Thursday, December 29, 2011

Look what I ordered!

I saw the Liberty Neck Ring in a Linda Tellington Jones book years ago. Penny had shared the book with me when I first started riding with her. 10+ years ago it was only a far fetched dream, this idea of riding bridleless.

 Last night at the end of our ride, I took the bridle off again. This time we loped in both directions, changed directions all over the arena at the jog and even did a lead change. I'm learning pretty darn quick where the holding issues are in my body. The left lead issues are actually in my right hip.I also have found that without the bridle I have to fix anything that is out of balance on the first stride, with the bridle I tend to let it go halfway down the arena before correcting it. Now as soon as I feel a change in rhythm or my horse drop her back, I know I have to get it back. I also now understand how my hand position totally relates to my horse's way of going. When my hands are too low as they often are when I hold the reins it causes my upper body to collapse which puts my horse on her front end. When I hold my hands a few inches above the horn, keeping my elbows bent, it allows me to keep my upper body upright - this allows my horse to step up further from behind. Turns out every little thing I do in my body really does effect my horse's movement.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Bridleless Christmas

A dear friend of mind emailed me a video of her dancing with her horse who also happens to be named "Grace" to Christmas music. Today I pulled out the video camera so Grace and I could send her and her Grace our Christmas best.

Our rides have been so good in the past week and I was pleased to see that I didn't throw it all away just because the camera was rolling. At the end of the ride I finally said "Why not" and took off the bridle. I could not be more thrilled with the results. Actually I do believe that Grace moved even better when I didn't have the ability to touch her mouth. Looks like we will be working this into our regularly scheduled training program.

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Straight Strong Sound Slow

3 months after not going to the Washington State Horseman Finals show I am able to stand back and really appreciate my decision. Grace and I have progressed by leaps and bounds during that time frame. In my last two rides I was able to get a very clear picture of what it was we were missing and why I was sitting on a runaway freight train in the show pen.

In all of our recent lessons the focus has been on straight, I quickly learned that before I could ask Grace to be straight I had to find straight in my own body. All of her crookedness is a compensation for my imbalances. As soon as I found straight I could finally feel just how crooked my horse was. Straight in my body is still something I have to work towards daily. I’ve allowed myself to get distracted by life and work over the last few months and have put my exercise program on the back burner. I started to lose the feel that I only had when I was straight. I put me back on top of the priority list; I have no intention of backsliding.

An amazing thing started to happen when Grace and I found straight, she started to get strong. Her hind end looks better than ever, I’ve caught myself standing back and admiring her butt like only a horseperson can. Her neck is taking on that beautiful swan shape, strong topline and a relaxed bottom line, the short fat angry resistor muscles are no longer front and center. From strong and straight soundness appeared. When I ride from straightness Grace’s step behind is even at all 3 gaits. I not only feel this but I can now see it in the mirror at the indoor arena. At 14 years old I do believe that this is the most sound this horse has ever been. At this time I have her working 6+ days in a row before giving her a day off, she comes off a day of rest ready to go and never misses a step.

Grace’s gaits have taken on a steady rhythm that I have never felt before. There is a level of consistency that I can only now associate with this horse. What at first were only a few strides became a whole circle and is now becoming the entire arena. The stronger she gets the easier it is for her to maintain her rhythm. More and more Grace is asking for a lower headset, gone are the day of constantly resetting her head position. When she does lift her head I only have to add leg to get her to lower it. Within the rhythm of her gait I am starting to feel the potential for her to slow down. All I have to do is slow my rhythm down and she slows her beat to meet mine. I can see where this will require more strength and balance on my part before I can ask it consistently of her, but for the first time I believe I have an understanding of where slow comes from. Straight, strong and sound are beginning to look like the foundation of slow.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Time spent in the saddle is never time wasted

Grace in her sleigh bells and Christmas lights

Horse time has been a real commodity for me in the last few months. As my job has demanded more of my time, my idea of being home early enough in the evenings has not been a reality. With use of the neighbors indoor lighted arena 2 nights a week and 2 days of groundwork sessions at dusk, plus riding both weekend days I am still able to keep Grace going 6 days a week. Grace is show fit and ready to go - in December. I was sidelined with a chest cold this last week. I was still able to do groundwork, but didn't get my much needed saddle time. I think I made up for it over the weekend.

We had a group lesson at Sarah's on Saturday. We've been doing these on and off since October. I'm really enjoying each lesson, I get so much more out of them by watching the other riders. So often Sarah will say something to another rider and the light bulb will go on for me. This week it was while talking about the outside rein. Sarah told me not to bring the outside rein to the horse, but to bring the horse's body to the outside rein. I had to use my leg, my hips and the rest of my body to push Grace into the left rein. I then got to watch as another rider struggled with the same concept. At one point during the lesson Grace got upset with the new concept. I've ridden her off my hand for so long that at first she isn't quite sure what to do when I start to use my leg correctly. As soon as she figures it out, she moves so beautifully all I can do it sit there and smile.... and add leg, stretch up tall, fill my back, stay straight and oh yes - BREATH!

On Sunday Grace and I meet Jeanni and Jasmine for a trail ride. Being so close to Christmas we brought out the sleigh bells and Christmas lights. Grace jigged early in the ride - but settled down at her usual point 20 minutes in. We had a great time, strolling through the beautiful wide trails, talking, laughing all the while listening to Grace's sleigh bells. Jeanni and I even wore Santa Hats! It never fails every time Jeanni and I trail ride together we always end it talking about how we need to do it more often. After my weekend rides I can't help but agree with the Winston Churchill quote  "There is Something About the Outside of a Horse is Good for the Inside of a Man".

At the end of our ride in Port Gamble

Year End Awards

I received a letter on Friday from the zone I belong to for Washington State Horseman. Being the end of the calendar year I expected it to be a renewal form. I was surprised to find my year end results along with a gift certificate to a tack store. I am not a point chaser, I never go into a show focused on points. It's just never been that important to me. This year I hauled to the sanctioned shows that the zone offered and only rode in 3 classes. When I received the invitation for the Year Ends Banquet, I didn't bother. There was no way I would place considering that my competitors rode in classes all day long. So I was really surprised to see that Grace and I received the Championship for Trail, Second Place in Trail 18 and over and Second Place in Western Riding. It's just icing on a cake, a cake I didn't know had been baked.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Good Ride Analysis

I had a fabulous ride with Grace last night. One of those rides that make me believe that I can actually do this, the horse I sat on last night is one that I would love to take in the show ring. I rode for less than the hour I had planned, she was so good I just had to quit where I was and get off her back. So I have to ask myself – what led up to such a good ride? I often pull apart the bad rides to learn from them and not repeat them, but what if I pulled apart a good ride so I could repeat it? So here it goes.

1. Our lesson on Saturday. I worked on the same exercises that we did with Sarah on Saturday, my goal was to capture that same feel I had in her arena.

2. Two days of Connected Groundwork – I spent Monday and Tuesday doing Connected Groundwork with Grace. During those sessions she found her balance and was telescoping her head and neck. Her movement behind improved dramatically over those two days. So I will ask it again. WHY don’t I stay consistent with that program?????

3. I didn’t touch her face! My new bit arrived in the mail yesterday. It is a DM Turbo Lifter with the swivel shanks. I was honestly afraid to touch my horse’s mouth with it. I’m always like that with an unfamiliar bit. Grace kept her head and neck level for most of the ride. She seemed very comfortable in that bit. When I did touch the bit I only had to use the lightest touch. When she responded she didn’t swish her tail or pin her ears, she just lowered her head.

