Thursday, July 29, 2010

Coming home to Grace

I am incredibly grateful for Grace today, maybe a little more so than every other day. I had a rough day yesterday and it meant the world for me to come home to her last night. I am a big believer in positive thinking, Law of Attraction and lots of other feel good stuff. I’m finding my rainbows and unicorns approach to life to be much more enjoyable than always looking on what is lacking or always assuming the worst cast scenario is fast approaching. Still I get stuck over not having control over inanimate objects. Somewhere in my mind I am pretty darn sure that I am Wonder Woman. Then this week my truck breaks down and I am rendered useless. To add to the stress, each day that the truck is not running my husband becomes increasingly cranky. He told me last night that he just doesn’t see me using the truck as a daily driver. Not sure what is wrong with his eyes, because I love that truck and it is my daily driver!

My truck is more than just a vehicle; it is a symbol of my freedom. The idea that at any given moment I can hook up the trailer, load up Grace put Belle in the front seat and just go. It’s also my dream car, while others might want a BMW, Corvette or Mercedes; I’ve always wanted a 2000 F250 with a 7.3 liter diesel. It was with my husbands help that I was able to purchase the truck last year when a co-worker replaced it with an F150 King Ranch (which I still refer to as his girly truck!).

My frustration comes from not being able to fix it myself and having to rely on others. This means I have to admit that I am not Wonder Woman and I cannot do it myself. There is also the stress of the potential repair bill depending on what is wrong with the truck. Right now we are guessing that there is some water or air in the fuel line, but it’s been 2 days of continually recharging the battery and still no start. But I don’t want to stress out over the money thing right now (rainbows and unicorns) I’d rather tell you how great Grace is.

Last Thursday night I hauled Grace up to Diamond Hill Ranch for free jumping. Sarah set up a chute and we ran several of the horses through it. We kept the fences low for Grace as the goal was just for her to get the rhythm of going through the poles and over the small cross bar. At first she thought it was free lunging trail course. She stopped in between the poles, and then did a 360 before proceeding to step over the cross rail. With a little encouraging she figured out how to go though the chute and over the cross rail. On Saturday I set up lope over poles at home with one elevated pole to lunge her over. Every time she came out of the poles her lope was better. It’s been fun to watch her figure it out. She rocks back on her hock and lifts her back in order to make the distance between the poles. Her lope even sounds better; there is a clear one, two, three rhythm to it. The best part is how good she feels under saddle.

So last night after my stressful day and driving home with cranky husband who was less than thrilled that he had to drive back the way he came from work to pick me up, I got my Grace fix.

There is a spot along the driveway as I walk up to the pasture where I habitually take a deep breath. As soon as I let it out all the worries from the day disappear and I see Grace. She stands at the bottom of her pasture and waits for me, always greeting me with the same low nicker. It always makes my day. I didn’t brush her off or tack her up right away last night; instead I spent time rebraiding her mane. There is something so therapeutic about playing with my horse’s mane. It seems to bring me into the moment, which is were Grace lives. I went ahead with the bareback pad last night and headed to the arena. We had a great warm up, Grace was soft and supple and I was able to stay with her keeping my low back soft and my ab muscles engaged. I then loped her in a circle over a single raised pole. It’s only 4 inches off the ground, but she has to get there in a rhythm in order to make the distance. It works best when she keeps the same rhythm on the entire circle instead of adjusting her stride at the last second. We worked on this over the weekend in the saddle and on the lunge line. Grace nailed it last night. The raised pole became less and less of a jump and more of the lope over it was intended to be. Her lope improved with each circle. It wasn’t until we were finished that it dawned on me that I was riding bareback. I had loped my horse over a raised pole (small jump) bareback. I hadn’t done that since I was 11 years old and injured my back in a fall while jumping picnic benches bareback in the pasture. That fall was the first big blow to my confidence and I think I’ve always unconsciously carried it with me when I rode. So here I was last night, loping over a small jump without a saddle and staying with my horse stride for stride. As we walked another cool out lap around the arena I reached down and patted Grace on the neck. I then reached back and patted my own back. Breakthrough!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Getting Fit to Ride

Last Friday I went back to the gym. I hadn’t been there in over 3 months. I had convinced myself that getting out of bed at 4:30am was for the birds. Last week when I went back, I was smart enough to time my return to the gym to coincide with my Birthday Spa Day, which was the next day. I’ve been on again off again member of a Body Pump Class for the last two years. I believe I am now ready to be consistent with my exercise program.

