Sunday, July 26, 2020

The struggle of falling out of practice

I walked into this new barn...
...for my first lesson with a new trainer...
... I haven’t ridden with any manner of consistency since February...
... that was 5 months ago...
...I haven’t **cantered** with any consistency for, well......

Ok. So when was the last time that I jumped??
I pondered this for quite a while. It must have been 2016. So, 3 years?
NOPE! It’s 2020. It has been 4 years since I’ve jumped. 
Surely, she’s not going to have me jumping my first lesson. I mean, she’s going to have to get to know me and whip me into shape and get me riding like she wants me to...

So, I arrive in plenty of time to watch the previous lesson wrap up. Young girls are hopping adorable Welsh ponies and the occasional Thoroughbred over classic hunter-style fences. There is a gymnastics exercise, an outside line, and a slightly bending diagonal line. 
She’s tough on these girls. By that, I mean that she asks for exactly the exercise she laid out, and she expects the girls to to do the work to gain their mounts’ cooperation. 
She is also fair and compassionate. She sets them up for success with a less-complex exercise before sending them on to a more-complex exercise. 

I’m introduced to “Cherokee”. She’s a cute little chestnut Quarter Horse mare with a kind eye. She’s already tacked up and waiting for me. All I have to do is get on and start warming up. 
Cherokee has a REALLY P-O-K-E-Y walk. I feel like I have to actually *kick* every other stride to keep her walking. Holy cow... How is she going to coach any kind of riding for me if I can’t even keep this horse walking??
We start trotting, and I’m DEFINITELY kicking to keep her trotting... Well, there’s no pony stick at hand, but we’ve got some spurs! Let’s see if that makes a difference!
Sure enough, when I have to nag just to maintain the trot, I applied a little spur. Cherokee was unimpressed and continued to require nagging. So, took my spurs, lifted her rib cage, and said, “Look mare, I mean it! I refuse to work HARDER than you just to trot around the ring!”
In response, Cherokee said “Oh! No problem!! I just wanted to make sure that’s what you REALLY wanted to be doing!”
And I didn’t need a spur after that!

We spent time finding suppleness and stretch, we spent time finding balance, then we did a little bit of cantering. I tried to find the right combination of cues to get a nice transition. I used my inside leg to lift the shoulders, I used my outside leg to maintain the bend and strike off, and I used a touch of rein to help her balance... but I was still missing some ingredient for a smooth depart...
Coach said “Try scooping your outside seat bone!”
Oh, holy wow, the difference that made!!
And it was indispensable on our circles!!

My core was already crying a little as I tried to maintain good balance and position, follow my horse’s annually broad back, and incorporate details like “scooping my outside seat bone”...
Then, Coach sent me to the fences!
We started by trotting into the gymnastic line, and she said something that spun my world around: “Ride the back get to the fence...”
She said it as if she were talking to herself, like it was something she would think to herself as she were riding the same approach...
It never occurred to me which end of the horse I was riding to the fence! I think I was inadvertently riding the FRONT end of my horse to the fence!

Over the next several fences, that single statement made such a difference, I had to tell her about it. She said, “That’s fantastic! Another one I say a lot is ‘wiggle your toes’. It really seems to make a big impact.”
Well, now, I had to ride to the next fence and try to wiggle my toes!!
Oh, what a feeling!!!

We continued on over who-knows-how-many jumps and combinations. Coach was gushing about how fancy Cherokee was looking over the fences. At one point, she expresses, “You have beautiful hands, and Cherokee just loves the space you’re giving her to work in.”

You could have knocked me over with a feather. It came to me as the greatest compliment I have ever received. It was exactly the confidence boost I needed that day. 
I had walked in with doubts about my fitness (proven to be lacking), doubts about my abilities (unfounded), and doubts about what my new coach would think of my abilities (unfounded).  

Moral of the story:
Don’t let your doubts stop you!! Charge on ahead and tackle the challenges as they come!