4. I rode off my leg. I actually rode one handed for a good part of the ride – because I was afraid to touch Grace’s face. So I had to ride from my body and my leg. When I did pick up the outside rein to straighten her I added my inside leg. Grace not only went straight, she also stepped up from behind into the bit.

5. Perfect practice makes perfect. I took my time spending much of the ride at the walk. I had the arena to myself and made full use of the mirrored wall. At first our stops were very abrupt, so I worked on finding a better stop cue in my body. I also focused on keeping Grace’s shoulder in front of her hip when backing. Grace’s stops became cleaner and connected, as did her upward transitions. I didn’t throw a bunch of new stuff at her; I just worked on doing at better job of what we already knew.

I’m looking forward to our ride tonight, and the Connected Groundwork I already have scheduled for the following week.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

When I'm Sound the Horse is Sound

Years ago Sarah told me that Grace’s left hind lameness was a result of me riding off balance and crooked. I didn’t want to hear it at the time and I had no problem building a camp of people around me that disagreed with Sarah’s assessment. While I still hold to the belief that Grace was injured before I knew her, I know have no choice but to admit that my posture in the saddle absolutely contributes to my horse’s level of soundness. This was more than apparent at this week’s lesson.

I didn’t even know if I would get to ride during the lesson. When I rode Grace at the neighbor’s arena on Thursday night she was visibly off on the left hind. I made arrangements to haul to Sarah’s before the lesson on Saturday so she could check it out. My hope was that the hock was just “out” as the lameness looked similar to the last time she tweaked it. Sarah assured me that this was most likely the case. It turned out that Grace’s hips and her left hock were out. When it came time to ride I could immediately feel and hear the improvement. The left hind toe drag that had returned in the last week was gone. Onto our lesson Sarah had me start with the exercise that we had ended with previously, stopping on contact with a loose rein, backing up, sitting for a moment on contact and then walking forward. Sarah reminded me to prepare my body before walking off; fill my back, breath, engage my core and lift my sternum. Each time I took those steps prior to walking off my horse took her first step from behind. Each time I skipped those steps my horse stepped off in the front and carried herself on her front end. The position I was after reminded me of when Cherie over at Go Lightly called “keeping the water in your bucket” when describing the Mary Wanless clinic.

Onto the jog and of course I had to start all over again. It didn’t take long before I was out of balance and riding off my hands. Sarah finally got on my case and grabbed my arm so I could feel the difference between a light contact and being pulled on. I let her know that I go to my hand when it feels like Grace is running from my leg. Sarah reminded me to find it in my body again, slow Grace with my body and not my hand. The next time I felt her begin to rush I thought of that bucket of water, Grace slowed down. During the lesson we worked on straight. Going to the right Grace tends to lean out her left shoulder. Sarah had me correct her with the left rein and when I felt the need to add right rein I was to add right leg instead. An amazing thing happened; Grace went straight, slowed down and engaged her hind end. Throughout the ride I was able to string more and more strides together. As amazed as I was by the improvement I was equally frustrated. My horse IS sound, when I ride her sound; actually my horse is quite lovely when I get myself together. Once again I have some work to do.


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Winter Riding

It is now officially the rainy season in the Pacific Northwest; the monsoon moved in 2 days ago and has been nonstop. We expect a break by June or maybe July. Add the rain to the shorter daylight hours and this becomes the time of year when I wonder why I live here. I don't stop riding in the winter; neither Grace nor I do well with time off. In the past I've toughed it out in the rain or hauled out to an indoor arena. Last year my neighbor rebuilt their entire barn. It was a major undertaking and the finished product is to die for! It is a very private facility and I am incredibly fortunate to be able to ride there.

I met the owner on the weekend to sign the usual waiver, write the check for the ring fees and get the ground rules. The place is absolutely breathtaking, almost too beautiful to have a horse in. The new footing is a dust free synthetic mix of fancy stuff. It cannot handle any organic material or water. Hooves must be picked out before entering, as for horse poop - I'm just really glad that Grace rarely poops under saddle.

I've ridden in the arena for the last two nights. Grace was silly last night as I completely changed her routine by bringing her up there. I went the extra step with her hooves and wiped them dry with a towel before entering the arena. The first night I even took her tail bag out so as to not drip any water into the footing. We had a great ride tonight, Grace was much more focused and centered. I am in love with the mirrors in the arena, what a wonderful tool! I have a much better idea what what Sarah means by straight now. I plan to ride there two nights a week, outside on the weekends and if I get in some groundwork two other nights we are still at 6 days a week. Not bad for Winter.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Craigslist Find

At least twice a week I pull up Craigslist for our local area and search for "Horse". I have no idea why I torture myself by browsing the ads.  I'm not looking to buy another horse and by the time I've clicked on a few of the "must sale now" type ads I've lost all faith in humanity. I get rather tired of looking at skinny 20-something horses looking for their next home or the countless bottom of the gene pool at stud ads.
Today I stumbled across something I just had to have. A limited edition Hobby Horse show shirt in a beautiful shade of green. The colors on this shirt are so me! I wear a lot of greens, browns and other earth tones outside of the showring. It looks like I could pair it with either brown or black chaps. Can't wait to try it out next Spring.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Be Gentle - please

Since there are only 5 of you reading this blog I thought I would share a piece that I am working on.
Hopefully by putting it out there I will get to courage to just write the damn book already! Be gentle.

The small sedan passed through the gated entrance where the pavement came to an end. As the rental car’s suspension creaked and whined on the bumpy gravel road, it occurred to her that if she had been thinking clearly when the plane landed she would have gone with a Jeep. Thinking clearly was something she hadn’t done in weeks. A vast fence line sprawled out on either side of the long driveway holding behind it rolling hills of lush green grass. She began to breath deeper as she took in the countryside, a new long lost peacefulness washed over her. Separate pastures lined by white rail fences started to emerge as the long driveway continued to unfold. A small twinge of anticipation started in her stomach, “he” was here. In the distance stood a small herd of horses, their coats all the same bright red color, similar to that of the first changing leaves of fall. This was the spot on the property where most visitors would stop and stare. The horses red coats stood out against the green grass, each one groomed to perfection prior to being turned out. Long flowing manes and tails, gleaming copper dapples, each of them exceptionally conformed. To any horse person this would be a sight to see. She hardly noticed them; she took a deep breath to settle the butterflies that had begun to rise up. The dirt driveway started to smooth out as it climbed higher, she was getting closer.

The fence line started to change, painted wood post and rails were replace by more expensive white vinyl boards. Behind them was a vast single pasture, as least one acre in size. Another agonizing wave of anticipation washed over her, this had to be it, this was where he would live, separate from everyone else. The car skidded to a haul, the loose gravel giving way as she slammed on the brakes. He was there; she almost burst into tears at the sight of him. He had his back to her, but she knew it was him, she would recognize that hind end anywhere. Even after so many years she knew his body better than the back of her own hand. She remembered the rope scar on his left gaskin which he received when he was only 2, an injury she didn’t like to think about. There was the small indent on his neck under his long black hair often referred to as a prophet’s thumb. She began to recall every bump and mark as she drove further up the road, closer to him. She imagined the feel of his warm muscles under her hands, her fingers longed for the feel for the feel of his coat. Too long had her fingernails been clean, she was dying to destroy her manicure and any other part of her that remained in the corporate world. This was where she belonged, dirty in a field, under the vast blue sky with him.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Cow Sorting - with video!

Another week, another opportunity to get Grace on cows. This time I remembered to tilt the camera down.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Back on cows!

