Thursday, December 27, 2012

On 'Being Broken'

It's bad enough when the pain level reaches the point where every move makes you wince.

It has been a long time since I have lived in this level of pain. Eventually, the mind accepts pain as part of one's existence, and the body begins to compensate. I have gotten rather comfortable in a tilted walk...
That, however, isn't the worst part.

Sometimes, people look at me walking, and I can see them trying not to wince in sympathy...
The hardest question for me to answer is "Are you OK?"
Well, no, I'm not OK.  My life is not in danger, and I am not having a medical emergency.  On the other hand, I am not functioning within established parameters.  A couple of Tylenol will not do anything to help me.
I have some classic moves these days.  When I get out of a chair, I have the "pregnant lady push".  You know, the maneuver where the hips and belly precede the rest of the body, sometimes with a supportive hand on the back...  Typically, this is followed by the "old-lady-needs-a-walker waddle" where I shuffle along, gaining 6 to 8 inches each step, bent over through the hips and waist, sometimes leaning on walls, tables, or counters as I go.  When I finally return to some semblance of upright, I find my right side somewhat collapsed, my left side over-stretched to compensate.
You can see the pity, pain, and sorrow in other peoples' eyes...

I was feeling particularly lithe one day as I was tacking up to ride.  I thought I was on the mend!  One of my fellow boarders looked at me and said, "You're still walking funny..."
Another shining example of adjusting to the imbalance and pain.

How ironic that I end the most exhilarating season I've had in years and progress to this condition of limited functionality?

I see a specialist in the morning.

I do not accept that this condition is permanent.
My goals for 2013 have not changed.
My approach might just need a little adjustment.

Saturday, December 22, 2012


I was getting back into the swing of grooming, tacking, riding... I really used to take for granted my ability to pick my horse's feet. These days, I pray I can get it clean before a spasm hits and destroys my carefully calculated "hoof picking position".
Cold weather moved in.
Then, ice and snow came!
With the cold weather, I slowly became more disabled again...

Today, my husband put my socks on for me. Thank you, honey!
I hobbled from my car to the house after completing my barn chores.

It would appear I am out of the saddle. Again.
Back to Tiger Balm Therapy!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

well, folks...

We have walk, posting trot, and canter!

...but, I still can't quite put my socks on...

I was celebrating as I worked with a new coach!  There are lots of reasons to celebrate.  One of them being that I can throw a leg over my horse without it killing me!  Another of them being that I have eyes on the ground.  To make it even better, the owner of said eyes is classically trained!  She doesn't even hold it against my horse that he is an Arabian.  She has an open mind, too.  I am a fan of creative problem-solvers, and it sounds like she is right up there with the best of them!

She watched my pony go around in circles in the half-lit arena.  Funny...  She never once addressed my position in isolation...

Lesson #1: ALWAYS carry a dressage whip.
OK.  I can do that.

She told me I was holding him up.  This was NEWS to me!  I was thinking, "Gosh, isn't my pony so light in the bridle?"  Yeah.  Apparently, that lightness is just relative.  He's so light compared to the shoulder-dislocating monster that I started with years ago...  You know.  The one I couldn't ride in a snaffle if I wanted to survive stop.
So, we rode a few more circles, and I practiced dropping him on his face.  He started getting the idea.  Impulsion improved!  Hooray!
The only comment she ever made about my position: Once we had more impulsion, my leg came back to the girth where it belonged.  That before, my leg was a little back due the constant drive I needed to provide.

Then, we established a connection where his front end actually lightened.  I felt the difference.  It was not the same back-raising feeling I had become accustomed to, but I think I can recreate it!

We rode some circles with ONLY the inside rein and inside leg.  And leg yielded.
Then, we rode some circles with ONLY outside rein and leg.  And leg yielded.

I learned that I almost-sort-of-nag in the leg yield.  Instead, I began to understand how to use timing to my advantage.  Our leg-yield improved!

Then, she got on!
And told me that he was very wiggly when it came to riding into a connection.  I have to say, the picture was not classical!  But, slowly, I saw my horse transforming!  First, she rode him into a frame that looked more like something I would see on a High School Lipizzaner!!  He would drop behind the bit, she would sent him into the connection, then he would wiggle up above the bit...  It was a very interesting dance as he wandered and wiggled all over the map, while she just continued to ride him into the connection.  Then, suddenly, he looked like a dressage horse!  With a lower frame.  Less Lipizzaner.

OK, so I discovered that my dressage horse doesn't actually take a connection (he cheats), he doesn't turn properly (he cheats), and he hangs on the right rein (which might actually be me not providing enough resistance!).  But the biggest news of all?