Man, it felt great to be jumping again.....

Monday, March 16, 2020

I may have done a Thing... a while ago.....

So, I bred my first horse....

You may remember the adventures of the Perfect Pink Pony (aka - Whisper)...

After much deliberation and some happy circumstance, I embraced the opportunity to breed her for my very own foal!!

I had hit the road to start a new job, so riding and competing went on hold for a while. We didn’t have a purebred stud picked out for Whisper, so I bred for my half-Arabian in 2017. 

It was all I could do to keep up with the pregnancy while continuing to learn the finer points (frustrations) of the new job and gallivanting all about the countryside. Next thing I knew, we were only a few months away from impending birth, and I didn’t have even one name on the list of possibilities!!

So, I made a list of possible traits that we could expect:
- colt or filly
- chestnut or bay
- solid or spotted 

So, that would mean one of 8 combinations:
- solid chestnut colt
- solid chestnut filly
- solid bay colt
- solid bay filly
- spotted chestnut colt
- spotted chestnut filly
- spotted bay colt
- spotted bay filly

Does that mean my list of possible names should have at least 8 on it??

There’s a funny story told by the group that I work with. The punchline is: Whenever someone asks about our system, the answer is always “bad barcode”.  Now, you wouldn’t believe how many times we run into bad barcodes in my line of work.... I got to thinking that no matter how the spots lined up, my scanner would never be able to read it.  So, if I got my spotted bay filly, I should call her “Bad Barcode”!
...then, I got to thinking about the other extreme... what if I got a solid chestnut colt???

...Bad Barcode... 🤷‍♀️

In the end, it turned out that only one name was going to be on list of possibilities for this particular foal.....

And on March 28, 2018, we welcomed into the world the first horse I ever bred:
Arabian Breeder’s Sweepstakes nominated
Half-Arabian solid bay colt
SEP Bad Barcode

Tuesday, February 25, 2020


I’m sitting in the truck. I’m not driving. I’m in the passenger seat. 
I have insulated muck boots on. I’m wearing my down coat. It must be winter. 
My vest is... on the floor? It looks kind of dirty. I must have fallen off of a horse. 
The display in the truck is showing a name that I recognize. Dad?
I can hear his voice over the speaker. Oh, good. The people that matter are being notified. I’m going to be OK. 

(Why did he buck you off?)
“Because he’s an asshole.”
“Yes. I surround myself with assholes.”
(Hey, wait!! Are you calling me an asshole??)
“Well, yes. Yes, you are.”

I take a deep breath and lean back into the seat...


I’m sitting on a bed of some sort. The tiny “room” didn’t even have a door, but the curtain is pushed all the way open.  
I’m wearing insulated muck boots. I’m wearing breeches. I must have been riding. 
I’m not wearing my vest... I’m not wearing my coat... I’m cold...
There’s a collar around my neck........

I must have fallen off of a horse...

I want to lay down. Can I lay down?
(Yes, but don’t go to sleep.)
I cover up with my coat. That’s better. I’m not so cold now...
Something is poking me in the back of the head!
(It’s probably the collar)
Can you take my bun out?
(I guess so. How’s that?)
Oh, MUCH better! Thank you!!!


Why do I have to sit up?
(These nice ladies are going to take you for a scan.)
Oh. Ok. 
Did they put me in a wheel chair?
Oh, lay down on this table? Ok. 
Don’t move. I’ll try.....
I keep rebooting, you know.....
I don’t mean to be uncooperative...
Oh, look! That’s the scanner machine! I guess it’s not an MRI because I’m still wearing my watch.... I wonder what that thing is moving in the slot there.....

Oh, we’re done? Great!
How many times did you have to restart the scan because I forgot to keep still?
Oh. I must have done really well. I wish I could remember....