I really had hoped to have helmet cam footage to show you of today's cow sorting, but when I downloaded the 4 runs I filmed it was all of the arena ceiling. Looks like I forgot to tilt the camera down towards the cows. It's ok, this gives me an excuse to go back sooner than later it had been way too long since the last time Grace and I worked cows. I'm sure Grace thought we were off to another show today,  since I did spend time washing her mane and tail yesterday. I believe she was pleasantly surprised today when I took her to an unfamiliar arena with a pen of cows in it waiting for her.

After a text conversation with Sarah this morning I had a plan for my warm up. She had seen my recently shot video and pointed out to me that my horse was not straight, not tracking up to her front end with her hind end. She recommended more leg when Grace evades my hand by speeding up, to push Grace into the contact and getting her to place her hind footfall closer to her front footfall. The more I thought about it the more sense it made. Once I was on my horse it was interesting to see that my first reaction to her evasion has been to completely take my leg off. Today I added more leg when Grace tried to blow through my outside rein and low and behold the mare stepped up underneath her and went straight!

We were one of the first in the pen when it came time to sort. There were corriente cows that were new additions to the herd this year. They were numbered 2,3,5,6 and 7 and they liked to hang out together. My first draw was number 6. Every time Grace and I got close to it the little bugger would dive in under a bigger cow. I tried to push it down the panels but it would turn back and circle the herd. I felt bad for my partner who didn't even get to leave the gate. I intently watched as other teams worked the herd. The corriente's had a big space bubble and those that took their time with them had the most success. Our numbers improved with each run, but we kept getting dq'd by either cow number 2 or 3 slipping through the gate. On our best run we ha 6 cows in before number 3 slipped past. I was thrilled with Grace, she was a little hot on our first run, but still under control. She settled with each run, got more focused and best of all was moving up beautifully from behind. It always amazes me how much cleaner her movement is when I put a cow in front of her. I lost count of how many times I petted her neck and told her how good she was. I am going to make it a point to get back on cows once a month and next time I will remember to tilt the helmet cam down.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Grace Update with video

Grace has been on her best behavior since the horse show. I'm over being mad about it but the first few days after the show of having one better ride after another really got me frustrated. Why can't we pull it together in the show ring? I had a group lesson at Sarah's last Saturday to work on Horsemanship patterns. Grace gave me one of the best warm ups ever. Her lope was outstanding and then it was time to work on the cones. As soon as we began our pattern Grace tensed up and took over. Sarah said it was because I was thinking about the pattern and not Grace. Grace feels the change - the shift in my energy and somehow takes that as a cue to do her own thing. We spent a good part of the lesson schooling her on the pattern working on getting it perfect because "perfect practice makes perfect". At the end of the lesson I was able to ride the pattern one handed - it was a pattern ride that I would be thrilled with at a horse show.

Sarah suggested that I set cones at home in no particular order and school Grace on them with no patten in mind. The goal is to keep Grace guessing and waiting on me. This is one of those times that I wonder what it would be like to own a less intelligent horse. I swear when I stop at a cone to begin a pattern Grace has every pattern she's ever been on going through her head. When we start the pattern she then recalls the closest pattern in her memory to the gait we are on and the direction we are going. She is convinced that she knows best and when I tense against her decision that is when it starts to fall apart.

Now, when I can get her to work with me and wait on me it is a wonderful ride. Grace is so sensitive to my cues I have to be mindful of how I breath. I've been so afraid of getting on her case, concerned that I will break her "spirit" and end up with one of those dead to the world show horses, that I let her tense up and take over. The result was a ride that neither one of us enjoyed. I've now been able to correct her without being hard on her, knowing when to apply pressure and when to release. The result is a horse that still wants to know the pattern, but is willing to wait for me to show it to her.

In the first video we are working around and through the cones in no particular direction. If I felt her anticipate going to the right, I made her go to the left. There are a few times that she tenses and lifts her head so I had to push her up into the bridle and correct her. The second video - and I wish it were better quality was the end of our ride. The lead change is from the right - which is her easy lead, to the left which is her more difficult lead. Her changes this direction haven't been this clean. You can see my reaction to the lead change - "good girl Grace, your done for the day!"

Saturday, October 22, 2011

7 things you may not know about me

A big thank you to Nina for the One Lovely Blog Award. So here goes - 7 random things you may not know about me:

1. I have a fear of drowning and avoid bodies of water because of it. Somewhat ironic considering that I've been living on an Island for the last 30 years. I am also very susceptible to motion sickness so I avoid boats that are smaller than a jumbo ferry.

2. I do not define myself with any religion. I don't believe in Heaven or Hell - there was a time that I attended church every Sunday and considered myself to be a conservative republican. My political views are now a complete 180 from that stance.

3. I have been married for 15 years. I met my husband right after high school while working in a restaurant. Next summer will be 20 years since our first date.

4. I have an older brother – I am always surprised by how many of my friends that I grew up with don’t know about him. He is 10 years older than me and went to live with my biological father when I was 3 and he was 13. We moved 3,000 miles away when I was 7. My brother moved to Washington as an adult and now lives in San Diego. I will always view him as a giant who can do no wrong in my eyes. He will eternally be the hero I saw him to be when I was 3 years old.

5. I have not consumed alcohol since May 29th 1989. Yes I quit drinking when I was 14 years old. I still consider myself to be an alcoholic even though I will go the rest of my life without drinking. It makes me crazy to see social drinkers leave half a class of wine or not finish a beer. Don’t they know that’s wasting? I have absolutely no desire to drink – not even to try it socially.

6. I love public speaking but rarely get the chance to work a crowd. Nothing like attending AA meetings at the age of 14 to get you over any fear of public speaking

7. I could eat pasta 3 times a day 7 days a week. I love it and it is one of the things I can actually cook. Luckily my husband does most of the cooking in our house and he makes sure that I get plenty of protein and veggies in my diet. He’s even been known to sneak asparagus into spaghetti sauce when I’m not looking.

Most of the blogs that I would nominate have already been given this award. If you read my blog and you want the award just let me know - it's yours! The blogs I have listed list on the sidebar are my favorite they are the ones I read almost every day. I can't think of any better way to promote them than that.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Shameless Vote Grubbing

I entered the story of when I met Grace into Horse and Rider's Your Horse, Your Life contest. So I am plugging it here shamelessly looking for your vote.

Let me know if you entered and I will return the favor and vote for you.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Schooling at the Schooling Show

Grace and I had a great ride on Sunday. I’m kind of pissed off about it. Where was that ride the day before at the horse show? What am I missing the day of the show? I didn’t feel nervous at all at the horse show, not one bit. So why is my ride still different every time I step into the show ring? Apparently this is what I am tasked with figuring out this winter.

“Schooling shows are for schooling” I had to keep reminding myself that throughout the day on Saturday. I had a wonderful ride on Friday night, possibly the best ride I’ve had at that show grounds to date. Grace was relaxed, supple and lovely to ride. I warmed her up in the elevator bit; Sarah had suggested that I switch back to it after our last lesson to help Grace come over her back. I rode it in this last week and it was exactly the change I was looking for. Grace softened her left jaw and I found I could do more with less hand. Friday night after warming up I switched back to my show bit, a Myler curve with Calvary shanks. “Your horse is short stepping behind; she wasn’t doing that in the elevator bit, why don’t you switch back.” I could feel exactly what Sarah was saying. As soon as I picked up the reins with the show bit Grace locked her left jaw against it. With her back dropped her jog now felt like a rock on cement. “It’s a schooling show; you can show in the elevator.” Sarah was right, there was no reason for me to force Grace into a bit she wasn’t working for us. The elevator bit has a snaffle mouth piece, this meant I would be riding two handed; again it is a schooling show so it didn’t matter. I would just have to make sure my show headstall worked with the bit change. There was no way I was going into the show ring with my blinged out cowhide rodeo headstall. Even I have limits!