I don't know how to stop my horse.

I have to train my horse to stop in a completely, totally, ridiculously different way.  Totally counter-intuitive.  What does she say?
Squeeze with your knees.

All right.  I'm starting over.  I officially no longer know how to ride my horse!  ;)

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

on-going process

Also known as: it is about the journey, not the destination

I haven’t been in the saddle for a couple weeks. I’ve been in pain. I did ride bareback last week!

At the walk.

For 15 minutes.

Then I was done.

So, my physical therapist says my sacroiliac joints are out of whack. The left one moves too much, and the right one doesn’t move enough. The solution to this? Strengthen my core. *sigh*

I’ve been strengthening my core since 2003.

So, let the healing process begin. It will be slow. Painfully slow. Because my day job requires me to sit.

At a desk.

All day.

I’m still measuring progress by whether or not I can put my own socks on. Once I can put my own socks on, progress will be measured by whether or not I need to medicate on a given day. In the meantime, I’m left to train in my mind.

I’ve been training with Jean Froissard. He has been expounding on the differences between the French and German schools while demonstrating how they are both classical horsemanship. He also breaks down, very simply, the purpose of each aid for a given movement. That doesn’t mean the horse is going to do what you asked if you use the aids just so… Which is why he also explains the building blocks to teaching your horse how to respond properly to each of this aids! Yes, Yes. I’m reading his book. I am still mentally processing his explanation of the “5 rein aids.” He describes the outside rein acting as a “neck rein” which flipped a switch in my brain and resulted in one of those ‘AHA!’ moments. Having Western riding experience, it made perfect and completed the picture of how to encourage the horse to “fill the outside rein” with his neck.

I’m also training with Jane Savoie! She makes great information available through her website and weekly e-mailings. One can only apply so many new tid-bits at a time, so it’s nice to have the weekly letter with some new idea or even just a reminder of what you should already know. Jane is a big fan of testing to make sure the horse is holding up his end of the responsibility.

I rode again this week. Bareback. I knew it wouldn’t be a long ride, and my horse is so fluffy and warm…

Anyway, since I knew I would be limited to mostly walking and a tiny amount of trot, I tried to focus on testing our basics. Is he truly on the bit? I apply the connecting aids, and then I feel the lift and give, so I slacken my inside rein. He stayed bent and on the bit! For something like 7 or 8 strides!! On top of that, I felt as he started to give it up (before he totally lost it), so I could apply the aids again. I’m sure he was confused by that slack inside rein, but I always forget to test that super-basic tenant. Lucky for me, the old man is usually happy to play along with whatever craziness I throw at him. He’s not thrilled with the walk-only work. His favorite gait is canter. So, he is not-so-patiently waiting for us to get back to more interesting work…

Monday, December 3, 2012


What is wisping, you ask?
It is an old school grooming technique. When I say 'old school', I mean really old.

So, you take some old hay and twist it up a bit until you have a lump slightly bigger than your hand.
How to make a wisp

Then, you wet it in a bucket of water and proceed to beat the meaty parts of your horse with it.
mine might be little big

So, I proceeded to beat my horse about his meaty parts. He didn't run away...
In fact, I think he liked it!

And bonus! He is also a little cleaner!!

Friday, November 30, 2012

The only one

I am the only person in my barn currently riding "English." In fact, I have been working on several people to ride dressage with me. So far, I am failing. I think it has something to do with breeches at the shows...
I've recently started helping a friend with her horses. They live at a different barn, so I meet her there once a week or so.

I am suffering from barn envy. First, it was the facilities.
Full size outdoor arena
With jumps and more jumps!
Indoor arena
Another little indoor area to ride in
Tons of stalls
What appears to be acres of pasture

Then, it was the people. While lots of them are western pleasure people, the rest are EVENTERS!

The people at my barn are either barrel racers or trail riders. I think they pretend not to hear when I talk about things like "shoulder-in" and "half pass."
Lately (ok, more like 'for the past year and a half'), I have been complaining about my horse's resistance to maintaining a right bend. I typically get a blank stare in response.
So, maybe I need to find some like-minded riders who are interested in the same sport.