I’m in the cubby again. This feels familiar. The curtain is open. 
“How many times have I rebooted?”
(Quite a few)
“I’m tracking time, now.”
(Oh, really.... What time is it?)
“... I don’t know...”
(What day is it?)
“... I don’t know...”

I have to pee. 
“I have to pee...”
(Let me get the nurse)

“Yes, I think I can pee in the cup. Can you help me? I just need an extra hand...”

“Can you just hand me the cup after I’m situated? Ugh! I forgot about this collar!”
(You have pee all over the cup - and your hands!!)
... I want to cry...
“I’m sorry.... I forgot about the collar!! I can’t actually see what I’m doing!!”
(It’s ok. I’m here. Let me help you with the toilet paper...)

I’m sitting on a bed. I want to lay down. 
Yes, I can lay down. 
Oh, look. There’s mud on the bed! I must have laid down here before. *sigh*
Where is my vest? I’m cold!
I’m covering up with my coat.... That’s better...


They are taking the collar off. There’s no bleeding on my brain. 
Oh, good!
Can we put the collar back on??? It feels better when it’s on... my neck doesn’t hurt as bad, then.......

There’s no blood in my urine. They can send me home now. 
Thank goodness!!!!
Does that mean it’s ok to sleep now?
Oh, thank goodness!! I’m exhausted!!

I can walk. 
We walk out of the ER, and I manage to climb into the truck with plenty of assistance. 

(You need to take a shower)
Ok. Am I capable of that?
(Why don’t you give it a shot and find out?”

My neck hurts. 
My left shoulder hurts. 
My left arm hurts. 

I peel my shirt off and it’s COVERED in dirt down the RIGHT side... so why does the LEFT side hurt????

Somehow, I managed to get clean...

We picked up dinner on the way home. 
I *DEVOURED* dinner....
... I guess I was hungry...

So, tell me what happened again?
(You were riding Cupid. He bucked your ass into the dirt. You swore you were ok and got back on the horse. We finally talked you into getting off. You put the horse away. And I took you to the ER.)

I’ll never remember that part.....
It’s been 21 years since my last concussion. At least I was wearing a helmet!
....I’ll be replacing that ASAP....

Thursday, April 21, 2016

"How are you not sore?"

“How are you not sore after falling off??” MK asks me incredulously…


This was the actual question posed to me.

Yes, I fell off.  At the horse show.  In my class.  And I was disqualified.

Round 1 - Fence 3
My flippant answer to “How are you not sore?” was, “I work out.”
While it was initially spoken in jest, I think there’s some truth in there.
I put in a gajillion braids...
Because I’m following a complete workout program, my core is regularly and thoroughly worked and challenged.  Therefore, when the Fancy Pony slammed on the brakes, my core was available to hold me in the middle (for an extra second, anyway).  That extra second allowed me to slow my forward trajectory to better match my pony’s lack of trajectory so that I sort of fell onto her neck and just rolled on around until I landed in the dirt.  I wasn’t grabbing with out-of-shape muscles to stay on, so they were fully available to do the job.  It’s not like you use those muscles when riding is going well…  Thanks to my integrated cardio-weights workouts, they were available just how I needed them!

The story gets better though!

I like this one!
While I was eliminated from my first round, I still had a second round to ride.
We made it a little further this time…

I sat all my refusals without falling off.

I had a few nice jumping efforts.

I had a few not-so-pretty jumping efforts…

You would think we hadn't practiced at home...
I had this incredible save!!

Stay in the middle...
Just call me Karen?
Now, what you may find difficult so see here, is that I’m hanging off of the left side of my horse by my right knee and elbow…  Somehow, I was able to channel my inner Karen O’Connor and sit right back up!
…And re-approach the offending jump…
I’m pretty sure I just straight up choked in my first 3’ hunter class, but I learned.  I learned more than I imagined I could in those few short minutes.  And, now, I’m back home to implement the lessons learned while pushing just a little further out of my comfort zone.

after my second refusal...

