Sunday, March 27, 2011

Pictures tell the story

I knew I wanted to get some updated pictures of Grace this weekend. My hat is off to all professional horse photographers out there. I swear it is easier to get a horse to drink water than it is to get one to pose for a picture. Just know that Grace looks even better in person.

I also pulled out some old pictures so we could compare them to the ones I took today.

This is from today - sorry about the lighting it was raining. When I first posted this on Facebook a friend IM'd me and said "didn't your horse used to have withers?" I had to think about it, she still has withers, but now her back has come up to meet them. Her neck and shoulder also tie in to them now.

This picture is from September of 2008. I can really see the difference in Grace's back. Her "suspension bridge" isn't working as the underside also looks weak.

This is from today - one of many pictures with Belle in them! This is becoming her normal neck position. When I am not attempting to take pictures of her, this is where Grace wants to hold her head when I work her.

This is again from September of 2008. This is how Grace has held her head and neck for most of her life. You can see how much shorter it looks. The underside is much more developed than the top side.

I took this picture today so I would have documentation of the divot on her right side. I really like her hip right now.

This is from today. I gave up on posing and let her graze.

This is from April 2006. I believe that Grace clearly looks uncomfortable in this picture. See the short step behind? Even though her head and neck are stretched, it looks very tight to me. It might just be the moment in time of that shot, but this to me does not look like the same horse in the first picture.

I found this picture in the camera today.

I missed it when I posted the pictures from the clinic.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Peggy Cummings 3.20.2011

I had another lesson with Peggy Cummings today. Sarah scheduled today’s lessons so we would have the chance to work with Peggy before she heads off to give clinics in Europe. There was no way I was going to miss out on the opportunity to work with her just 6 weeks after our initial lesson.

Peggy pointed out the improvement in Grace’s posture and said Grace’s front legs no longer looked like they were cemented into the ground. That to me was a huge compliment. For the span of my riding career I have taken countless clinics, for the majority of them I retained what I learned for maybe 10 rides, but then I had to get ready for a show or another event and I threw everything I had learned out the window and went back to my old habits. I saw such a difference in Grace during the lesson 6 weeks ago that I knew I wanted to become a student of this work. To have Peggy notice the change in my horse and later when I sat in the saddle, point out the improvement in my seat, is a report card worthy of taping to the fridge!

We started with Connected Groundwork and I was able to show Peggy some of the exercises that have really been working for Grace. Peggy gave me more exercises to build on the ones I was using and was able to correct some of the mistakes I had started to make. It didn’t take long for Peggy to find the spot in Grace’s neck where she holds all of her tension; it is right behind and below her bridle path. For me this was further confirmation that we have found the core beneath the onion layers. Peggy showed me how to get into that space in Grace’s neck to help her release it.

Grace provided us with a wonderful teaching opportunity when she decided to tune in the horses that were outside the barn across from the arena. Peggy showed me that when Grace became locked in her neck it turned off her connection to her front legs, Grace then looked to the herd for safety. It is my job to keep her unlocked and tuned in, I can provide Grace with that safe place right there in her own body. Peggy had me “draw the bow” and walk Grace towards the herd right before the spot in the arena I was losing her attention, when I got to that spot, I “combed the line” and turned Grace away from the herd. This kept the back and forth movement in her head and neck, Grace’s neck stayed soft and she remained connected to her feet. The next time we got to the spot that she had been tuning me out; she didn’t even look in that direction. Once again I was impressed that I didn’t need to chase my horse, make her sweat or get in a fight with her to accomplish something. It was just a matter of keeping her brain connected to her body.

For the under saddle work I let Peggy know that I haven’t had a lot of success with the leg cue she taught me. It seems to just irritate Grace; she lifts her head and sucks back when I use it. Turns out my stirrups were too long and were not allowing me to make contact with my calves along Grace’s side. After adjusting my stirrups she had me give Grace the “come on” cue with her standing, Grace immediately lowered her head. I struggled to keep it going at the walk, as my body wasn’t quite ready to absorb the new change. That’s when Peggy got on Grace! When Peggy used the “come on” leg cue on Grace I saw Grace’s hind legs come up underneath her farther than I ever have! I didn’t think it was possible for my horse to reach that far underneath herself. Peggy rotated her body and showed me the difference in Grace’s movement. The rotation (while the rider is in neutral pelvis) allows Grace to unlock her spine and ribcage. Peggy sat straight with no rotation so I could see the difference. Be sure to check out the difference in Grace’s hind end from when I am on her and when Peggy is on her.

I stayed after my lesson and was able to watch the next few lessons go. I am always amazed by how much I learn from that. I was able to see the movment improve in horse after horse that Peggy worked with. I have a ton of homework exercises to do now and more tools in my bag to help me find the horse that is Grace. I also have more insight and feel into how I am going to find the rider inside of me worthy to sit on that mare’s back.
Nina took some fabulous picture of Grace and I at the clinic today! Everytime I look at them I think "Wow, that is a nice looking horse!"

For those of you that have Peggy’s new book on order, I got a sneak peak at her personal copy today. It is worth the wait!