My friend says she is interested! She isn't even ready to jump yet. She is still perfecting her posting trot. And learning the letters around the dressage arena. I'm hoping to have her show Intro A dressage in the spring!
Part of me really wishes I was at an English barn. I really do feel like "the only one" where I am.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Trial and Error

I love dressage.  Truly, I do!  I came to it as an adult.
When I was just venturing into English riding, in my teens, I asked those around me about dressage.  I basically got responses such as:
“Going to a dressage show is like watching grass grow.”
“You have to have legs of steel to do dressage!”
“Why would you want to?  Dressage riders are snobs and don’t think anyone else knows how to ride.”
Can you imagine why I didn’t find my way to it sooner?
In high school, I ran across “The Complete Training of Horse and Rider in the Principles of Classical Horsemanship” by Alois Podhajsky.  I read it cover to cover.  Several times.  I now own it and it sits on my bookshelf.  Except for when I’m reading it.  Yet again.  But, that first time I read it, I hadn’t made the connection between “classical riding” and “dressage.”  All I knew was this book made sense, and this is how I want to ride and train…
At one of my very early schooling shows, I was entered in a hunt class on a horse I had been riding in lessons.  In my lessons, I had been instructed to ride in a running martingale.  So, of course, when I tacked up for the class, I included the martingale.  I did not know, then, that they weren’t allowed in the show ring.  Someone caught it and informed me before my class.  Luckily we weren’t eliminated, but I began to wonder: why train that way if it isn’t allowed at the show?
I bought my first horse when I was 20!  Yup, I still have him today!  In fact, he is going on 22 years old, and eventing with me!!  He seems to enjoy it just as much as I do, if not more.
Anyway, I bought my first horse.  I quickly learned that he could (and would) run through any bit I rode him in.  I got lots of advice, including: draw reins, running martingale, twisted-wire snaffle, side reins, get him off the alfalfa, lunge him until he’s tired…  Isn’t it funny how many of those are “training aids”?
One trainer I rode with taught me that fundamental concept of riding from inside leg to outside hand.  She also taught me how to encourage my horse to stretch toward the bit.  Pretty basic, right?  I’ve been riding since I was 5 years old.  Why had no one taught me this before?  I still didn’t connect this to “dressage.”
Another horse show.  English Pleasure – Open.  It’s a good sized class.  We’re trotting along, looking all hunter (and passing every other horse on the rail) in a ground-covering trot…  When the judge asks for extended trot.  I close my legs, open my fingers, and feel my horse surge forward and swing!  And we continue to pass every other horse on the rail.  We actually won that class!  We also qualified for state championships that year.  But the most exciting thing was the feel of that extended trot!!  I’m a slow one.  I still hadn’t connected it.
Fast forward a few years.  I set a goal.  I wanted to actually ride a dressage test.
I read everything I could get my hands on.
I read the tests.
I read the rulebook.
I tracked down local schooling shows!
For several years, I didn’t have a horse or a ride at the same time as a show.  I also failed miserably at recruiting partners in crime.  I guess no one I ride with is interested in dressage.
However!  I’ve finally gathered that I’ve been riding dressage all along!!  Yes, it is a sport.  Yes, it is a specific horse discipline.  But, really, it is a school of thought and a state of mind.  Maybe it is even a state of being!

So, having failed for years to actually compete in dressage, I finally decide enough is enough.  I’m getting there one way or another.  Long story short, my first dressage show was a sanctioned show.  I spent way too much money.  My horse was not in top form come ride time after sleeping on concrete.  He spent nearly the entire weekend above the bit.  I brought home ribbons.  I brought home tests.  I studied the judges’ comments and learned quite a bit!  And I brought home resolve.
I am on the right track, and we continue to improve!
I am still looking for a partner in crime…

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Shorten those stirrups!

So, my own jumping saddle (a Crosby Prix de Nations) has proven to be too narrow on my aging gelding.  It just doesn't fit him the way it did in his youth.
So, I've been borrowing a wider jumping saddle.  It fits great!  It sits beautifully!

The stirrups are as short as they'll go.  And they're wrapped once!!

Now, I've only shortened my stirrups one or two holes from dressage length to ride hunt seat or over fences.  Of course, we've only been jumping in earnest 2'6" or so.
And, unfortunately, the old man only jumps as big as he has to in order to clear the fence.

So, still not having learned to shorten those stirrups as I set my sights higher....
One evening, as dusk approaches, we were popping over a rail at 2'3" or so.  You know, itty-bitty.  Perhaps the light wasn't right for him.  I'll never know.  But, every time we launched over that rail, it was as if he were jumping 3'3" !!
I mean, he threw me out of the tack, every single time!

So, I guess I had better get some shorter leathers for 2013...

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Seconds, Anyone?

After getting a real taste of the sport of Eventing, I eagerly looked forward to my second, and last, schooling show of 2012.

We were obviously too late in the game to worry about things like memberships or sanctioned shows for the 2012 show season...