Because if we don’t push something, we won’t grow.

Let's keep in touch!

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Thursday, April 7, 2016

How Working Out Impacts My Riding

As you work your way up the levels of your chosen riding discipline, you may find the your body becomes less and less cooperative...  The parts just don't seem to do what you told them to do...  Or what you *thought* you told them to...

Do you follow a workout program, or do you just stick to one thing all the time?
(such as running, biking, walking, whatever)

I've been following my programs that:
 - change up the muscle groups that get worked each day
 - include cardio components
 - schedule in stretching and flexibility
 - establish core strength and stability

You wouldn't think that any of that really affects my riding one way or another...
But, when it comes down to upping the ante, I'm realizing it *is* my own solid foundation!

Working out increases my confidence!
Now, I don't fully understand why breaking a sweat each day should make any difference in my confidence, but I still notice a difference.  I think body language has much to do with it.
Check out this TED Talks Life Hack by Amy Cuddy!  If you get a chance to watch the video, I highly recommend it!
I think exercise puts me in power poses (and for more than 2 minutes at a time) and contributes to my increased confidence.  I don't have any other science to back this up.  It's just a hunch.

confidence to stick with my horse when she puts in an extra push!

Working out heightens my body awareness at all levels!
Are my heels down?  Are my hips even?  Am I sitting up straight or collapsing forward?
These questions get easier to answer by feel when I'm working out.  Out of the saddle, I'm finding all of these tiny muscles between the big muscles and slowly becoming aware of all my body parts in relation to the rest of me.
In triangle pose, I feel squished between 2 panes of glass, but when I look up, my right shoulder is a bit forward.  So, I figure out how to bring it back in line.  That translates to square shoulders in the saddle.  Because I work on it every day.  At home.  Out of the saddle.

awareness of my position so that I stay centered and out of the way when we take off from a bad spot!
(I can't see that expression without cracking up!!  LOLOL)

Working out improves my posture!
Whether I'm lifting weights or stretching into a yoga pose, I must put my body into alignment.  The actions themselves slowly install a muscle memory of balanced body parts.  Squats, especially with weights, push my weight into my heels, helping them stay DOWN when I'm in the saddle.
Resistance training teaches me to keep my chest and chin UP.
Yoga and Pilates help me keep my spine and pelvis aligned.
Because I'm training every day.
Bonus - it improves my posture OUT of the saddle, as well!

Working out solidifies my balance!
Oh, the crazy things I do at home! Yoga balance poses.  One-legged squats.  Side plank.  Chair pose!!
The better my balance is, the easier it gets to stay out of my horse's way when we work.  And when I can get out of her way, she truly becomes brilliant!
As the muscles get fatigued, my ability to balance declines.  By pushing my limits out of the saddle, my muscles gain endurance.  If I fall out of a pose at home, it's not going to impact my horse.  I can push harder and harder - all the way to my limits!  Then, I can push those limits farther!
When I get back in the saddle, I have more to offer my horse.  More stability.  More balance.  More quiet allowance.  More partnership.

I'm putting as much effort into our performance as my horse is!

Working out manages my pain.
I am a rider with a chronic back injury.  Bulged discs never completely heal.  By maintaining my core strength and flexibility on a daily basis, acute flare-ups are shorter and less painful.  It helps me build what I call "coping muscles".
Recently, my back was so tied up, I couldn't sit the canter.  I had a performance to give. Since I couldn't sit the canter, I cantered in half-seat.  I had the strength to do that much, at least.  The flexibility comes and goes, but I continue to train it anyway.  I learn how to work in a way that protects my injury while still being effective.  The hurt goes away faster.  The muscles remain more pliable.  I remain functional!!
That doesn't mean I never have bad pain days...  I still have occasions where some outside force that I have yet to identify lays me low and all I can do is take NSAIDS and lay on the couch and wait for the spasms and ache to pass.  But it's no longer taking DAYS to pass.  It seems to only take 24 hours or less.  Then, I can step right back into my routine.