My pattern has been to go consistently for a few months and then drop off the planet for another few months. I can tell myself that I am too busy, too burned out, or too tired, but the truth is I get lazy. When I was in my early 20’s I didn’t need to think about being fit, I just was. I worked outside all day cleaning stalls and riding horses. I lived on Top Ramen because that was all I could afford to eat. When I got married, I got a real job, but was on my feet all day and still stayed fit, even though I could now afford more than Top Ramen.

Then in the last few years, something happened to the food I ate. It was more processed and had more additives, almost all of the processed food I put in my body had High Fructose Corn Syrup added to it. My body quickly turned the processed food into fat and I was no longer fit. I was no longer comfortable in the clothes I wore, I hated shopping for jeans!

The final straw was a month ago when I asked my husband to take some pictures of me while I was riding Grace. When I looked at the pictures on the digital camera, all I could think of was “who is that fat lady riding my horse?”

I love food! I love good food with lots of fat, cream and starches. I married a gourmet chef who loves to cook for me! I love sugar, and candy, and ice cream. I remember when I was taking a Boot Camp class when I first started going to the gym, the instructor said I would never loose weight if I didn’t change my eating habits. That I could work out all I wanted, but if I continued to feed my body with garbage, that it would not change. Well, that was the last time I took her class!

When I get consistent with my workouts I feel amazing. I attend a Body Pump class three days a week before going to the office. When I get to the office I am energized and ready to take on the world. Little things my boss does no longer drive me crazy, and I am still awake and have plenty of energy at 2:30 in the afternoon. So I have to ask myself, why is it that I continually quit. Again, I am forced to look at my diet. When I work out, I naturally start to eat better. When I feel good, I no longer want to put food additives in my body. I ask my husband for more vegetables at dinner, and he no longer has to sneak them into my spaghetti sauce (yes, he did that!) Somewhere while feeling good, I get tired, overwhelmed and I start eating junk. High Fructose Corn Syrup to be specific. The latest culprit was soda. We keep a fridge full of it at my office. What started out at one a day became two, one with lunch and another at 2:30 because I was getting tired and I had a head ache. When my husband and I would go out to dinner, it was a Cherry Coke, with a refill. Next thing I knew getting out of bed at 4:30am wasn’t a high priority. As of today I have not had a soda in 10 days. I have again cut High Fructose Corn Syrup out of my diet. Grocery shopping takes forever, but I feel so much better! I’ve been making better food choices, instead of a handful of Doritos, I eat organic carrots. Instead of chocolate or something sweet, I eat organic soy yogurt. I’ve been doing this for 10 days now and after day 2, I no longer craved soda or sweets. I feel good in my body again and I swear my clothes fit better.

So how does this relate to Grace? She is my continued inspiration for taking care of myself. I’ve always considered Grace to be an athlete. I ride her 6 days a week in the spring, summer and fall and at least 4 days a week in the winter.I feed her the best hay and
vitamins The grain I buy for her is not covered in molasses. The woman I bought Grace from had a barn full of beautiful, healthy, shiny horses. I asked her one day what she fed them to get them to look that good. She explained that it has as much to do with what she didn’t feed them. She would not feed them anything that she would not eat herself. No, she didn’t eat hay on a daily basis, but the idea behind it was she didn’t feed her horses feed that was full of additives and sugar.

I consider Grace to be more that just my horse, she is my partner. I always ask her to give me her best and she delivers. I know that she has pushed through pain for me on many occasions. The least I can do is the same for her. I know that when I am fit, I am a better rider. When my core muscles are strong, I am able to engage them and allow my back to stay soft. I can carry more of my own weight, which is less work for my horse. I think for me the most important point that I need to remember is that when I’m fit I feel better, not only physically, but mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Wasn’t it once said that the body is a temple?

Friday, July 9, 2010

Back to Basics

Grace and I are about to make a big breakthrough. I can feel it!