Peggy showing me a Connected Groundwork exercise with Grace

This was the spot Grace was looking out at the other horses.
By the position of her head and neck, it looks like it was no longer an issue here.

Compare the step in Grace's hind end with the picture below

Peggy rotating her upper body.
Look at that hind leg! I have never seen it that far underneath my horse!

My Favorite picture! Thank you Nina

My goodness what nice little mare!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Glimpses of Grace

Grace: elegance or beauty of form, manner, motion, or action.

I’m starting to see it more and more. Sarah saw it today, so I now have a witness. The horse I thought I bought 10 years ago has started to show up. Peggy made a comment at our lesson last month when Grace took on a better weight bearing posture; “now we see the potential in the horse’s body….” I’ve started to see and feel a little more of it each day.

The horse I bought 10 years ago was a very well-bred American Quarter Horse. Her grandsire’s were world champions, her sire had attended and placed at the AQHA world show many times. None of mattered to me when I bought her. I was head over heels in love with that little bay mare and while I had dreams and aspirations of showing her, I really just wanted to be her person. It wasn’t long before it became clear to me that I was not in the financial position to show her at breed level and that the mare and I were nowhere near ready for that level of competition. We went to open shows and local schooling shows. Grace excelled in the walk/jog classes and cleaned up in trail. Her lope never really came together. My lope never really came together. Instead of pursuing Western Pleasure, I started to focus on events that we actually enjoyed. I had achieved my goal of becoming Grace’s person. We are partners, a team, best friends, but at the end of the day I am always aware that my horse is not finished. That she had barely tapped into the potential that has been living underneath all those onion layers.

I started to see more “glimpses” of Grace’s potential last spring when I finally shelved my agenda and started to focus on her soundness. At one point I had to look beyond her hock and finally start to answer the question of “how did we get here”. I’ve been aware of my own imbalances and soundness issues for years and I am very aware that they relate to my horse’s soundess. There is no coincidence that my last 3 horses all had the same left lead issue that Grace has. As I improved my own body posture I started to accept my own piece of the chicken and egg puzzle. Grace and I have developed a very symbiotic relationship, it can be magic when we are tapped in, tuned in and turned on, but it can also be one big cluster when we are out of sorts.

In the last year I have watched my mare’s body change dramatically. I had no idea that a horse at her age could completely change the posture of her body. I know her body better than my own, every divot, scar and the shape or lack of every muscle. I have felt the shape of her back change from day to day as I ran my hands over her spine. Her back is wider, stronger and higher and at times even looks shorter. Her withers tie her neck and shoulder nicely together and no longer look like an afterthought. When she stretches her neck it is long and slender almost swanlike, not the short fat upright upside down one I remember.

Today at our lesson I not only saw the glimpses of Grace’s potential, but I felt it. As I struggled to get my body to listen to my brain, there were moments that it all came together and the horse that was underneath me moved like nothing I have ever sat on. Her movement was effortless, her hind end was engaged, and she was actually using her hocks correctly. When I remembered to find my neutral pelvis, relax and fill my lower back, lift my sternum and keep my shoulders relaxed, oh and breathe at the same time, I found that there was very little I actually had to do to direct my horse. I started to see the potential for a “finished horse” the vision in my head of us working at the lope, one handed, smooth and effortless.

As I sat on the little bay mare that picked me out 10 years ago, I became very grateful that she wasn’t in this body when I bought her. If she had, I may have never found my potential; my onion layers would have remained unpeeled. I am again ever thankful not only for her patience, but also for her grace.

Grace: disposition to or an act or instance of kindness, courtesy, or clemency

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Cow sorting with the helmet cam

I will be the first to admit that my video editing skills need some work! Today's sorting was at an indoor arena and I am having a heck of a time getting the lighting right. Any suggestions would be much apprciated.

Grace and I did 5 runs. I've made it a rule of thumb to not run her any more than 5 runs at a sorting. 5 actually equals 10 at this sorting because they let you work the cows twice while you are in the pen. My goal is to keep Grace calm while she is on the cows. It's a delicate balance of staying out of her way, guiding her and knowing when to quit. The last thing I want is for her to associate working cows with getting sore.

I rode her in a snaffle todaywith a loose tie down because she tends to get her head higher than I like when she gets excited about the cows, she typically does it at the gate. Grace felt GREAT today! I saw on the videos that she was a little antsy at the gate, but she stayed calm and was a joy to ride on all 5 runs.

Enjoy the ride:

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Go Pro Helmet Cam!

My husband bought me a Helmet Cam! I was so excited about trying it out after work today that I completely forgot to change out of the pair of Ariats that I wear to the office. It wasn't until I put my feet into my stirrups that I noticed I had the wrong pair of boots on. I'll have to make sure to clean the mud off them before heading to work tomorrow. I took a bunch of videos of Grace today. There were a few of the Connected Ground work, and under saddle at the walk, jog and lope. It wasn't until I went to load the videos on the computer did I find out that all but one of the videos I took were taken as pictures, and not very good ones at that. I did get one good video out of the experiment. I let Belle into the arena at the end of our ride. So here you are, Grace, Belle and I playing the game we love the most; chase the cattle dog!