I went into our second show with 3 goals:

Goal 1: no “counter-flex” on our trot circle to the right – achieved!
Unfortunately, he also wanted to jump into canter every 4th trot stride…  Not so helpful for consistent connection or impulsion. L

Goal 2: ask him challenging questions on the stadium course – achieved!
I forgot to take into consideration his aversion to jumping uphill, so he refused jump #3 after I asked for a very tight turn out jump #2, which had also come after a very tight turn.  These are all things I could work on if I had a jump course at home, rather than just one jump.  Yeah, did I mention that I only have one jump at home to practice over?

Goal 3: Ride a fast(er) XC course with no refusals or run-outs, and canter through the water (last time he only trotted) – achieved!  We incurred 0 (yes, that’s right, ZERO) XC penalties – achieved!!

I won't take you over the course again, but this was from an e-mail to my mom describing our cross country run:
"I rode a fire-breathing dragon on the XC course.

We were within time (and Holy Cow did it feel fast!) and he never even blinked at a single jump.  In fact, it was as if he remembered every jump, and he charged into them!  I think somewhere, he figured out what the XC phase was about.  He ran like a demon, and I worked like hell to bring him back a little before each jump.  Of course, I brought him well back before the jumps he had refused last time to make sure I had him between my legs and hands.  I took a very long approach in collected canter (which meant that I must have really been racing somewhere else to make up the time) on one jump in particular.  Not only did he canter through the water with little resistance, he actually pushed out of it straight for the next jump!  Despite riding that mile or so long course in 5 and a half minutes, I was still holding him back…  Only because I wasn’t sure I could bring him back to me if I allowed him to really open all the way up.  The difference was, this time I BARELY held him back, where last time, I kept him in-control the entire ride.  There was one long section between jumps #5 and #6 that I did allow him his head (fire-breathing dragon!) and I had a long enough stretch to actually consider “Am I crazy?  What has possessed me to gallop at breakneck speed across an open field and jump these things that won’t fall down?  Is this really what I want to be doing?”  Then jump #6 came into view, he zeroed in on it, and I felt a resounding “Yes” to my last question.  I guess technically, that makes the answer to the first question “yes” as well!  LOL
Then, we approached jump #14 (remember the one where I explored that non-traditional jumping position?).  His ears went up, and he charged right up to it and launched right over it!  However (poor pony!) I heard him knock a back leg on it pretty solidly.  He’s never done that before, although he has pulled rails down by dangling hind legs.  I bet he doesn’t make that mistake again on the XC course!!  He cleared the stone wall with ease and went roaring to the finish line.  Needless to say, it took a while to get him stopped. You think he was grinning last time, you should have seen him yesterday!"

I guess you either love it or you hate it.  If I wasn't hooked after the first time, I most definitely am hooked now!!
Did I mention we got 5th place?

Saturday, November 24, 2012

My first taste...

This summer, everything came together and I rode my very first horse trial.  It has only been 13 years since it first occurred to me to try it, let alone try it with this horse!  But 'eventually' is still better then 'never'!
I chose the beginner-novice level to make our eventing debut.  At a schooling show, of course.
First up: Dressage!

In the rain.
The old man doesn't seem to care...

We enter the ring and begin our test.  One of the judge's comments was:

"Good corner"

The ring felt so small compared to our practice space at home.  It felt like the geometry was easy to make accurate.  Of course, that could have something to do with letters actually being there...  But the test felt great!  And we looked like we actually belong there!!
Beginner Novice Dressage Test B

We scored a whopping 33.34 points on our dressage test!  I am thrilled!
Then we waited for Stadium Jumping.  In the rain.

At least we look like jumpers...
Finally, we get to go!  And, look!  I think the rain has stopped!

 Into the combination, slightly down hill 

Over the oxer - he LOVES oxers!

Save time and take the gate at an angle?  No Problem!

Did I mention I had a huge fan club turn-out?  Well, I did.  With every success, the stakes get a little higher...
I remind myself that the entire point of today's exercise is to expose myself and my horse to the sport.  Oh, yeah.  Don't get hurt!

I explain to the fan club that I can start my cross-country course at any time, now.  Do they want to find a good spot in the tree line to watch?  How long should I give them to get re-situated?  About 15 minutes later, I start the cross-country course.

Will I remember the course?  I don't actually have to make any drastic directional choices, do I?
We start in a nice, easy hand-gallop.  I don't have any idea how fast we should be going for optimum time, so I aim for controllable and calm.

First up is a (1) tiny log jump.
Oh, you want me to go over that? he asks.
Yes, please.
Oh, I suppose so...