Saturday morning started early with showmanship. I was amazed by how relaxed I was going into the first class. No jitters or nervous tension, it didn’t even bother me when the ring steward picked me to go first. All was well until I stood in front of the judge for inspection, my brain shut down just in time for quartering. I couldn’t remember for the life of me which side of the horse I was supposed to be on when the judge was on the same side of me so I just stood there. I beat myself up for it the entire way back to the line. I had to remind myself that this is a schooling show and it’s been years since my last showmanship class. The second pattern was smoother, but not near as sharp and consistent as some of my fellow competitors.

I had plenty of time to tack up for my first under saddle class. Luckily my show bridle was able to adjust short enough for the elevator bit. As soon as I stepped into the covered warm up arena Grace tensed. I had added my right leg to her side to ask her to step over, her reaction was to throw her head and grunt at me. I pointed her towards the less crowded outdoor arena so we could finish our “missy chat”. My goal was to get her soft and supple before our first class, but the left side just wasn’t there. Walking through the in gate to the show arena I immediately felt tension rip through Grace’s body as she lifted her head and dropped her back. “Really Grace?” Sarah coached me from the rail to use less hand and more leg, something I find near impossible to accomplish when I am sitting atop a ball of tension. As I watched my competitors jogging their obedient horses on loose reins I had to again remind myself that this is a schooling show and we are here to school.

We fit in a few trail patterns outside in between the rail classes being held in the main arena. Our trail patterns were clean, but Grace was tense with her head in the air. This was not the picture I was looking for. I couldn’t help but compare my ride to those around me. There were some really nice obedient horses at this show. They made it look easy. Again I had to remind myself that it was a schooling show and I was here to work through these issues. This is the first show that I’ve entered in equitation pattern classes and while Grace was not where I wanted her in the show ring I really enjoyed the pattern classes. We had a long break before our last class of the day which allowed Grace and I to put on warm clothes and eat lunch.

When it came time to warm Grace up for our last class of the day I seemed to finally figure it out. Her left shoulder was locked down and she could not come over her back. I circled her to the right and then brought her back to the left keeping the counter bend. I then added left leg and finally left rein. Instantly I felt Grace unlock her left shoulder and come over her back. I was able to back off my hands and control her movements with my body. Why did it take me all day to figure this out? Grace tensed up walking into our last class but I was able to circle her to unlock her shoulder. While her head was still higher than I would liked it to have been she gave me her best ride of the day for that last class. I would have loved to started the day on that the horse, but again I had to remind myself that this is a schooling show, we were there to school.

After a giving Grace a massage on Sunday afternoon I threw on the bareback pad and hit the trails. My plan was to let her walk just to get her legs moving to unkink anything from the trailer ride and the show. She moved up to the jog and it was so lovely I decided to just go with it. On our way back home we slipped into the arena. Grace gave me all 3 gaits without any attitude; I was able to ride her on a loose but connected rein. I worked her for only a few minutes before stopping and asking “where the hell was this horse yesterday?” I’m pretty sure the answer I got back was “where the hell was this rider?”

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Lope Overs that separate the men from the boys!

Grace was at the short end of my stick this week. Between the extra hours at work, a company meeting, writing class and an after work session at the Strength Lab she didn’t get the attention she is accustom to. I found myself apologizing to her on Friday night, followed by assuring her that by the end of the day on Saturday she would be sick of me. 24 hours later my prediction rang true.

I was excited for our trail pattern lesson on Saturday, that was until I saw Sarah setting the course. My first clue was when she drove into the arena with a flatbed full of poles. As we proceeded to place them in specific piles around the arena it got me to thinking – isn’t it time to change the name of “trail” when it refers to the class that is held at horse shows? Long ago it was a class that simulated conditions you may have to encounter while out on an actual trail ride, as in outside of an arena. Grace and I spend a lot of time out on actual trails, but I have yet to encounter a lumber yard full of painted poles that I had to negotiate at a slow rhythmic pace. Maybe the class should be called Horsemanship Over Poles or Super Technical Pattern Class or even Horses with Long Strides Need Not Apply. Either way I learned on Saturday just now technical trail class really is.

Both Kristen and I pondered the distances between the poles as Sarah set them with a measuring tape. There were jog overs which were approached on a serpentine but had to be ridden straight, a rope gate, cones, a bridge and a set of lope overs that would soon become my nemesis. Starting with the jog overs it didn’t take long before it was clear that I didn’t have my horse together. Sarah had me ride two handed driving Grace up into the bridle. Sarah explained that Grace had to learn the pattern and obstacles in contact and working over her back. The goal being to eventually ride it one handed where she will continue to work over her back relying on my body for cues. When I rode the jog overs straight and kept my horse together they were easy every time, but if I dumped her at the base of them or allowed her to drift coming into them she would drop her back and rush through them. It was the same feeling I have experienced from her in the show ring when rushes in a Western Riding pattern.

From the jog overs we had to pick up the right lead and head to the lope overs. The first pole was set on an angle with the remaining 4 poles in the line set straight. The line was ridden at a diagonal set from the first pole. Where you started at the first pole depended on the length of your horse's stride, you also had to come deep enough to the approach to make the line. In other words there was a ton of thinking to do before you even got to the obstacle. This one line of poles seems to quickly brought up all of the weak spots that Grace and I possess. It required the turn to come off the left rein, pushing the horse's shoulder through the turn as opposed to pulling their nose. It became very clear that I didn’t have Grace in my left rein, my right leg didn't seem to want to say on her side, which was needed to keep her together through the turn and over the poles. At one point I was convinced that we were not going to pull it together. I watched Kristen and Rhett Butler negotiate the poles while Grace and I took a much needed break. This is why I love group lessons, seeing another rider go through the same obstacle allows me to process it on a deeper level. I was able to see why the horses needed the deeper approach to the line and why the left rein was so critical on the approach. When it was our turn again not only did we make the line but Grace also waited on me and did not rush through the poles.

Our first schooling show of the season is next weekend and I plan to use it for exactly that –schooling. I am secretly hoping for an easier trail pattern than the one at my lesson. I believe that we are about 1,000 more lope overs away from being able to accomplish a course of that level one handed. I guess I’d better set some poles in the arena at home today. Let’s see, 1,000 divided by 3 …. I have my work cut out for me.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Change of Season

I looked outside last night at 7:30pm and it was dark. Once again the shorter days crept up on me; I am getting closer to accepting that summer is over. I’ve been working 10 hour days for the last few weeks and had lost track of what hour the sun was rising since I was already under the florescent lights of the office at 6:00am. It didn’t bother me as I thoroughly enjoy my job, I‘ve been there almost 10 months now and I still look forward to going to work every day. My department smashed our previous record this month; it was not only a sense of accomplishment for our customers but for us as a team. My co-workers are a big part of my love for my job; we work well together and collaborate throughout the day.

The other night while on a trail ride after work I noticed the woods darkening around me. I’m still getting home from work with plenty of daylight, but each night the light is dimmer while I ride. I’m also back to wearing long sleeves and even sweatshirts during my evening rides; my beautiful tattoo is going into hiding. Every time I brush Grace I have more hair to curry through. Her winter coat is fast upon me, even blanketing will not keep it at bay. I had her blanket off while I was at work the other day because the weather man said it would be 70 degrees. It was nowhere near his predicted temperature and as I looked at the clouds out the office window I swear I could hear Grace’s coat growing in the distance.

