she doesn't get enough space to get the balance to do the flying change in the corner. Sheri says, in the hunter ring, riders are expected to use the space so they can keep their horse balanced in corners and all that fun stuff--setting them up for success.

I try repeatedly until Sheri just gets up and becomes the barrier to the falling in. It is successful in the literal sense but not good enough for me because I needed an aid. I get off for the night remembering that I need to use my seat better to rebalance Ariel and myself when we are coming out of the jump.