2 weeks ago I had a lesson with Sarah. We did some exercises to get Grace to engage her hind end. It was amazing to see and feel the difference. Grace was sound behind, and happy in her work. I continued to practice through out the next week with some level of success. I felt that Grace was improving, but I was struggling to ride the new movement, especially at the lope. In our next lesson a week later, it was very apparent that I was the problem. No matter how hard I tried, my lower back would get tight and my legs would shoot out in front of me at the lope. I became very frustrated, which is how I know that I am about to make a break though. I have been riding like this for years. It’s only now that I can feel how absolutely awful it is. How is my horse supposed to lift and soften her back when mine is tight and ridged? How is she supposed to move forward off my leg, when it isn’t even making contact with her sides? So now that my brain is acutely aware of what needs to be fixed, how to I get my body to listen?

This week I have been riding Grace in a bareback pad. Nothing connects me to my body faster than getting rid of the saddle that sits between me and my horse. I also put Grace in her Little S hackamore. It has a fleece covered adjustable leather nose band. I like the Little S because it offers a lot of flexion and lift, and with the soft nose band I am not going to hurt my horse. This way if while trying to find my seat, I commit the cardinal sin and hang on my reins, I am not going to abuse my horses mouth.

First off, I think I need to give myself a break. I am being hard on myself because I want so desperately to improve. I have to remember that for the last 20 years I hardly ever rode bareback. It was only a year ago that I loped Grace bareback for the first time. I did get a lot of practice in this winter though, Sarah took away several of her students saddles and had them ride bareback to improve their seats. I am grateful to have been one of the chosen. I will say that after the last 3 days of bareback, I am incredibly confident without my saddle. The lope is by far my favorite gait right now. In the last three days I have been able to feel how out of whack my body was. I started to remember tidbits of clinics I’ve done in the past with Peggy Cummings. I found my connected seat again.

Today I went to Peggy Cummings
website to order one of her books. There is a before and after picture of a dressage rider. He asked his horse to come though in his natural way, while the rider was bracing his body. There is a quote from the rider where he says “This horse is lazy” then there is the after picture where they got the rider to change his body and quit bracing. His quote now is “I have never felt my horse this free ever, he doesn’t feel lazy” This really caught my attention because on our first bareback ride this week Grace felt lazy. She would not respond to my leg. I finally used a dressage whip to get her to move off it. I had to spend the next 5 minutes getting her to settle down. What didn’t change in that ride was me; I was still tight and bracing in my back. How could she move freely under me?

Last night I caught Emile Faurie Master Class on RFD-TV. It was an episode of Horse and County TV. I had a big light bulb moment.

Emile Faurie Masterclass - Episode 1

I really encourage you to watch the entire episode. There are some amazing gems in there, it's like getting a clinic with a Master for free!

Here are the paraphrased quotes from Emile that hit me up the side of the head:

Most important thing – horse wants to go on the bridle from their back end

When people learn to ride on horses that are not naturally built to be on the bit, what happens is that they bring them onto the bit from the front end from the reins.

What we’ve got to do is to encourage everybody to bring them from behind onto the bit

The worst thing you can do is to try to bring them onto the bit from the hand and as such pull them onto the bit.

It is from the walk trot walk, trot canter trot, walk halt walk, so that they get used to the half halt.
The Trot Canter transition is the most beneficial thing to do with a young horse to teach them to swing through their back

Ok, So I know this, I've heard all of it all of my riding life. Yet still I lost it. Somewhere along the way, I got out of balance. I then started to rely on my hands. I quit using my leg. When I tried to use it, it didn't work because I was still out of balance. Even when my trainer tells me to use more leg and less hand, my body does not follow.

Somewhere along the way I quit doing transitions while schooling my horse. I added a bunch of cool bells and whistles, but stopped doing tons of transition work in my daily rides. So tonight in the bareback pad and hackamore I did transitions. Lots of nice, quiet, balanced transitions. Do you know what happened? My horse relaxed, she stared to come though from behind, off my leg. She went onto the bit, in a hackmore. Her lope work was really great, but even better was the trot after the lope when I added my leg though the downward transition.

See, I told you, a breakthrough is coming!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Pictures of Katie - Shhhhh don't tell Grace!

As promised, here are some pictures of Katie.