While I am sad to see summer go, I look to fall with a great deal of anticipation. I have a long list of things to look forward to. I start a creative writing class this Wednesday; I desperately need the classroom setting to help make my writing a priority. Group lessons with Sarah start next Saturday; we are going to work on different patterns each lesson. I love learning in a group as I always get more out of watching another rider go thought the process of accomplishing a new exercise. Our winter show series start this month in Spanaway our winter home away from home. Sarah and I have often joked about how it is always 20 degrees colder at the show grounds than anywhere else in the state. No matter the weather, we always have a good time at those shows. We are hiring one more person for our team at work. This should allow me to go back to 8 hour days and if I continue to arrive at the office at 6:00am I could be home in time to ride in daylight all winter long. This weekend the wet weather we are known for here in the Pacific Northwest returns. As I trade out my favorite tank tops for long sleeves I am determined to bring with me the joy I experienced this summer while basking in the sun. Please remind me of this on or around December 21st when I am miserably whining about the cold, dark, wet days.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Western Riding at Washington State Finals

Never one for sleeping in I hit the road at 6:00am Saturday on my way to Tacoma Unit to watch the Washington State Horseman Finals Show. I was determined to watch the Western Riding, which happened to be the first two classes of the day starting at 8:00am. I very rarely go to horse shows as a spectator, when I do I spend my time longing for my own horse, often miserable that I am there without her. I did not experience that yesterday; instead I was grateful for my decision to give ourselves another show season before participating in a Western Riding class at that level.

When I pulled into the busy show grounds at 7:30am; the place was bustling with activity. Horses in sleezys were everywhere. The wash rack was in full gear with Paint horses waiting their turn to get the green off their legs. From what I could pick up from the announcer there were less than 10 horses in both Western Riding classes. They were using pattern 2 for the first class and pattern 4 for the championship class. Each horse and rider had to enter the arena and wait for the judge to acknowledge their start. The pattern started within a few steps of their starting position. Pattern 2 begins with the jog over a pole, as soon as each horse picked up its left lead I had a pretty good feel for how the rest of the pattern would go.

Several of the horses in the class had what I consider to be a very compromised lope. They were shut down to the point that the natural cadence of the gait was no longer recognizable. Their lead changes were done in a stutter step, and while the pattern was executed correctly, the lope for me was painful to watch. A few of them went across the arena with the horse’s hind end cocked to the direction of the lope. I wasn’t the picture of straight that I had expected to see at this level.

2 horses stood out to me, they were allowed to move out yet were still slower than anything Grace and I have pulled off so far. Their gaits were much cleaner which resulted in a lead change that looked effortless. The top horse in the class performed lead changes worthy of a breed show. He moved along at the lope, changed exactly where his rider asked him to and kept the same cadence throughout the pattern. He and his rider were a breath of fresh air and were awarded 1st place under both judges in both classes. Their scores were in the 70’s and they earned the championship in both Western Riding classes.

I now have a VERY clear picture of what I do and do not want. I’ve never been a fan of the mechanical way of going of many of the Western Pleasure horses. I also am very aware that if I wanted that movement from my mare I would have to severely compromise her natural gait and that is something I have never been willing to do. We have our work cut out for us, but I now have image of the end result planted firmly in my mind. Our first winter series schooling show is October 15th. This year we will enter the horsemanship pattern classes, as well as showmanship and trail. I believe that all of those pattern classes will help us with the precision that we will require for Western Riding. This might be the first time I’ve had a plan for the show season, with a goal set at the end. Now I just need to approach each ride with my goal in mind but without letting an agenda compromise my training.

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Lope

I love my horse, but have not always loved her lope. It has been stiff, ridged and difficult to ride at times. For years Grace’s left lead has felt like a sitting on a completely different horse than her right lead. Her left lead was unbalanced, even more stiff and choppy. The “V” made by Grace’s hind legs at the lope has always been small. On her really bad days she would double foot almost hopping behind on the left lead. Like all things Grace related there have been some tremendous improvements to her lope in the last year and a half. There are now days that I cannot tell her left lead from her right, I’ve had to question the direction I was riding in more than once lately. I can now sit her lope; it is quickly becoming my favorite gait. The V behind is larger and more consistent from day to day. Grace lives for lead changes and they often help her loosen up her end even more. Still, there is a stiffness to Grace’s lope and it becomes very apparent in the show pen, which is the last place I want to ride it.

After the trot work at our last lesson Sarah had me bring Grace up to the lope. She asked me to come down the rail towards the middle of the arena. When we hit the center of the arena, I was to point Grace back to the rail, but to keep her on the same lead. The exercise looked like a big on the long side of the arena. We’ve done those before, but not while holding the same lead. Grace and I were both convinced that she could not have her head going one direction while holding her lead going the other direction. Sarah told me to take Grace’s nose back to the direction of the lead as soon as I felt that she was going to change. My goal was to catch it before the lead change. We started on the right lead and I was surprised by my ability to get Grace before she changed. After the second time I found that I could point Grace’s nose to the left for longer periods of time before bringing her back to the right. The third time – I felt something change underneath me. Grace’s shoulder and wither felt like they let go and lifted, the back and forth movement in her shoulder became fluid and her hind end drove up underneath me. All I could say was “Wow!”

The left lead was understandably more of a challenge. Once again both Grace and I were convinced that we couldn’t possibly keep the nose to the right while holding the left lead. Each time I moved her nose to the right Grace changed her lead. Sarah told me to use more right spur and to make it very clear to Grace that she was not to change lead, she pointed out that Grace had to get in trouble for changing without being asked. It took a couple of laps around the arena and one princess fit before it happened, but Grace moved her nose to the right while keeping the left lead. It wasn’t long before I was able to move her front end all over the arena while she continued to hold the left lead. With each stride the quality of her lope improved. The V behind became larger as Grace kept her hoofs in contact with the ground for longer periods of time. Grace’s left lead was lovely to ride. I’ve practiced the exercise a few times now since the lesson and each time the lope improves. It makes me wonder; what else do Grace and I think we can’t possibly do?

Sunday, September 18, 2011

"Technically" I didn't fall off my horse

If I wasn't on the horse yet it isn't technically a fall off the horse, right? I went to jump on bareback today from the wheel hub of the horse trailer and slipped. I landed square on my right back pocket, which is one I keep my phone in. Needless to say I will be unreachable by cell phone for the next few days.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Results under saddle

My legs not only make sense to me now when walking, but it has translated in the saddle. For years I have been told to close my leg on my horse. I had a tendency to keep my lower leg off my horse; my legs were often jutted out in front of the girth. My leg position has improved tremendously over the last year, but I won’t lie to you, it has been a lot of work. I had to consciously think about it every time I rode. I first had to take the arch out of my low back,breathe,  soften my lower back, breathe, focus on my abs, breathe, reposition my seat, breathe, and then I could find my leg position. I had to correct it several times throughout a ride. Just as soon as I thought I was getting somewhere it would be time to lope and it would all go to hell. Still with a 6 day a week riding schedule, regular lessons with Sarah and the occasional lesson with Peggy, I’ve really made some progress. My butt no longer slaps the saddle in the lope, something I thought I might never overcome. The biggest difference I’ve noticed in the saddle after my sessions at the Strength Lab is that I don’t have to work near as hard to achieve a balanced, efficient position in the saddle.