Then comes the first real (2) coop He's ever been faced with at competition.  It looks so solid!  There are tiny spaces he could run out on either side, framed with trees.  I felt his eyes get huge!  He didn't so much "back off" as he really gathered himself under and launched over the coop!  He gallops out the other side, as if he is saying, "Oh, yeah!  Bring it on!"

And so we did.  Our next fence was sort of skinny,as there was a tree in the middle of it.  It has a decent uphill approach, but it looks like an (3) ascending oxer, so he hops on over it!

Next came a barn-like structure, or perhaps it is a (4) raised coop.  He wasn't too sure, as the approach wasn't straight from the line out of the last jump.  He got a little wiggly.  I convinced him he could take it.  Really.

The (5) rolltop on top of the hill was wiggly right at the last second. 

Never mind!  I don't like it!

Add 20 penalties to our score...  The second time, he decided that perhaps it wasn't so bad.

Then came a (6) combination of roll-tops!  Or perhaps they are hog sheds?  He's cruising right along as they come into view, and I'm worried about a repeat run out.  He closes in on them and seems to put a lock on the middle of the first one.  He launches over it, 3 strides and launch over the second one, and we're through just like that!  What a rush!  He's found his stride, and I'm regaining my confidence that he'll jump!

The (7) bank is so tiny.  He gallops right up it without a second thought!

Back into the wide open, he is truly galloping!  He doesn't even blink at the (8) ramp-painted-like-a-shark's-tooth!  I looked at it pretty hard every time I saw it!!  He didn't care.

I expected a look at the (9) steps, but those didn't phase him, either!

He slowed up a bit for another (10) roll-top/hog shed thing, which made good sense since we had a hard right turn as soon as we landed.  This line took us straight into the water, where we just trotted through the puddle.

A few strides out of the water, we have another grand (11) coop.  Even though the line is a little questionable, he hops right over it, ready to face the next one!

By now, my old man is feeling quite happy in his work, and seems to be getting the idea of what this is all about.  We head on over a (12) rounded, table-like structure with some space under it, right up to a (13) stack of cord-wood.  Perhaps I was getting a little to complacent, or perhaps he just doesn't like taking new-looking fences on uphill approaches...

He ran out again at another (14) round-topped, shed-like structure.  This is where I explored a "non-traditional jumping position."
This is where you hang from your horse's neck with only one stirrup (my left, in this case), while hanging on for dear life with the other thigh (my right, in this case), because you know that if you reach the ground, you will be eliminated.  I refused to be eliminated on my very first try ever.  I stayed on by sheer force of will, then doubled around to take the fence again.  Which he jumped with no problem.  Did I jump ahead, or did he just get so caught up in the galloping that he forgot to look for the jump?

On our merry way, we take the last obstacle, (15) a stone wall, just as easy as can be, and gallop across the finish-line (finish-burm?) to report our 2 run-outs to the XC judge before cooling out.

Yup, he's smiling!

We're hooked!  We love it!  I can't wait to do it again!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Obligatory Meet and Greet

I am a lifelong equestrian.  I have been riding for as long as I can remember...  That means approximately 30 years, at this point!  You would think that I would be a master by now!  Alas, I am not.

But, I continue to learn!

Horses are my passion.I have cleaned stalls to pay for my riding lessons.  I have read (and continue to read) tomes on riding and horses.  I study riding theory (we can probably agree that this means classical dressage).  I have ridden horses that obviously know more than I do.  And I have spent hours upon hours in the saddle attempting to apply the things I learn and discover.

This summer (August 26, 2012 - actually), a dream came true.  I rode in my very first horse trial.  And I rode it on my first horse!
This dream began during a ride when my horse was very naughty...
I was riding in a pasture, my horse attired in western saddle and a bosal bridle.  As we cantered along the back fence, he pretended to spook and bolted toward the barn.  I got him stopped and turned around, so I tried the canter line again.  This time, there was no spook, just a naughty dive and bolt for the barn.  This time, there were no brakes.  We were headed for a creek that bisects the pasture.  As the drop-off approaches (think of it as a drop bank into water jump), he shows no sign of slowing or changing course.  When the bank is obviously unavoidable, I wonder if he will stop or jump.  Then I wonder if I want him to stop or jump...  No idea!  So, I prepare for both.  In the last stride, I settle deep into my seat, grab the saddle horn, and push my hand (and the reins) forward up his neck.  My 8 year old horse sails out and drops into the water.  He gallops out on the other side as if he hasn't a care in the world!  Oh, my  - how exhilarating!!  I thought,"He could be an event horse!  If only the jump had been my idea..."
Thirteen years later, we both try it for the first time!

I invite you to follow me on my journey as I enter a new sport.  Eventing.


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