OMG, isn't she cute! See that ridiculous grin on my face? That's what it is like to ride Katie, she's just lovely, I can't help but smile!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Helmets - I wear one!

I’ve noticed an increase in helmet conversations online this week. Fugly ran a blog Fugly Horse of the Day about irresponsible parents who let their kids ride without them, Courtney Dye-King gave her first interview to Dressage Today since fracturing her skull from a fall with no helmet, and Nichole Aichele a 17 year old girl who recently broke the world record time for a standard barrel pattern is getting a lot of attention because she wears a helmet in competition. WSU Article

I grew up riding English and my helmet was just part of my tack. I never got on my horses without it, good thing because I rode some pretty rank horses and spent a lot of time in the dirt! One of my worst falls was at Pony Club camp right before my 13th birthday. I was riding with Olympian Todd Trewin who allowed me to jump the training course on my horse Tana. My horse took it all in stride, but when it came time to jump the “Giant’s Bench” a 3 foot high 4 foot wide table, I got nervous and was too far forward over the fence. My little horse over jumped the solid fence and I went over her shoulder and pile drove my head into a rock. I felt fine at the time and continued to jump the rest of the lesson. The next morning, I could not lift my head off my pillow without the entire tent spinning. Later at the hospital I was told I had a concussion and that my helmet saved my life. It took the rest of the summer for me to fully recover from that fall. My helmet was cracked right down the middle. That would have been my head if I had not been wearing my helmet. I continued to have other falls in my youth, including one off Bailey, the Warmblood gelding I had before Grace, where I hit the back of my head so hard I had memory loss. At the hospital when looking at the eye chart, I could see the letters, but forgot the names of some of them. That one got my attention!

When I started riding Western Pleasure, nobody wore helmets. Falls were few and far between. The horses were quiet, moved slow and kept all 4 hooves on the ground. It wasn’t long before my helmet was buried at the bottom of my tack trunk. I began to love the feeling of the sun in my hair on a trail ride, or the breeze blowing through it on a beach ride. In 10 years I only came off Grace twice, the first time I was jumping so I was wearing a helmet.

I put my helmet back on one year ago. Several things came into play. First I had a Facebook friend who would comment on every one of my helmetless pictures. We had done Pony Club together as kids and she was not happy that I no longer wore mine and she had no problem telling everyone in my Internet world. Then the dressage trainer down the street told me a story about a friend of hers that had just come out of a coma. She had fallen off a nice quiet mare “just like mine”, it was a freak fall that no one expected. Then a regular on a Barrel Racing forum died from head injuries sustained in a fall while schooling a horse at home.

And as most things in my life come full circle, Pony Club Camp was back at the saddle club by my house. The Saddle Club has a helmet rule, even for adults. I had been breaking it on a daily basis by not wearing one. For one week out of the year the Pony Club moves in. I live next door and they allowed me to use the arena in the evenings. I had a barrel pattern set one night, and I couldn’t help but notice an increase in my confidence when wearing the helmet. Somewhere in the back of my mind had been a fear about running full speed to a 55 gallon drum with no protection for my head. After 5 days of wearing my helmet, I was comfortable with it. I continued to wear it. I wore it to barrel races, on trail rides with friends and to flag team practice. Last weekend I wore it at a horse show, while riding in Western tack.

I understand the argument that riders want their freedom and they do not want to be told what to wear. For me personally it is no longer “fashionable” or “cool” to not wear my helmet. I am rather attached to my brain. I use it on a daily basis and I do not desire to have to learn to walk, talk and feed myself all over again if I can prevent it. I do get very concerned when I see the little kids at the rodeos and barrel races sitting on mom or dad’s horse without a helmet. For the few kids that do wear them, I appreciate that I can set the example that it’s ok to continue to wear one even after you turn 18. I know my head did not become magically invincible on my 18th birthday.

Pony Club is back this week for their annual camp. I don’t have to give a second thought about putting my helmet on, as I feel naked without it. I don’t miss the sun in my hair; but I do like not getting hit in the head by the low hanging branches on the trail. I don’t miss the breeze from the beach, I rather appreciated how it keeps my head dry in the rain. has organized Helmet Awareness day for July 10th 2010. If you are in the market for a new helmet, that would be a good day to buy one as many retailers are offering discounts that day.