I rode Grace when I got home from the cranial sacral session with James. For the most part I didn’t ask anything of Grace, I really just wanted to see what my body would do. As soon as I settled into the saddle I noticed that my legs were in contact with my horse’s side. My feet were pointed forward, just like on the ground I couldn’t quit staring at them. I was in awe of the fact that I didn’t have to force them into this position, it was natural and comfortable. My ankles, knees and hips were all soft and relaxed, ready to absorb shock, just as they were intended to. For the first time ever I was able to utilize the “come along” leg cue that Peggy Cummings taught me. It has been a source of frustration for me for the last 6 months; I had finally decided that it just wasn’t for me or my horse. Even with Peggy standing there I wasn’t able to get my leg to do the subtle cue without becoming tense and losing the softness in my back. Now for the first time I understood exactly what she was talking about when she told me that she should not be able to see the movement in my thigh when I moved them within my jeans for the cue. This time when I gave the cue Grace’s hind end seemed to wake up underneath me as she lengthened her stride behind stepping up into the contact. Gone was the ear pinning and head toss that had been her answer to me every time I had applied the cue in the past. We were getting somewhere.

Grace has been lovely to ride since her appointment with the dentist, but on the ground she has been less than pleasant. She’s been biting at the halter when I bring it towards her face, she bites at the air when I brush her and tack her up. If I didn’t know this mare so well my response would be to immediately discipline her, going after her total lack of respect. But I do know my mare, and when she behaves this badly she is screaming at me that something isn’t right, it’s her way of saying “fix it dammit!” Sarah had mentioned that Grace could use some cranial sacral work the week after her dentist appointment. I had let two weeks slip by and I was pretty sure I was paying for it. I set up a time to have Sarah work on Grace. I couldn’t help but notice that during her session Grace didn’t bite at the air, the halter or at Sarah. Grace can be very untrusting about having work done on her head and face, but she was totally into it, she was more than ready for uncovering this layer of the onion.

Sarah had me get on Grace after the session. When I arrived at the barn Sarah was riding Joe, one of her rehab horses. She was working him at the jog, constantly changing directions. From there she put him into the lope. Joe’s movements became more fluid with each bend. I noticed at the lope that Joe holds the ground longer with his hoofs, the mechanical movements that he arrived with in Sarah's program are now gone. Sarah had me practice the jog exercise on Grace. I was to change directions while really asking her to bend, and keeping her driving up from behind. The exercise had to be fluid and forward, the goal was to not give Grace a chance to stiffen her jaw while changing from one direction to the other. After a few reminders from Sarah about keeping my body soft, holding the ball in my lap and breathing, it started to come together. The softer Grace became in her face, the bigger her movement was behind. When she forgot to stiffen her jaw she also forgot to stiffen her hock. Never one’s to leave well enough alone we moved onto the lope…..

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Integrative Neurosomatic Therapy - Results Part 1

I’ve had 2 sessions now with James Bowman at Strength lab since my initial measurements. I’ve been wearing the lift in my left shoe and sitting on a lift under my right seat bone for 2 weeks now. When I went back to the Strength Lab for my first follow up appointment I was fully expecting to be given a series of exercises that would involve pain and sweat. Much to my pleasant surprise that visit involved massage and simple stretches. I brought the saddle that I am currently riding in just to make sure I had the lift on the right side of the seat set up correctly. After measuring my saddle rack with a level and getting it just right, James had me sit in the saddle to check if I was now level. After more detailed measurements I was given the all clear on my seat lift.

At the beginning or our session James asked me where I was feeling any tension or pain since using the lifts. He then went to work on those spots, first getting the muscle into a relaxed state and then holding the neurological point of it for 90 seconds to get it to release. I was amazed on how he found areas that I didn’t know where holding. When he talked about addressing the muscle from a neurological standpoint I could not help but thing of Peggy’s work .The stretches he gave me were for my neck and scalenes which were adjusting to my ever decreasing head tilt and for my back, any time it was tight. He also recommended Epsom salt soaks to help the muscles. I had no problem complying with the rather relaxing protocol.

My next appointment was this last Wednesday; I couldn’t wait to tell James some of the changes I was experiencing. I knew he would understand what was going on, as I was just starting to grasp it. On my way home from the trail ride on Monday I could feel this strange sensation on the right side of my head. It felt like something releasing, a muscle – but it was spreading out along side my head like a fan. I was so fascinated by it that I looked up the muscles of the human head when I got home and sure enough I found the Temporalis Muscle which is shaped just like a fan! When I repeated this story to James along with the change I had seen in Grace since her dental work he said it was the perfect time for cranial sacral work. When James got to the Temporalis Muscle on the right side of my head I was amazed by how tender it was. Even with his light touch it felt like I had sustained a blow to the head. He had me follow his finger so I could feel the tight band running through the muscle. These are the same tight bands I look for when doing massage work on Grace. James continued on even doing muscle releases inside my mouth and tongue. That was quite the experience! I had no idea just how many muscles were inside the mouth, luckily they all released quickly. My jaw felt amazing, I don’t think I could clench or grind my teeth now if I tried.

When the session was finished I stood up slowly not knowing what to expect. James had explained to me how the cranial work relates to the hip joints; this explained why I kept getting chills in my quads while during the session. He had me stand square so he could take a hip measurement; only this time standing square did not feel foreign to me, it actually felt quite comfortable. The hip measurement confirmed that my pelvic tilt was now at 9 degrees, only 2 weeks before it had been at 14 degrees. When I stood at the front desk on my way out I could not help staring at my feet, they were underneath me and I was standing on both legs comfortably. This sounds elementary, but for years I have always stood with one hip cocked or a knee bent, standing on both legs at the same time is out right painful most of the time. I also noticed that my teeth were lined up. Gone was the offset position of my jaw. This lined up centered feeling was downright odd!

The next day I really started to notice the changes. I am in total awe of my feet. For the first time I can feel the ground under the arch of my foot when I walk. I even go out of my way to walk on uneven surfaces so I can feel the sensation. My foot lands heel first and almost all of my foot makes contact with the ground at some point in my step. My hips, knees and ankles are all relaxed and fluid. Standing is much easier now, I am able put the same amount of weight on both legs. Gone is my past stance of always having one hip cocked or one knee bent. I am starting to feel like I am for the first time starting to use my body in the way it was designed. The real magic happened two days after the session I climbed back into the saddle…….

Monday, September 5, 2011

Labor Day Trail Ride

Grace and I headed out for a much needed trail ride today with our favorite trail partners Jeanni and Jasmine. Jasmine and Grace have been best buddies for years now, one time Jeanni and I compared their papers and found out that they were cousins! A few years ago Jeanni and I would meet every Saturday for breakfast followed by hours out on the trails. Our rides together have become too few and far between. It was great today to catch up, just us girls.

Jeanni now lives in Chimacum, it's a 40 minute or so drive from my house. Chimacum is a small farming community full of vast pastures, farming land and beautiful trails. Every time I visit, I want to move there with every fiber of my being! Jeanni and her family have a beautiful farm and I have told her more than once to not be surprised if she finds Grace and I camped out her property.

One of the many beautiful farms in Chimacum

Grace and Jasmine in the pasture.

I was worried that Grace wouldn't want to come home after spending time at Jeanni's

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Exorcising Stupid in the Show Ring

I went to a horse show this weekend and actually enjoyed showing Grace. Since the last show the only goal I’ve had was to overcome the tension in the show ring. Of course no plan of action would be complete without throwing a bunch of curve balls at myself ahead of time. First there was the rebalancing of my body with the program from The Strength Lab; there are times when everything feels upside down and backwards and times where I feel perfectly balanced. My body seems to almost fight the changes, and then it accepts it. My balance affects Grace’s balance; I will say she has been very kind to me during this transition. The second change came on Wednesday when Grace had her dentist appointment. The dentist found that Grace was only able to masticate from side to side but not front to back. The way her teeth lined up prevented the movement. He explained that this would make it difficult for her to telescope her head and neck. He also found that she was very “locked” on the left side. Now that her teeth were rebalanced she had freedom in her jaw which must have felt totally foreign to her. The improvement in her movement was immediately noticeable. It makes sense, if she was locked in her jaw it would translate to the rest of her body.