It doesn't mean we're perfect, but it does mean we are both doing our best!!

Shameless Plug
I'm not at my ideal weight, yet.  I don't have a 6-pack.  I modify and work around chronic injury and pain.  I like bread and chocolate and ice cream...
Despite all of that, I am succeeding at a pace that works for me.  I am sustaining small, consistent improvements.  And I am helping others do the same thing!!

Thursday, March 17, 2016

KYB Dressage Presentation

I was able to sit in on 3 of the KYB Dressage presentations at Equifest Kansas! Yvonne Barteau has a quiet, confident teaching style.  Life goals: lesson with Yvonne Barteau!!

For her Friday presentation, she recruited me to help! I headed into the arena with 2 strings of twine for a short talk about contact. I held the one end while Yvonne held the other and talked about different kinds of contact. She had me play a distracted horse, and demonstrated how she reestablishes a connection. I should have been wearing my go pro to take note on later!!
I am the kind of girl who shows up to these things with notebook and pen, so as soon as my time holding the twine was done, I scrambled to the bleachers to take notes!

First and foremost:
Establish a connection you can call "home base".
Yvonne explained that the connection will vary from horse to horse, but before anything can be addressed, that connection must be established and agreed upon.  Obviously, I'm paraphrasing...

connection and the half-halt
Then, we moved on to Flexing.  This is stabling the bend through the entire body (not just the neck).  Hind legs track the fronts on the circle and corners.

Try a radial turn:
Flex the horse left, then move both hands a little to the right - the shoulders will move right.
I felt like this exercise, without saying as much, was the cornerstone to capturing the shoulders and keeping them in line.  It seems like it gets pretty easy for the shoulders to pop out and you're left with a straight spine and a bent neck.  They riders played with this concept a bit.

Add leg to turn a radial turn into a leg yield!
How easy it sounds!  I can feel it in my body, and I'm not even on my horse!!

Change flexion to turn your leg yield into a half pass.
Really?  Is it really that straightforward?  I haven't had a chance to try it yet, but you know I'm going to!!

Do it in trot and canter, too!

Pirouette and move the shoulders out.
She went into great depth with the demonstration horse about the mechanics of the pirouette.  She explained how they will step into the pirouette with great balance and power, then will start to fall in with the shoulders in the second half.
So, do 2 steps into pirouette, then head straight out of it.  By moving the shoulders out, the horse is less inclined to fall in.
I'll admit I was completely engrossed in the tiny details unfolding before me to take any more detailed notes...  I'm sure pirouette is going to be a little while for us, anyway.

transitions within the trot
My notes are brief, but I broke it down to the essence: Give to the bit - go to the bit
The half-halt only lasts one second!  DO NOT hold the half-halt!

Initially, ask for the half-halt with the body.
If it doesn't go through, ask again with the body and reins.
Ask again if necessary.
DO NOT hold the half-halt!
Give to the bit - go to the bit

flying changes
Dressage through the levels:
I forgot my paper and pen, so I took notes on my phone!!

'Sit in the bend!'she said.
OK.  Wrote that down.  Pondered it.  Watched...

Discussing haunches in:
Always sit in the bend, however awkward!

Ride the trot to the halt.  Don't stop riding the gait just because you have another gait coming!

"You cannot change the subject by changing the gait." Said to the horse who would rather extend the trot than collect the canter.
Change the gait, fine - but the lesson of collection is the same.  That's the subject of conversation.

Shoulder in - oh, you want to canter?  OK, but continue to do it in shoulder in!
You get the idea.
I've been saying this to myself every ride since!!

On lead changes:
Collect, then change the lead.
Ask for the change, then ask again - ask if the lead is, in fact, correct.
I have some ideas for implementation on this idea, but I haven't had the chance to incorporate them into our work yet.



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