We hauled up to the show on Friday to give the horses a chance to settle in. Grace was moving much better in our ride that night than she had at the prior show. She seemed to come off the trailer in better shape. At the jog her hind end had so much spring to it I told Sarah that I didn’t know how to ride it. She suggested lots of turns, moving the hip staying off Grace’s face and allowing her to stretch after the long trailer ride. Grace’s lope was phenomenal! It was balanced, rhythmic, clean and I could have ridden it all night long. I noticed that her head was higher going to the left, but the movement was so clean I didn’t want to mess with it. Just as I was thinking it Sarah addressed it, she said that Grace would lower her head on her own once she figured it out. She agreed that if I forced the head set it would compromise the movement behind. At that point I really didn’t care about the classes I had scheduled for the next day, I was just enjoying the ride in the present moment.

I decided to add a reining class to this show so I could get a pattern class in ahead of time and get the “stupid” out. We haven’t worked on spins, stops or rollbacks so I wasn’t looking to place in reining; I just wanted to get in the arena to deal with my issues before the classes that I actually train at home for. Grace warmed up well, her left lead transition was the one thing I picked on and by the end of my warm up it was where I wanted it. Going into the class I remembered Sarah’s words of taking my time for each maneuver. I thought I had Grace set up but when I asked her to lope to the left she picked up the right lead, she also picked up the left lead going to the right. Our circles were huge and all over the place, we had cornered the market on stupid! I had added the novice class to fill it and was now grateful for the opportunity to get back in the arena. The novice class was not a very novice pattern, but did allow for two hands. I decided to ride two handed so I could get the correct leads when I asked for them since the show pen is the only place Grace picks up the wrong lead. Our spins were all over the place, I almost forgot to finish the first set. Grace picked up both leads this time, our circles were actual circles, and the transition from large fast to small slow felt really good. Grace’s lead changes drew cheers from the crowd, she felt great, and I could tell she was having a good time which allowed me to relax in the arena. This was the ride I wanted after getting stupid out. To my surprise we had the highest score in the class and placed first under both judges.

Sarah had me enter in a walk jog class; she’s been encouraging me to use rail classes to work out my show ring issues. I didn’t want to touch Grace’s face in the class, and when she became tense which I’m sure happened because I was tense I was at a loss for how to get her back to me. Sarah explained that I had to put Grace together and not be afraid to collect her during the class. This was what she wanted me to accomplish at the show. My goal is to get the collection from my leg, but I will need both hand and leg at this point to establish it. We entered the stock seat equitation class, which was a lope class. I put Grace together going into the class and actually rode the class instead of just being a passenger. Grace’s lope was the best it’s been in a rail class. We placed 3rd under both judges but best of all I finally understood why Sarah wants me to do rail classes; I need to remember to ride every stride of the class.

Trail was our last class of the day. The first thing I noticed on the pattern was the box that would be used for lope overs. This was something I had been practicing since the last show. Sarah instructed me to look to the left when asking Grace to move her hip to the left in both the side pass and backing through the cones. I was pleased with the class Grace loped the poles in rhythm, there was no rushing or running off on pattern and she picked up the left lead when asked. When I was backing through the cones at the end I heard Sarah say “where are you looking?” When I looked the opposite way of the turn Grace stepped right where I wanted her to with ease. It made sense, looking to the left put my body in the position to ask my horse to step to the right. It was a nice way to end the show; we placed 3rd and 4th in a class of 10.

I made the decision a few weeks ago to skip the Finals show later this month. We are not ready for that level of competition. If I went it would turn into a somewhat expensive schooling experience. When I asked myself what it would feel like if I didn’t go, I felt like I had taken 20 pounds of pressure off my shoulders. I’ve said for some time now that I ride my best when I don’t have an agenda. For me the Finals show with its shiny belt buckles was very agenda driven, not the kind of pressure that I want to ride in just yet. For now we have a winter series of fun schooling shows on the calendar. Hopefully this winter I can overcome any remaining show ring tension and leave stupid behind once and for all.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Integrative Neurosomatic Therapy - finding the core to MY onion layers

I made a decision minutes after my lesson with Peggy. I was going to make an appointment with the Strength Lab. It came highly recommended by one of Sarah’s clients whose daughter had an Integrative Neurosomatic Therapy (INT) session done there. From her description it sounded like exactly what I was looking for. During Peggy’s clinic I grew increasingly frustrated with the imbalances in my body. My brain understood what Peggy was telling me to do, but my body would not listen. It felt like no matter how hard I tried I could not get the left side of my body to release tension. It was time for me to unpeel my onion layers and find the core of the problem.

Strength Lab sounded like the place to start.
 When I arrived for my appointment there was a kettle ball fitness class taking place, I wondered if everyone in the class had been through the same evaluation that I was about to undergo. I was introduced to James and Vance who I followed back to the room that the evaluation would take place in. They immediately put me at ease as we started talking about my goals. I mapped past injuries on a chart while James asked where I was experiencing any pain, I let him know that I wasn’t in any pain, but I had some imbalance issues I was very aware of. If pain was the issue I would most likely just deal with it, but knowing that my imbalances were affecting my horse I needed to get down to the core issue and get beyond it. James told me that people utilize INT for two reasons; pain or performance issues, the two are of course related; both are a result of imbalance.

When we started the evaluation I stood on a box against a wall with graph lines. Sounds easy enough, except that they had me stand as what best can describe as “square”, my hips and feet lined up correctly. I didn’t take long for me to become aware that standing square is not something my body is accustom to. All too quickly I could feel new muscles in my legs. I was reminded that I could take a break at any time if I became uncomfortable. As Vance measured he would call out numbers to James who would then draw lines on a chart of my skeleton. They measured everything from my skull to my feet. At one point James asked me if I had ringing in my left ear. The question surprised me; I’ve had tinnitus for as long as I can remember. I have fallen asleep to the ringing in my head every night since I was maybe 2 years old. It is so normal to me that I forget about it. How did he know? James held up the chart of my skull showing me how all the lines he had drawn clearly pointed out the compression on the left side of my head. He then assured me that we could resolve it. No ringing in my ears? I’m not sure if can handle the silence.

The next sets of measurements were taken with me seated. They had already discovered that my left leg was 4 ml shorter than my right. With me seated they found that things had changed, when I sat my pelvis tilted to the left. From the tone of their conversation it sounded like we had hit the core of the onion. James pointed out that this could be very confusing to my horse, when I handle her on the ground I am one way, but as soon as I sit in the saddle I go the opposite way. The write up says “Hemi-pelvis (i.e. left larger than right by 5mm) creating a hip tilt high on the left when seated” James went on to tell me that this would most certainly cause me to collapse my left ribcage when riding or that I might have a tendency to lean to the left in the saddle. He said my horse must think that I am always getting ready to swing for a polo ball or something. Pretty amazing analysis considering that my left side was my source of frustration in the saddle for years.

The list of my compensation patterns which seemed to have started with having a left leg shorter than the right includes: head tilt right, torso rotation left, compression at the left hip, bi-lateral hip projection, rotated and sheered atlas, cranial distortions as a result of limb length inequality, high likelihood of thoracic outlet syndrome in right arm and shoulder. When we looked back at the chart of injuries I had plotted, all of them could be pointed back to these compensation patterns.

Now comes the good news, they have a treatment plan. It is actually very similar to what Sarah does when she rehabs horses. First step will be a lift for my left foot and a lift that I will use in the saddle and my office chair for my right seat bone. The lifts will bring me back to level. From there we will address the “musculature and facial tension that has come about as a result of years of compensation.” This sounds like when Sarah talks about taking off overdeveloped muscles in the horses and building muscle that will support the horse’s skeleton. James assured me that this wasn’t something I would have to throw money at. My time and effort would be needed to see the real payoff. Once I have my lifts, we will start a series of exercises to “release/lengthen the "tight" muscles and we will strengthen/shorten their "taught" antagonists.” James said that in the end neutral pelvis will just come naturally; it won’t be something that I will need to constantly think about. He also pointed out that “neutral” as in zero degrees is not what we are looking for. Right now my hip angle is at 14 degrees, it needs to be at 5 degrees. It sounded like my hamstrings and abs will be getting some attention in the very near future as they will play an integral part in correcting my hip angle.

I have my next appointment on Tuesday. The lifts which were surprisingly inexpensive should arrive today. I’ve already been riding with a shim in the saddle thanks to Sarah, some felt and black duct tape, but I plan to bring the saddle in on Tuesday to make sure we get the right fit. I do feel a difference with the lift under my right seat bone when riding, I can actually feel my abs when I ride now, and I have a 3 point seat again.

The program at Strength Lab fits right in to what I am already doing with my horse. It is a perfect match to Sarah, Peggy, Peter (my amazing farrier) and Dave whose saddles address many of these issues. I am constantly blown away by the team of people I have surrounded myself with; I believe them all to be pioneers in their field. I look forward to the day that I can put all the pieces together and the beautifully balanced picture that will result at the end. In the meantime I plan to take in and bask in every step of the journey and will remember along the way to enjoy the ride.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Guest Blog: How my mare ended up in the Kill Pen

A few weeks ago I saw a paint mare that I recognized on Craigslist. She was thinner than I had remembered. I knew the woman who had bred the pretty mare and I could tell by the ad that she wasn’t the one selling this horse. I emailed her the link and asked “isn’t this your horse?” She had given the mare away to a friend and after talking to her was assured the mare would find a safe home. This weekend I received 2 missed phone calls from the breeder followed by a frantic text, her beautiful mare was in the Enumclaw kill pen. The mare is safe now, but I thought you might all like to know how quickly and easily a horse – that is broke to ride, has nice conformation, papers and color - can go from being safe with a “friend” to being loaded on a truck headed for Mexico or Canada.

APHA Itsjustanillusion was born Mother’s day 2005, she was a long awaited filly after 3 colt's out of a favorite riding mare of mine APHA Mia Thirsty girl. Soon after Illusion was born I went through a divorce and had to sell my 5 acres I had loved in Seabeck, so I sold all my horses but Mia and her filly. Mia went to 10 acres in Poulsbo to retire and I boarded Illusion in Belfair with the people that had her sire. In late 2009 I got the opportunity to move Illusion closer to me so I could work with her more. It was a place with 2 acres and a 2 stall barn so we soon also got a horse for my husband so Illusion had company. Well when I picked Illsuion from the place in Belfair the people where I had boarded said that they thought she had a abscess working its way out as she had a very slight lameness in one of her front feet. So I kept a watchful a eye on it and it seemed to clear up just fine so I started working with and riding Illusion and she was doing well. From time to time the lameness would come back so I stopped riding her and tried to get the vet out but would end of having to cancel because she would always go sound before her appointment.

In early 2010 I got the news that a dear old friend of mine was passing away from cancer and he had to sell a horse that he had since she was a yearling and was now 4, he adored this horse. He really wanted me to have her; she was beautiful but never had been ridden. He could have sold her for a high $ amount and had many offers but really in his heart of hearts wanted me to have her. At first we said no we were boarding and we had no room for a third horse, but ultimately decided to get her and the place where we boarded said we could keep 3 horses there temporarily. During this time I met another neighbor at a slumber party that both our elementary aged children were at. We thought it was great we both had horses and we lived so close to each other and we were definitely going to ride. I invited her over to meet my horses. I told her that I wished I still had my own horse property so I didn't have to sell a horse or try to figure out somewhere else to board the third horse, and that I was trying to figure out why Illusion was having some heel pain and that I would consider selling her to the right person if it was a good home and they would be able to investigate her problem and try to get her squared away, she acted really interested and wanted her farrier to come look and did and we all agreed that her angles were bad and that if corrected that should more than likely alleviate the problem, my farrier at the time was not really getting it right.

So we talked about it for awhile and I agreed to give Illusion to her if she would take care of her. I went to see the first time her farrier worked with her feet and it looked like he did a really good job and Illusion was going sound. So I felt good about giving her to my new friend/neighbor, her farrier looked to be doing a great job and she was close. We became pretty good friends and rode together and I kept tabs on Illusion and she said she would still have lameness from time to time, but her farrier thought it was in her shoulder not her foot.

I never had any idea my friend had decided not to keep Illusion until another friend of mine sent me an ad on Craiglist with Illusion posted in July 2011 looking quite thin. I texted my friend that I had given Illusion to and asked why she hadn't told me she was trying to sell her and why she was so thin and also asked if she was still having lameness. She said off and on she was still lame and that she wasn't working out for her since she wanted to barrel race and she didn't think Illusion had the drive and that she was thin because she had her teeth floated, ok.... So I called her and said, I just would have appreciated it if she would have told me and that she might have to give Illusion away, like I gave Illusion to her because of her lameness issues, but make sure she gets her a good home and to give me contact info so I know who gets her. I didn't say this at the time, but was thinking if she can't afford to feed her any better than that then she should sell her, I wasn't buying that she got her teeth floated story.

On August 16 2011 I texted my friend who had Illusion to ask if she had sold her yet and she texted back saying that some people in Yakima had her for a few days and were going to try her out and let her know if they wanted I said ok well if they get her please give them my info and website and let them know that there are pictures of Illusions dam on my website...she said "I can do that"

On August 19th 2011 we had friends over, I just decided to quickly check my emails and there was a webs form response from my website.

That read.....

04 - Your Message = I saw you had bred the mare Itsjustanillusion and thought you might like to know that she is in the Enumclaw kill pen. If I had room I would save her, she is gorgeous! Here is a link:

You could imagine my anger and disbelief, I texted my friend who had her right away and ask "Why is Illusion in the Enumclaw kill pen??!!" and this was her exact text back to me "What???!!! I talked to the people I told you about in Yakima on wed & they said they wanted her...I gave her 2 them". Her next text was that she would call the people in Yakima....

Well I had not yet looked at the link the person that contacted me had sent me and said I would send it to my friend so she could also see,(at first I was thinking these people in Yakima had sold her at the sale) and she said "yes please" We both must have looked at it at the same time, well right there on this forum that was there to rescue horses that ended up in the kill pen were pictures of my so called "friend" riding Illusion at the sale. My next text to her was "WOW " isn't that you riding her in the sale pen"? The least you could have done is tell me the truth".... She never texted me back.

So my mare did get rescued but if it wasn't for these people on the rescue forums doing what they do and getting the word out there, investigating & contacting me, I'm sure Illusion would have gone to slaughter. God bless them.

I just wanted to get the word out there so this doesn't happen to somebody else. I was never given the opportunity to take Illusion back or help find her a home, and I certainly would have found her a home if my friend would have let me know she planned to take her to the sale if she couldn't find her a home. In fact after all this happened the people with Illusions sire said they would take her back if all else failed even after she was rescued. I feel she didn't tell me because she would rather put Illusion at risk at the sale instead of giving her away to a good home just to make a few 100 bucks.

When I bred this mare I NEVER would have imagined in a million years she would end up in a kill pen.